Here’s the short of it … we buzzed down the highway for 7 miles in the fray of the occasional truck or RV … then wiggled our way up and up on forest service roads (first paved, then gravel), passing by dispersed camping areas, and through lush forest. When we reached a high meadow we thought, so foolishly, that we would be blasting back to the cars lickety-split.
But that was when the fun really began … we weaved our way down and up and then down, down, down on tough rocky roads, the kind of roads that extreme jeepers love to brag about. There was mud, snow, steep descents, cliffs … but it was beautiful to find this secret road with BOOMING views of Mt Hood. It hardly seemed real ….that views of the mountain made every bumpy bit on the final stretch well worth it.
Today, the historic Bennett Pass Road is a bumpy, often grinding minefield to navigate. It’s hard to imagine that it was the main forest route when it was built, but it still passes some of the finest scenery in the area along the way. [WyEast Blog]
Miles 0 to 7 / Highway Downhill / Paved
From the parking area make your way onto Highway 35. The next 7 miles (~ 20 minutes ) are downhill, with an elevation loss of 1400 feet at an average gradient of 3%. There is a 6 foot shoulder with rumble strips up to where the highway crosses Hood River [mile 4.8]. Thereafter, there is a 3 foot shoulder with fog line. For this sector, we recommend the use of a red blinky light. **Read More
Miles 7 to 16 / Horkelia Climb / Paved to Gravel
Just after Little John sno-park [mile 7] make a right onto Brooks Meadow road / NF 44. The road is paved and has significantly less traffic. Whew! However, the road immediately pitches up into the longest sustained climb of the day, 2700 feet in just over 8 miles.
The first 4 miles of the climb are paved, with forest to each side of the road. Initially the grade is 4 to 6%, then the climbing profile turns jagged with some short, punchy sections of 9%. Along the way there are impressive, but limited views of Mt. Hood.
At mile 11 turn right onto Lookout Mountain road (unpaved). The next 4 miles are at a 4 to 8% uphill grade. The gravel is small, the road is firm, and we had very little washboard. The peak-a-boo views of Mt. Hood continue as you ride through the forest of tall pine trees and lush undergrowth.
At mile 12.4 there is a small meadow, called Horkelia meadow. Just after this there is a dirt road to the right. Take it! In a ~ 100 yards there is a beautiful view of the east flank of Mt. Hood. When you return back to the main route, look directly down the road, to the north, to get a view of Mt. St Helens.
Horkelia Meadow marks an area where a layer of underlying volcanic rock forces the water table to the surface at the top of the steep western scarp of Lookout Mountain. The geology creates a number of springs in the vicinity, and at rolling Horkelia Meadow, the soils are just moist enough to keep the surrounding conifer forests at bay. [WyEast Blog]
The next 3 miles continue to climb, at an average gradient of 6%, with some steeper pitches above 10%.[micro-video] At ~ mile 16 you come to an intersection and a beautiful high alpine meadow, High Plains. There a views of Mt Hood, Mt St Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt Rainier. Grab a bite to eat as the route is about to get seriously difficult, but ohh so beautiful and fun!
Mile 16 to Finish / Bennett Pass Road, Rough. Gnarly. Majestic. / Gravel
The first 1.7 miles of Bennet Pass road is a steep downhill at a 7.5% average grade on rocky, gnarly terrain with mind blowing views of Mt. Hood.[micro-video] Most of us will dip a toe once or twice on this section. Near the bottom of the descent the road becomes a bit more loamy[micro-video] and rideable with views now to the east towards Dufur.
When it was built in the early 1930s, the historic road followed the route of an early forest trail along the ridge that connects Bennett Pass to a Forest Service guard station that once stood at High Prairie. The road was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the early 1930s by crews based in Camp Friend, located to the east of Lookout Mountain, and just south of the town of Dufur. The Camp Friend crews also built several lookouts in the area and the historic road to Flag Point. [WyEast Blog]
The road then kicks back up in a steep, rugged climb with grades well over 7%. This section is mostly forested with big Douglas Fir trees. At the summit of the climb there is nice spot to stop and refuel. Below you is Badger Lake and to the south are views of Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters.
From here, it is still rugged, slow, and technically demanding. But, your efforts continue to be rewarded with great views! At mile 22.5 make a hard right to stay on Bennett Pass road. If you miss this turn, it will be a really long day! Soon you will come to the Terrible Traverse section[micro-video] – a notorious stretch etched into the cliff where passing an oncoming vehicle would be physically impossible. [WyEast Blog]
At ~ mile 25, the road quality significantly improves. The next 2 miles are rolling, smooth, fast, and a great way to end the ride.
The route is doable on 40 mm tires, but you will probably enjoy the route with a bit more rubber and cush, especially miles 16 and beyond.
We changed our air pressure several times during the ride. For 53 mm tires, we started with 30 / 28 psi rear / front for the paved sector. At the first gravel sector (Lookout Mountain road) we reduced the pressure to 19 / 17 psi. At the beginning of Bennett Pass road we reduced further, to 16 / 14 psi. Note, we run a tubeless set up with CushCore inserts.
We recommend a red blinky safety light for the ride. We particularly like those with a rear looking radar.
Adventure / Gravel Route
Technical Difficulty & Risk[what this means]
Advanced. Due to: (a) the extremely rugged Bennet Pass sector from mile 16 to mile 27, (b) the remote nature of part of the ride and, (c) limited cell phone reception.
When we like to ride this …
Non holiday, mid week, with an early start. (We really don’t like traffic!). Also, wait until after July 4th. There are some north facing slopes that hold snow into late June.
Bennett Pass sno-park. Pit toilets.
Lat / Long: 45.310204, -121.641737
Food / Water
Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road
For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.