Wagons & Raptors
This route will let you suffer like a pioneer: when you are on Barlow Road, which was built in 1846 for wagon trains to avoid using the Columbia River for transportation, you’ll gain a great appreciation for Oregon history. The whole route is like that … with rough rugged roads, a sketchy river crossing (do your homework on the river flows before you go) and a 3,000 foot climb on the back half of the ride that just gets rougher and rougher until you reach the top … then a technical downhill for a few miles.
But you’ll love the deep, dense forest which even on a sunny day, we could hardly see a thing because of the canopy of trees. And there is enough pavement to let you have a break from playing pioneer, just enough to keep your sanity.
And ohhhhh. That view of Mt Hood from the “Terrible Traverse” on Bennett Road is one you won’t soon forget. (Which of course, you could just do the Bennett Pass Route and only suffer like a pioneer for a much shorter time. But what’s the fun in that?) The route does include two sections on the highway … which were both quite zippy, given they are mainly downhill.
So you’ve had the full disclosure … There’s a reason it’s labeled as advanced. And you either have the pioneer spirit (some call it stupidity), or you don’t. Just make sure everyone you drag along with you has the same sense of adventure. And you’ve thought through the consequences … along with giving yourself plenty of fudge factor time.
This route was first published and reviewed by RonL and Our Mother the Mountain. Thanks for letting us share in the fun!!
Adventure / Gravel Route
Technical Difficulty & Risk[what this means]
Advanced. Due to: (a) 14+ miles of rugged and rocky jeep track, (b) a significant stream crossing, and (c) very limited cell phone reception.
When we like to ride this …
Early September through mid October on a warm day (70+ degree day). This is prime time for raptor viewing at Bonney Butte and the White River flows are some of the lowest of the year.
White River sno-park. Pit toilets.
Lat / Long: 45.303504, -121.674048
Food / Water
Ride Details**Read More
Miles 0 to 9 / Barlow Road / Gravel (mostly)
Before you begin the route, cross the parking lot, climb the embankment, and take a look at the river. That is the White River. If it is raging and you are not willing to cross it here, find another ride for the day, as the river will only have more flow 20 miles downstream, where you cross.
From the parking lot, take a right and head south on the highway for ~ 2 miles. There is a wide shoulder protected by rumble strips. Make a left across the highway and then another quick left; this is Barlow Road as marked by the gate.
The one-way toll road—east to west—was formally opened in 1846, with tolls regulated at five dollars for each wagon and ten cents a head for livestock. In its first year of operation, the Barlow Road recorded approximately 1,000 emigrants and 150 wagons through its five tollgates. Close to 25 percent of emigrants that year arrived in Oregon by way of the Barlow Road. [The Oregon Encyclopedia]
The next 7 miles are downhill on a rough jeep track through thick, dense forest. Even on a sunny summer day, sunglasses are not required; in fact, you may want to take them off for better visibility. We were in awe of the darkness, the big trees, and how early settlers in the mid-1800s made the trek along this road.
At ~ mile 7, the mature forest gives way to a much younger forest and more sunlight. The track becomes flatter and faster and a bit sandy, all rideable.[micro-video]
At ~ mile 9, you come to an out of commission wooden bridge. It is safe for crossing on foot or bike but is no longer safe for vehicle traffic. It marks the end of this sector.
Miles 9 to 23 / Take Me to the River / Mix of Pavement and Gravel
The next 14 miles had us singing the Take Me to the River by the Talking Heads. This is an easy-riding sector, except for the last mile. Some is paved (single lane with turnouts for the most part),[micro-video] some is gravel.
Highlights along the way include: Frog Creek [mile 15] and Camas Prairie [mile 17.5].
This meadow (Camas Prairie) is protected by a pole and rail fence and has a corral. Camas Creek winds through the green expanse and the false hellebores (also known as cow cabbage) stand tall. Camas lilies bloom here in June, and the marshes also harbor a breeding population of the rare Oregon spotted frog (Rana pretiosa). [OregonHikers.org]
Near mile 22, just after the peek-a-boo views of Mt Hood, Keeps Mill road goes from paved to gravel, then to a rough jeep track with a steep descent down to the White River. A loss in elevation of 600 feet in a bit over a mile with pitches over 9%. It is rideable, but some may prefer to walk sections.
At Keeps Mill campground, stay right on the road for another 100 or so yards; this takes you further into the campground. Look for a worn double track that leads down to the river. Take it. We found that the best way to cross the river was to walk upstream, in the river along the near bank, for about 20 yards and then make a direct crossing to the other side. A worn, eroded bank marks the exit point. Just above this is a set of campsites. In the last week of July 2020, the deepest section of the river was just above knee heigh, maybe lower thigh. Use caution as mid-river has significant current. If you are unsure, backtrack to mile 9 and use the bailout route.
Miles 23 to 37 / The Long Climb / Paved to Gravel
Put your climbing face on! The next 14 miles climb 3200 feet with few breaks.
The climb out of the river is just as rugged as the descent to the river. The steepest section of the climb is a bit over a half-mile, with an average gradient of 10.5%. Next is a relatively benign sector of gravel and pavement, gaining only 300 feet over 3 miles.
The White river has unique hydrological features, such as its color in late summer and early fall and its isolation from other rivers. During the late summer and early fall, glacial outflow from Mount Hood turns the river milky white due to suspended sediment concentrations. It is hydrologically isolated from other river systems, which provides an environment where unique species can evolve. [Wikipedia]
At mile 27.5, turn left onto NF 4880, which to our surprise was a paved, single lane road. The climbing is through young growth trees and moderate in grade[average 4%].
Just when the pavement is starting to feel a bit tedious [after 5 miles] make a right onto a gravel/dirt road [NF 4891 / Bonney Meadow road]. It quickly becomes a rough jeep track through big trees with thick moss handing down.[micro-video]
Mile 37 to Finish / The Payoff / Gravel (mostly)
Near the summit of the climb is Bonney meadow [~ mile 36]. To see the meadow take the gravel/dirt road towards the campground. This will add about 0.5 miles.
Just after the campground turn, is a dirt road to your left leading to Bonney Butte, this is the turn to make for the raptor viewing area. Sometimes there is a sign with “HawkWatch”. Prime viewing time is the last two weeks of September from 11 to 3 pm each day.
Bonney Butte HawkWatch is located on the southeastern flanks of Mt. Hood in north central Oregon. HWI has been conducting ongoing counts here since 1994 in an effort to monitor long-term trends in populations of raptors using this part of the Pacific Coast Flyway through the Cascade Mountains. Annual counts typically range from 2,500-4,500 migrant raptors of up to 18 species. The most commonly seen species are the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Turkey Vulture, and Golden Eagle, but this site is noted for relatively high numbers of Merlins (up to 100 or more per year). [Hawk Watch International]
From here it is downhill the rest of the way. Through big trees and across a rock slide. Rugged.[micro-video] At mile 37.5, do not miss the left-hand turn onto Bennett road. Continue downhill through the trees. In a couple of miles, you come to the “Terrible Traverse”, a section of road where two vehicles can’t pass; this is also where you get some booming views of Mt Hood.
Continue, and soon enough the road improves and the ridding becomes zippy. The fun is over when you reach Bennett Pass sno-park. Take the highway south to the start / finish; downhill with a good shoulder.
An alternative route to this, that is just as scenic if not more so, is the Bennett Pass route. You will still have 7 miles of rugged jeep track, but you give up the deep forested riding, the river crossing, and the raptor viewing.
The route is doable on 40mm tires, but we think your day will be so much more fun if you are on 50+mm set of tires. You will like the extra cush!
We recommend a red blinky safety light as you will encounter traffic on the paved sectors, especially on a weekend. We particularly like those lights with a rear looking radar.
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.