Bicycling Routes

Abbot Barlow Pioneer

Mt. Hood is clearly an iconic symbol of Oregon and outdoor adventure; climbing it is nearly a requirement for residency here if you enjoy the outdoors. But if you want to really get to know this rugged member of the Ring of Fire family, spend some deep quality time exploring its flanks on a gravel bike.

This fully epic route will test everything from your lungs and legs to your bike handling and bikepacking skills. Besides being mentally prepared for some steep and rough stretches, you should also probably plan on an overnight camping stop (or two), at Trillium Lake or Timothy Lake.

This 128-mile loop starts in the rough-and-ready timber town of Estacada, where murals celebrating its logging history are juxtaposed with recent additions of good-coffee shops, a brewpub and cuisine-level restaurants. You can’t help but feel the hard-earned pickup-and-suspenders culture, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to get a craft beer when you’re done riding.

Start out taking Highway 224 out of town for 1.4 miles and turn right onto Faraday Road. Here you’ll enjoy a scenic bike path beside the North Fork Reservoir for five miles; it’s not road, it’s not trail –it’s just quiet and beautiful. Then, once you’re Zen-ed out, brace yourself for a 14-mile uphill stretch, which starts out paved and transitions to gravel by the time you reach the deep woods the local loggers used to pull the big ones from. Along the way, don’t miss the chance to check out the marshes filled with happy-faced rough-skinned newts (in season) and purple penstemon (also lyrically known as “beardtongues”) and other wildflowers.

You’ll eventually cross busy Highway 26 and connect with the historic Barlow Road, which was the last overland segment of the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail. The Barlow Road, built in 1846, gave pioneers in covered wagons a choice: a harrowing and expensive float trip down the Columbia River, or a harrowing and dangerous crossing of the Cascades on a road of mud and wooden planks. As you ride, see if you can conjure up a feeling for what it might have been like to cover this ground in a covered wagon. You’re far enough from modern civilization, here in the thick forest, that it shouldn’t be hard for your imagination to go there.

As you descend toward Highway 35 and Trillium Lake, you might want to stop to fully appreciate the stunning views of Mount Hood along the ridgeline. After an exhilarating ride down from the lake on Still Creek Road to ZigZag, the final stretch rolls you along easy, rolling backroads through Sandy and on to Estacada.

A few notes for you… first, you won’t find services for the first 88 miles of the route, unless you leave the route to access the Frog Lake store or Government Camp. There are also some sections of Abbot Road that are so rugged you might want mountain-bike tires rather than fat tires. And you have lots of options along the way to side-trip onto some tasty single-track. If you’re interested, do a little research on Gunsight Ridge, Surveyor’s Ridge and Pioneer Bridle Trail.

If you take on this trail, you’ll come back with more than just photos, tall tales and the sense of relaxation you only get when you leave proper society for a few days; you’ll be part of a select group of people who have truly, deeply explored this area – a list that goes back hundreds of years.

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