Deadman Pass, a dangerous road in Oregon.

Deadman Pass in Oregon
Deadman Pass

Deadman Pass is a mountain road in the U.S. state of Oregon. This road is located in Umatilla County and is also known as Emigrant Hill or Cabbage Hill.

The pass passes at an elevation of 3,622 feet (1104 m) above sea level.

This pass is known for its steepness, as drivers will have to deal with an elevation change of more than 650 meters (2,000 feet) to cross the pass. The road also has a lot of hairpin turns and slopes of over 6%. It is worth mentioning that on the descent, it is better to use your engine brake and have good brakes!

Where is Deadman Pass located?

Deadman Pass is a US highway located in the state of Oregon. The official name is Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway. The Deadman Pass weather can also be quite difficult.

The route is 52 miles (84 kilometers) long and runs northwest to the southwest from Pendleton to La Grande.

The road began to climb through forests of pine and spruce. Then the highway is surrounded by large foliage trees.

You can locate the road on the map below:

Enlarge the map

How did Deadman Pass get its name ?

The name of the road, “Deadman’s Pass,” is due to an incident during the Bannock War. A trucker driving a wagon through the pass was killed by Indians. Subsequently, several other people were killed while crossing the pass, and the name has stuck over the years.

The trail and the modern highway built today then went down the hill and into the valley. It was this descent that was difficult for travelers at the time and remained the most dangerous section of Oregon’s Interstate 84, not to mention the pass’s capricious weather, which made Deadman’s pass road conditions complicated.

History of the Deadman Pass:

At the time, in 1876, settlers were particularly concerned about the Bannock Indian uprising in the Grande Ronde Valley area. They were afraid that the Bannock tribe, who were fighting settlers and travelers in the Snake River area of southern Idaho, would move north to attack the settlers in the Grande Ronde Valley. Scouts were sent out but saw no sign of the Bannocks.

However, in July 1876, a freight carrier was attacked and killed on the road. This area, then called Crawford Hill, became known as “Dead Man’s Gulch” or “Dead Man’s Pass”.

Today, at the eastbound rest area on I-84 near this location, you can see a section of the Oregon Trail. Traces still remain of the emigrant wagons passing through. This was one of the most dangerous places on the Oregon Trail.

How to get to the Deadman Pass ?

If you are coming from the west, for example from Portland, you should take the Interstate number 80, until you arrive at Pendleton.

If you are coming from the southeast, for instance from Salt Lake City, take the Interstate 80 in the north direction until La Grande.

The Blue Mountains were the last mountain range that emigrants on their way west from Oregon had to cross before reaching the valleys east of the Cascades. It was also a very formidable and dangerous crossing.

On the itinerary, you can find interpretive signs about the history and environment. Also, note that many hikes are available in the Crawford Hill area.

You can visualize how to get there on this map of the drive:

Deadman Pass weather

The weather in the area is known to be among the most changeable and severe in the Northwest. Always check the weather conditions before starting the pass crossing. Difficult conditions are quite common. These are especially true during the winter months when snow and fog, as well as slippery road conditions, make this route a place where drivers must exercise caution.

Also, all year round it is possible to have high winds, and freezing fog.
Winter storms are quite severe and can be very dangerous. Fog, snow, and ice are also common between October and April. It is, therefore, necessary to be extra careful during this period as Deadman’s Pass road conditions can be very tricky.

A preview of the road:

If you don’t have the possibility to travel to these US states, or you just want to watch a dope road drive video, just take a look at this YouTube video:

Is Deadman’s Pass Open?

The road is open year-round but may be closed depending on weather conditions at Deadman Pass. In fact, crossing the pass is one of the most dangerous stretches of Interstate 84.

Check your brakes before the descent and use your engine brakes. Indeed, Deadman Pass is dangerous because of the steep descent.

Before your trip, you should always check the road condition.

If you are planning to drive from Portland to Salt Lake City (or the other way round) you will drive on this mythic road. Many travelers come from other states or even other countries in order to have the chance to drive this scenic and historical US road!

Pictures sources: Pinterest /

Discover other scenic roads around the world: click here or see our road trip map!