Day 55 (September 22)
Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
After leaving Mt. Hood, we drive a couple more hours down the road, hoping to overnight close to Bend for the night. There are endless campground options in this part of Oregon, and we typically do prefer a park or backcountry setting. However, with a desperate need to do laundry, we pitch our tent at the KOA in Culver, OR instead. The family who owns and runs this place are very nice, and they even collect donations for animal rescue groups.
With limited time and a zillion great day trips to choose from, on our one full non-travel day we first head 20 minutes south to Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne.
Smith Rock is a legendary rock climbing destination (for good reason, the park has something like a thousand climbing routes). Climbers can be seen all over the vertical rock walls within this park. Smith Rock is also a great park for hiking and trail running.
As we descend into the Crooked River Canyon, I see sages, golden grasses, and autumn wildflower blooms. I am so excited! We have loved exploring the lush forests and coastline of the Pacific Northwest for the past six weeks, yet it feels good to be back in the hot & sunny high desert.
Our eyes spy some crazy switchbacks, and we are intrigued. A quick look at the park map tells us that’s the Misery Ridge Trail. Gee, I wonder how it got that name? Let’s find out.
In the first .68 miles to the summit, we will climb approximately 900 feet in elevation. The switchback-y trail is well maintained, and is not a technical trail, just very steep.
Can you spy the (brave) people?
Again, look for the ant-sized hikers on the trail in my image below. This perspective gives you an idea of how steep the Misery Ridge Trail is.
Our hard work is rewarded with incredible views. Once one reaches the summit, there is some fun rock scrambling to do if so inclined.
The Misery Ridge Trail is shown at the top of this map, in red. Note the numerous switchbacks. Hike another .3 miles along the top of the ridge, and you will come to another awesome viewpoint.
Looking to the west and northwest presents stunning views of the park’s rock formations, the Crooked River, (which almost completely surrounds the park), and more than half a dozen tall snow-capped mountains in the Cascade Range, including the Three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Bachelor.
Rounding the bend atop Misery Ridge, we see climbers suspended halfway up the unique Monkey Face Pinnacle.
It’s easy to see how the Monkey Face formation earned its name. To get an idea of scale, look for the tiny black dot (climber) halfway up Monkey Face.
The Misery Ridge Trail switchbacks down around Monkey Face, and connects with the Mesa Verde Trail. I find my trekking poles helpful to maintain footing while descending the Misery Ridge trail’s pebbly switchbacks and Mesa Verde’s steep grade. Very slippy here! Some hikers choose to to make this hike clockwise (we hiked counter-clockwise) so they ascend the loose pebble switchbacks and descend the more hard packed switchback and stair combination on the east side of the ridge.
At the bottom of the Mesa Ridge Trail we connect with the easy River Trail and enjoy a leisurely 2-mile walk back to the trailhead, looping around the giant rock formations. The River Trail parallels the clear Crooked River, frequented by herons and deer, fringed with blooming wildflowers, sages, cattails, and horsetail rush.
Our hike is approximately 4.2 miles long, including the moderate trail to the Misery Ridge trailhead, which is at the footbridge that crosses the Crooked River. Reach the bridge via one of three different trails (from bivouac, parking lots or visitor center).
Smith Rock State Park is almost indescribably beautiful, and of the estimated hundred state parks we have visited across the U.S., ranks in the top five for scenery and is probably my #1 for favorite state park hike.
Good to know:
- Get to the park early. This is a very busy park, and this area can get quite hot in the summertime.
- This advice is common sense but bears repeating: Wear good hiking shoes, wear sunscreen, wear a hat, and take plenty of water. Most areas of the Misery Ridge Loop are exposed to the sun.
- Be on the lookout for rattlesnakes.
- You may find trekking poles helpful for the steep parts of the Misery Ridge Loop.
- Smith Rock State Park’s trail system offers trails of every difficulty level. Keep in mind that there is an initial hike down into the river canyon (and back out) to access the trail heads, so even accessing the easy trails along the river will require some downhill and uphill hiking.
- There is a $5 park fee, payable by machine. The day use lots accept a $5 bill or credit card. Annual parking permit is available for $30, or a 2-year permit is $50.
- Smith Rock State Park is dog-friendly. Yay! Dogs are welcome on the trails, but must be on a leash.
- Some trails allow mountain biking and horseback riding.
- A walk-in bivouac area serves campers (no reservations accepted, max 14-night stay). The bivouac area has a designated parking area, with the showers, restrooms, recharging station, and common cooking area adjacent to the parking area. Tent campsites are a few hundred feet away. No campfires, RV’s or car/van sleeping are allowed.
Although 2 1/2 hours in this park really isn’t enough, we are looking forward to spending the rest of the day exploring downtown Bend, and cooling off with one of our favorite beers.