Smith Rock State Park: Rock climbing Mecca & Dreamy Day hike destination

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.

Overlooking the Crooked River in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

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.

Sage, grasses, and autumn blooming wildflowers in high desert at Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

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.

Misery Ridge Trail switchbacks in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Along the Misery Ridge Trail in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

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.

Along the Misery Ridge Trail in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Can you spy the (brave) people?

Along the Misery Ridge Trail in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

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.

Misery Ridge Trail switchbacks in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Our hard work is rewarded with incredible views. Once one reaches the summit, there is some fun rock scrambling to do if so inclined.

Overlooking the Crooked River from the Misery Ridge Trail in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

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.

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon trail map

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.

Looking West from the Misery Ridge Trail at the Cascade Mountains, Smith Rock State Park in Oregon

Looking West from the Misery Ridge Trail at the Cascade Mountains, Smith Rock State Park in Oregon

Rounding the bend atop Misery Ridge, we see climbers suspended halfway up the unique Monkey Face Pinnacle.

Rock climbers on Monkey Face Pinnacle in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

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.

Rock climbers on Monkey Face Pinnacle in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

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.

River Trail along the Crooked River in Oregon's Smith Rock State Park

River Trail along the Crooked River in Oregon's Smith Rock State Park

Smith Rock State Park formations

River Trail along the Crooked River in Oregon's Smith Rock State Park

River Trail along the Crooked River in Oregon's Smith Rock State Park

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.

     

Overlooking Oregon's Smith Rock State Park

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.

You can catch up on our all of our Oregon travels here, or our Pacific Northwest travels here.

Curious where else we’ve been? Click here to check out our list of parks visited.

8 Comments

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the photo tour! I definitely recommend putting Smith Rock & Bend (my next post) on your itinerary. We didn’t get to see much of Eastern Oregon except for the NE corner of the state on our drive in via I-84. It is definitely a different kind of pretty than the Western half of the state, but uniquely beautiful. We did drive the north-south route from Hood River to Crater Lake, then CA, but only made a few stops. I have a list of 10 more places in Central Oregon alone that I want see on the next trip (too far off!).

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Val! I had not really researched Central Oregon much, we just added this area to our itinerary based on a recommendation from friends and family who live in Portland. They knew we wanted to see Crater Lake and it made for a logical route between Mount St. Helens and Lassen National Park. I wasn’t sure what to expect in Central Oregon, and the high desert was a pretty big (beautiful) surprise. Oregon is indeed a wonderful state!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t wait to get back out there, though I think I’ll have to just keep dreaming and planning for it until next year. Oh well, that just gives me more time to research and add (way too many) stops to my trip itinerary!

      Liked by 1 person

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