Known as one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon, the high-desert region of Smith Rock State Park does not disappoint. Smith Rock State Park is most widely known for it’s variety of Rock Climbing and being the birthplace of Sport Climbing, a style of climbing that relies on permanent anchors that are bolted into the rock, pioneered in the 1980s by legend climber Alan Watts. The 650 acre Park is extremely picturesque with its towering walls that frame the Crooked River, a waterway that runs through the middle of the Park, perfectly.
Location: Central Oregon
Getting There: Smith Rock State Park is about 40 minutes North of the larger city of Bend, directly east of the Cascades where the Three Sisters are. It is about 3 hours from Portland, and 6 hours west of Boise, Idaho. If travelling up to Smith Rock from a southern direction, you will likely come up through Klamath Falls on Highway 97, passing right next to Crater Lake National Park.
Know Before You Go
➣ Smith Rock is home to seasonal nesting Raptors during certain times of the year. During this time, drones are not permitted and some climbing routes may close.
➣ The Park is open from dawn until dusk year round. Permits are needed for day use and cost $5 per day, with annual passes available.
➣ There is a FCFS campground at Smith Rock, called the BIVY. Fees are $8 per person, per night, and include access to the Park. It is often full during the busy spring and summer months and has a sign regarding vacancy on the main road.
➣ Temperatures fluctuate greatly in Smith Rock, so be prepared during your stay. Winter temps can often be below freezing and summer can bring days of 100+ degree weather.
Facts About The Park
➣ The geology of Smith Rocks is volcanic. Approximately 30 million years ago, a large caldera was formed when overlying rock collapsed into an underground lava chamber. This created a huge amount of rock and ash debris that filled the caldera. That material solidified into rock, becoming Smith Rock tuff. More recently, the Crooked River cut its way through the layers of rock to create today’s geographic features. Smith Rock itself is a 3,200-foot (980 m)-high ridge (above sea level) with a sheer cliff-face overlooking a bend in the Crooked River (elev. 2600 ft), making the cliffs about 600 feet high.
➣ The Park contains the first U.S. climb rated 5.14c (8b+). One of the best climbers in the world, Czech athlete Adam Ondra, visited Smith Rock State Park while touring the U.S. for climbing routes. He made an onsight ascent (meaning you get to the top on your first try, without any previous information on the climb) of this route, Just Do It, on one of the Parks famous features- The Monkey’s Face. If you are a climber or can at least appreciate climbing, I highly suggest checking out the video below.
➣ Smith Rock State Park has more than 1,800 rock climbing routes as of 2010, and likely much more today.
➣ Apart from being a popular hiking spot and a climbers paradise, Smith Rock has more to offer. Popular activities in the Park also include horseback riding, mountain biking, slacklining, and kayaking down the Crooked River.
Best Hikes in Smith Rock State Park
Misery Ridge Loop: This 3.7 mile loop has a staggering climb in the beginning, but worthwhile views at the top. It gains about 1000 feet in the first section if going counterclockwise. It is one of the Parks most popular hikes, and is worth the effort!
Helpful Tip: There is a “shortcut” towards the end of the hike, going over Asterisk Pass instead of along the River Trail. This is technically apart of the Misery Ridge and River Trail on some trail maps. Do not attempt this unless you are a climber or very confident with your climbing skills. There is an exposed ledge you will need to mantle over to get on top of the pass from the hiking trail and the trail maps are very confusing.
Rim Rock Trail: This easy trail goes along the rim of the Park, near the parking areas. It is flat nearly the entire way, and is about 1 mile roundtrip.
Crooked River Trail: This river trail goes along Smith Rock riverside and has great views of the towering walls and rock climbers in action. It is part of the Misery Ridge Trail, so you will complete this if going on that hike. To add more onto the 4.5 mile length, head to the other side of the park after the bridge across the river.
Best Photography Spots in Smith Rock State Park
Misery Ridge: The top of the Misery Ridge trail has some incredible views of the rock formations, Crooked River and central cascade region. Honestly, any composition from up here won’t disappoint. There are some great vantage points from the steep section of the Misery Ridge trail too that overlook the northern section of the Park.
Monkey’s Face: There are two awesome views of the Monkey’s Face that I think are awesome. One is from the top of the Misery Ridge trail, overlooking the valley and the entire spire. The other is on the bottom portion of the trail, labeled as the Mesa Ridge trail, that you can really see the face of the monkey from.
Crooked River Overlook: Right off the parking lot, near the bathrooms, is a great frame of the Crooked River between the rock towers. It is the most iconic and popular view of the Park and likely what you associate Smith Rock with.
Photography Tip: Sunrise is my preference at this park because the rock towers are best viewed from the east. If shooting sunset at this park, expect the canyons to be dark. You’ll likely need to lighten to shadows and balance out the contrast in post. You can get some awesome shots during golden hour from just about anywhere, and don’t skip out on photos of the climbers! You may even see a few groups doing some wicked slacklining from the highest parts of the canyon.
What To Pack On Your Trip
Sun Protection: Eastern Oregon can get hot over the summer, and the canyons of Smith Rock State Park are no exception. Along with a high SPF Sunblock like the reef-safe Badger SPF 40 Clear Zinc , pack a few skin protecting layers like the REI Co-Op Sahara Shade Hoodie or the Mountain Hardware Crater Lake Hoodie.
Sturdy Walking or Hiking Shoes: I prefer hiking in trail runners like the Altra Lone Peaks, or in my Chaco Sandals, but if you need a little extra support around the ankle, Altra makes some great, lightweight hiking boots like the Lone Peak Hiking Boots
Binoculars: Whether your searching for wildlife in Smith Rock State Park or just trying to get a closer look at the dozens of rock climbers on the towering walls, binoculars like the Nikon Trailblazer ATB Waterproof 10 x 25 Binoculars are great to bring along. When walking along the river, make sure you look up every once in a while to the peaks of the walls- you may spot a couple groups of slackliners.
Daypack: Lightweight daypacks that are comfortable and practical are a must in this park. I’ve recently had my eye on the Scrambler 25 Pack from Mountain Hardware (which is also a great bag for climbers) and the Gregory Nano 18 H2O Hydration Pack because of it’s small size, and water capacity (3L).
Layers for Weather/Temperature Changes: The temperature changes from shade to sun are noticeable, especially if you are planning on spending a longer period of time within Smith Rock State Park. Lightweight puffy jackets like the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer (the most killer puffy out there) or Patagonia Nano Puff Hoodie will definitely come in handy. If you’re visiting during the summer, consider bringing along a fleece option like the Cotopaxi Abrazo Half-Zip Fleece Jacket.
Have you been to Smith Rock State Park? What were your favorite activities or climbs? Let me know below
Happy Hikin’ (or climbing)!
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