Enjoy hiking and biking among some of the most amazing rock formations in the country, and dip your toes in the Crooked River to cool off!
Central Oregon’s Smith Rock is one of our favourite places to visit in the whole State. It is truly majestic and a true spectacle of nature irrespective of what time of year your visit. If offers some wonderful hiking and mountain bike trails of various lengths and physical ability. There are 12 official trails in the park and many more if you extend your trek into the adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas. Here is link to a map of the trails.
|Location:||9241 NE Crooked River Dr., Terrebonne OR.|
|GPS coordinates:||Latitude: 44.365891 N
Longitude: -121.137377 W
|Fees:||$5.00 Day Use – Parking|
If you want to spend a bit longer at the Park there is a bivvy campground – no RVs are allowed – which works on a first-come-first-served basis.
As I mentioned above Smith Rock is very popular with climbers and hikers and consequently gets very busy and the parking lots are pretty much full by the middle of the morning at the latest. SO YOU NEED TO GET THERE EARLY. You can park away from the Park but it is a long walk in to reach the trails and climbing walls.
More about the geology of Smith Rock …..
Around 30 million years ago massive amounts of ash and debris resulting from the eruptions of nearby volcanos filled the caldera and hardened into rock. Smith Rock Tuff–the largest rock formation on the western rim was the outcome, creating massive walls and spires up to 550 feet. This has made it a mecca for climbers from all around the United States and the rest of the World.
The Crooked River then made its way through the rock layers to carve the features seen today. At 3200 feet high, the Smith Rock ridgeline rises 600 feet above the river gorge below.
Here are some of our favourite trails:
Wolf Tree Trail
This is one of the easiest and shortest trails in the park. After crossing the bridge at the base of Smith Rock you take the right fork, which will bring you on the mile-long Wolf Tree Trail.
Immediately looking up to your left, you see climbers on the popular Picnic Lunch Wall. The Ship Rock formation and Red Wall climbing area are next as you follow the trail along the river.
Geese, ducks, and the occasional blue heron frequent the area, as well as the two-legged fish seekers fly fishing the river. Next, you come upon a huge ponderosa tree that offers a break from the heat of the summer. It’s also a great place just to hang out on the bench below it.
As you round the bend and go past the horse ford, you come into the Monument area. Always open for hiking, it’s also a popular climbing area when it isn’t nesting season for the golden eagles that construct huge 6-8 foot nests on the rock faces. You may want to pack your binoculars. It’s a great area for watching raptor activity of all sorts.
Misery Ridge Trail
After you cross the bridge over the Crooked River you are pretty much at the trailhead for this awesome hike. It is much more challenging than many of the other trails, primarily because of the vertical climb. But it offers the most spectacular views.
The first part of the climb is a series of short switchbacks that take up along the face of the rocks. This provides a rapid vertical gain. If you are as unfit as we are then you’ll soon need to take a break – which is rewarded by some wonderful vistas along the Crooked River and to the mountains beyond.
Eventually, the switchback end (for a bit) and there is about 1/2 a mile of a straight steady climb. Then there is some more switchback. In places, the trail has been eroded by the elements and the foot traffic of visitors. Luckily, these missing bits of the trail have been replaced by wooden boardwalks. The final climb to the top of the ridge does involve some stairs, but there are not too many to negotiate.
At the top things flatten off and there are some convenient rocks and juniper trees to rest upon and catch you breathe.
As you cross the relative flatness of the ridge there are quite a few places to stop and admire the view – and of course, snap a few photos. From here you can stare across the flat and arid desert (which is punctuated with fields that are heavily irrigated) towards the distant peaks of the Cascade Range.
As you crest the summit and come down the other side of the trail you come across one of the famous features of the Park, Monkey Face, so-called because of its resemblance to a monkey’s head. This tall rock spire is particularly popular with the more skilled climbers looking for a real challenge!
Descending from the ridge involves more switchbacks which can be very dusty with a lot of loose materials – especially in the summer. We take our time coming down this section as it is very easy to lose your footing.
At the base of the ridge trail, we usually hop onto the River Trail which takes you back around to the bridge you start from
The River Trail
This 2 1/2 mile trail is the most popular in the whole park due to its easy accessibility and overall flatness. It especially favoured by families. Consequently, it gets very busy, especially at weekends during the summer. Fortunately, most people don’t venture for more than the first mile, so you can still experience relative quietness for most of the trail.
Coming from the direction of the Welcome Center, you first need to descend into the Park. Crossing over the bridge you take a sharp left onto the River Trail.
Looking straight up at the rock face at the start of the trail, you start to see climbers on routes along Picnic Lunch Wall. As you round the bend, you come to the main climbing areas of Morning Glory Wall, The Dihedrals, and Christian Brothers.
As you continue along the bend you come upon a horse ford, where on summer days you may see them crossing with their riders when the river is lowest.
The Smith Rock Group with Phoenix Buttress, another popular climbing area, lies just beyond. As you round the Southern Tip, another climbing spot, you may see deer fording the river. Continuing along the river, you’ll see small grassy islands, where waterfowl tend to hang out, as well as the occasional otter family swim by.
The trail ascends a bit at this point but then flattens out quickly along the river’s edge once again. Follow it past the Mesa Verde Trail junction for half a mile to the Summit Trail/Mesa Verde Trail junction. Great views, including that of a park icon, Monkey Face are all along the way. Here you can simply turn around and go back the way you came to stay on level ground.
In summary …
Smith Rock is a great place for hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing offering challenges for people of all abilities. It is also suitable for family outings. The main thing to be aware of is the lack of parking which can be a nightmare on weekends and holidays. Get there early – which has the benefit of also missing out on the worst of the heat on hot days.