Ever heard of this place? Neither had I!
If you were living in Oregon in the 1950s, you probably never heard much about Smith Rock. My Dad was born and raised in Bend, a stone’s throw from the rocky landscape reminiscent of the Grand canyon, and even he didn’t hear much of the place other than being a beautiful formation of rocks. It wasn’t even a blip on the tourism radar back then. But in the late 1980s, local rock climber Alan Watts and others put the place on the map by establishing some of the most difficult climbing routes in the world. It is now considered the birthplace of American sport climbing with thousands of routes – including more than 1,000 bolted lines – in the 651 acres of land.
The state park offers more than just hard-core climbing. There are miles of trails running through the area, offering some spectacular views of the central Cascades. For hike #38, my parents and I headed north from Bend to check out the “geologic wonderland.”
We arrived just after sunrise and thought we had most of the park to ourselves, but after a closer look at the rocky crags jutting out of the ground, we noticed a few rock climbers. The goal for the morning was to hike the River Trail, which hugs the appropriately-named Crooked River. When we reached the Mesa Verde Trail, my parents would head back the way we came and meet me back at the car. I would continue up the steep trail, over Misery Ridge, and down the other side to the river and back up “The Chute” to the parking lot.
The morning was cool and still. The sun slowly rose and made the rocks glow like a campfire in reds, yellows and oranges. The river flowed gently, reflecting the monolithic rocks in its deep waters. Rock climbers have made thousands of routes on these rocks, with names like The Christian Bros., The Dihedrals, The Morning Glory Wall, and Monkey Face. The latter is one of the more famous of the routes, with a very distinct shape that goes well with its name.
The nature of the area was outstanding. On the course of the hike, I counted over a dozen deer sightings – including a few bucks. I witnessed a coyote chasing a young faun, who got away with a few heart-racing pronks along the grass-covered river valley. Western skink lizards darted under rocks and cottontail rabbits hopped into brush as I trekked passed.
I felt sad leaving the beautiful river trail and up the Mesa Verde Trail, but I exchanged the serenity of the river’s edge with the majesty of the views. In less than a mile, I would climb over 1,000 vertical feet. It’s no wonder they call it Misery Ridge! During the switchback hell, I stopped frequently to check out the views. Below the river snaked along the base of the towering rocks. The high desert spread out before me – the air so clear I could see all the way to the snow-capped Cascades. When I wasn’t looking at the view, I was admiring the fearless climbers on Monkey Face. A group of teens from Wyoming had traveled out here to climb the world-famous rock. I continued onto the summit (3,360 feet) and lost my breath at the view. I stood close to the edge of a rocky ledge for just long enough to picture what it would feel like to fall 3,000 feet to the river far below.
I made my way down Misery Ridge Trail to rejoin my parents at the trailhead. My thoughts were filled with all the beauty I have seen over the last week in Oregon. This was my final hike of my trip. I had hiked nine times – over 30 trail miles – in the last six days. It felt good to get so much hiking in, especially with my parents. There are so many ways we could have spent our time together, but hiking seemed the most appropriate. A few hours before my plane flew me home to Southern California, we went to REI where my parents excitedly bought trekking poles. It brings a smile to my face when I think of them on the trail in the coming years.
Thoughts about the hike:
- There are small shacks below the rocks supplied with emergency rescue supplies in case a climber takes a fall. Unfortunately, there are many fatal falls in this park, which is home of the first 5.14 (read: REALLY hard) climbing route in the US.
- Unless the rocky spires are between you and the sun, there’s very little shade in this park.
- Oregon.gov : Smith Rock State Park
- Smith Rock State Park – Wikipedia
- Youtube: Rock Climbing in Smith Rock State Park
Hike #38 Trip GPS Stats:
- Date of hike: June 25th, 2009
- Location: Smith Rock State Park, Terrebonne, Oregon
- Length: 4.3 miles
- Duration: 4 hours, 18 minutes
- Average speed: ±1 mph
- Altitude at start: 2,822 feet
- Altitude min.max: 2,664/3,360 feet
This map was made with the data my GPS captured on the hike. For a more detailed trip report map, check this out.