Spring is right season to explore rugged landmark near Bend, Ore.
TERREBONE, Ore. — Yes, the less vertically inclined, too, can find a suitable adventure here.
Although Smith Rock State Park is mostly known as a mecca for rock climbers, the hiking opportunities within the park should not be ignored. And often, the park’s trails can put a hiker in a spot to watch climbers scale some of the most difficult routes in the West.
This month, I made the drive to Terrebonne with one goal in mind: hike Smith Rock State Park and see as much of the park as possible from its highest vantage points — without actually climbing the rocks.
Besides, climbers need all that gear: rope, carabiners, belay devices, a partner they can trust with their lives. You get my point.
Most Read Life Stories
- Seattle chef Mike Easton's critically acclaimed pasta spot Il Corvo will return … but in Eastern Washington
- 7 hidden-gem attractions to check out at Seattle's Pike Place Market
- This Oregon teacher climbed Washington’s 100 tallest peaks in 51 days
- 3 terrific under-the-radar spots where Seattle locals go to grab a tasty snack at Pike Place Market
- Warm up during these cold fall days with a hearty mushroom soup that will win over even the mushroom haters
Hikers need just shoes, suitable clothing, water and some food.
I have biked the trails at Smith Rock on several occasions, but this time I left my bike at home. I wanted to experience the park unencumbered by gear and go for a simple hike through one of Central Oregon’s most impressive geologic wonders.
I’ll admit I missed my bike at first. But nearly four hours later, I was glad I had chosen to hike.
Early spring is one of the best — and therefore most crowded — times to visit Smith Rock. I finally found a parking spot, paid the $5 state-park fee and took to the trail.
And so, it appeared, did everybody else.
The path winding down to the main area of the park was filled with tourists, hikers and rock climbers on a sunny day when temperatures crept into the 60s. (Summertime is often uncomfortably hot at Smith Rock, so spring and fall seem to be the peak seasons.)
Seeking to avoid the crowds that were heading up the Misery Ridge Trail or along the River Trail, I took a right on the Wolf Tree Trail, which led me away from some of the more popular climbing destinations and into a more remote area of the park. The Crooked River trickled next to the trail as I continued hiking, and the sun shined on the castlelike crags that towered above the trail and the river.
After tromping over a section of loose rocks, I turned onto Burma Road, which took me up to near the top of the rock formations I had gazed up at from the Wolf Tree Trail. Burma Road cuts a wide swath across a barren hillside, and is clearly visible from U.S. Highway 97. I had ridden up Burma on my mountain bike several times, but this was my first attempt hiking up the steep grade, which seemed easier by foot, although it took longer.
When I reached the top, I chatted with two mountain bikers there, then took in the breathtaking view of the cliffs and rock faces from the “roof” of Smith Rock State Park.
From that spot, hikers can continue east to the Gray Butte Trail or stay within the state park along the new Summit Trail. Paid for with a grant from the Recreational Trails Program, the Summit Loop connects to the River Trail that wraps around the park and parallels the Crooked River.
I followed the switchbacks of the Summit Trail down the hillside. Along the way, several viewpoints on the cliff side offered panoramic scenes of the rugged state park to the west and of the Crooked River National Grassland and Mount Jefferson to the northeast.
Eventually I made it down all the switchbacks to flat ground and arrived at the connection to the River Trail. After turning the corner to the north side of the park, Monkey Face, the renowned 350-foot rock spire, rose in the distance above the river.
The trail continued along the river, and soon thereafter I came to a junction with the Mesa Verde Trail, which leads to the base of Monkey Face.
My choices were to continue along the flat River Trail and back around to the main parking area, or hike the steep Misery Ridge Trail up and over to the other side of the park.
After staring up at Monkey Face for a few minutes, I elected to take Misery Ridge and make the hike an “up-down-up-down” adventure.
As I climbed the trail, I heard voices from above but saw no one. Then, after the path wrapped around to the other side of Monkey Face, I saw two climbers nearing the top of the imposing rock formation. I watched them work their ropes and maneuver their way to the summit of the spire, then, safely atop, look out toward the snow-covered Cascade peaks.
A crowd had gathered at the top of Misery Ridge, watching the two climbers. While I had been basically all alone on the Summit Trail, the Misery Ridge Trail was packed with hikers and climbers, all taking in the sunshine and the views.
By the time I made it back down Misery Ridge and back to the parking lot, I was pretty spent after trekking 7 miles in four hours.
But experiencing most of Smith Rock State Park from such a unique perspective — and without rope — was well worth the effort.