With dramatic cliffs, towering red rocks, a meandering river and views for days, Smith Rock State Park is spectacular in every season.
As one of the natural wonders of Oregon, this pristine area in the centre of the state is well worth the trip, whether it’s for a quick stop to look out from one of the great viewpoints near the park’s entrance or to properly explore by heading down into the canyon.
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The other-worldly landscapes were formed by a pair of volcanic events; the first saw ash a half-mile thick blanket the area, which hardened into rock known as Smith Rock tuff. Wind and water erosion eventually formed the spectacular spires seen today.
During the second event, fluid basalt flowed from other volcanic eruptions, which eventually pushed the Crooked River up to the base of Smith Rock.
The formations are a photographer’s dream, and there are fantastic hiking trails along the ancient lava flows for all skill levels, along with activities like horseback riding, mountain biking and rock climbing. No matter how long you have to explore, here’s everything you need to know to make the most of your time in Smith Rock State Park Oregon.
Where is Smith Rock State Park
The park is just outside the town of Terrebonne, in Central Oregon’s High Desert near Bend. A fun combo trip is to start in Bend, head to the charming, western-themed town of Sisters, then do the 40 minute drive to Smith Rock (or cycle there along the Three Sisters Scenic Bikeway which has views of the Cascades and winding Deschutes River).
It takes just under three hours to drive from either Portland, Hood River or Crater Lake. Once you arrive, be sure to purchase a $5 day pass in the parking lot at the entrance.
What to do at Smith Rock
The Smith Rock State Park trails are perfect for adrenaline-fuelled adventures like slacklining, mountain biking and trail running, and are especially popular for mountain climbing.
Known as the birthplace of U.S. sport climbing, daredevils have been scaling the basalt columns since the ’80s. There are nearly 2000 routes throughout the park, as well as 300 bouldering lines for those who prefer to go gear-free.
New to the sport? Arrange to visit with a guide from a local outfitter like Smith Rock Climbing Guides or Oregon Adventure Guides, who provide equipment and expert instruction.
Another way to explore is on horseback, and trail riding is permitted along certain parts of the Homestead, River, Canyon and Wolf Tree trails.
The best Smith Rock State Park hikes
One of the best ways to explore is to head through the vast canyon on your own two feet, and there are a dozen Smith Rock State Park hiking trails winding through more than 650 acres to suit all skill levels.
Some of the most popular routes are:
- Canyon Trail: A good option for those short on time, this mild, 1.5 mile pathway starts at the welcome centre and heads down to the river toward the Rope-de-Dope climbing area. There are a series of lookout points as you descend, and highlights include Asterisk Pass which has a boulder that looks like Woodstock from the Snoopy comics, and the Phoenix Buttress which is another popular spot for climbers.
- Rim Rock Trail: This half-mile stroll circles the ridge of the park, serving up sweeping views from a number of different angles. The flat, paved pathway winds past a kid’s climbing wall, picnic areas and benches looking out at the scenery, making this a top choice for families with young kids.
- Misery Ridge: A number of trails in the park lead to Misery Ridge, which is arguably one of the best known spots in Smith Rock State Park. It’s a windy, steep climb up, but the views from the top of the 3,360 foot summit are jaw-dropping.
- Summit Loop: This 7.3 mile loop treats hikers to some of the park’s best spots, including Misery Ridge, the Crooked River, Monkey Face and the Monument where you might see golden eagles nesting.
Smith Rock tours
The best way to properly explore Smith Rock is to stay in the area, or visit as a day trip from Bend. There are also organized tours that include time here, as part of a multi-day trip through Oregon:
Movie buffs will be interested to know that Smith Rock State Park has played a starring role in a handful of Hollywood films, including Homeward Bound, The Postman and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. It also doubled as California’s Pacific Crest Trail for the scrambling scenes in the 2014 movie Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon.
Where to stay near Smith Rock
If you’re planning to spend a day or two in the area, the accommodation options are either pitching a tent at one of the walk-in only camp areas within the park, parking at a more accessible campground a short drive away, or booking a room in a nearby town. The Smith Rock State Park camping areas are well marked and near the park entrance, and if you’re interested in a hotel some great options are:
- FivePine Lodge & Spa: This gorgeous lodge in Sisters is a true escape surrounded by thick forests, with private cabins, soaking tubs and fireplaces which makes it the perfect place to unwind after a day of adventures. Guests rave about the personable staff, and special touches like a complimentary bottle of wine on arrival. Click here to book
- SCP Redmond: Bright, spacious rooms, stone fireplaces, a yoga room and old school records are some of the fun finds at this property in the heart of nearby Redmond, which is just 20 minutes from Smith Rock. Check-in means free beer and coffee, and they also plant a tree to offset each guest. Click here to book
- Brasada Ranch: This luxe resort is just a 30 minute drive from Smith Rock, and the kind of place where you’ll want to settle in and stay a while. With phenomenal views, a pristine golf course, multiple pools and hot tubs, an activity centre and restaurants, there’s plenty of fun here for the whole family. Accommodations are a mix of private rooms or entire houses complete with living areas, spacious suites and private hot tubs, which makes Brasada feel like a home away from home. Click here to book
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