Posted on 3/31/2024

The Scoop on Smith Rock State Park


Are you looking for a way to elevate your outdoor experience? As most avid explorers know, it can be hard to take your adventures to new heights, especially if you’ve scaled some of the world’s most stunning summits.

Enter Smith Rock State Park, one of the 7 wonders of Oregon and the birthplace of U.S. sport climbing. Located just a short 40-minute drive from Sisters in Central Oregon, this 650-acre park is a high desert haven for rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and all sorts of outdoor thrills and chills. With its dramatic rock formations, soaring tuff and basalt cliffs, deep river canyons and extensive trail system, Smith Rock is a mecca of outdoor recreation for adventurers of all ages.

Whether you’re here for the day, a long weekend, or a full week-long excursion, here’s the scoop on everything you need to know about Smith Rock State Park.

Directions to Smith Rock State Park

Perched firmly in Central Oregon’s high desert region, the park is located 3 miles east of highway 97 outside the tiny town of Terrebonne. According to the park website, you’re looking for a big brown directional sign near the yellow highway light; if you hit the gas station, you’ve gone too far.

It’s a short 37-mile drive from downtown Sisters via OR-126 E, but many choose to take 2 wheels along the Sisters to Smith Rock Scenic Bikeway, a paved route that treats cyclists to one of the most scenic and rewarding rides in the state.

Average drive times from other locations:

  • Seattle - 6 hours

  • Portland - 3 hours

  • Bend - 35 minutes

  • Redmond - 25 minutes

When to Visit Smith Rock State Park

The park is open to day-use visitors from dawn to dusk, every day of the year. There’s no bad time to visit; it depends on what you want to do with your time!

  • The summer months (May-October) are peak season for park visitors. Expect large crowds and temps that can top 100°. Be sure to stay hydrated and rest in shady areas when needed. Try to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the rush.

  • Spring is a spectacular season for hiking. Mornings dawn crisp and bright, the dull desert foliage blooms into vivid colors, and the Crooked River swells to fill deep canyon slots. Be prepared for fluctuating temperatures (dress in layers!) and the occasional pop-up shower.

  • Fall is an ideal time of year for rock climbing. The summer heat has waned, the weather is reliably clear, and high-elevation routes offer sweeping views of the desert covered in bright fall foliage.

  • Winter is a great time to avoid the crowds and enjoy a peaceful exploration. Temperatures in the canyon are often warmer than surrounding cities, though icy trail conditions and route closures can make some activities a challenge. But stark white snowflakes coating the bold red rocks offer an enticing reward.

Climbing at Smith Rock State Park

The park is home to over 2,000 climbing routes of varying difficulty that scale every inch of its volcanic, tuff, and basalt cliffs. Visitors of all ages and skill levels are sure to find a climb to suit their style, from sport climbing to traditional climbs and bouldering. The difficulty of climbing routes is rated using the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), with ratings starting from 5.0 (easy) to 5.15 (extremely difficult).

The park is divided into 14 distinct climbing areas, each one offering a variety of routes through different landscapes and rock formations across the area. Here are 3 of the most popular areas for new and advanced climbers:

  • Monkey Face Area. One of the most iconic formations in the park, the Monkey Face Area is home to some of the most difficult climbs in the world, including “Just Do It” (5.14c) and “The Backbone” (5.13a).

  • The Dihedrals. This accordion of steep rock faces helped immortalize Smith Rock as the foundation of modern sport climbing. There are a range of routes from easy to advanced, including “To Bolt or Not To Be” (5.14a), the first route of its grade in the country.

  • Morning Glory Wall. This 350-foot wall of rock offers routes from easy to extreme and everything in between. Bathed in constant sunlight, these climbs are best done in colder seasons or late afternoons. Don’t miss “5 Gallon Buckets” (5.8), a popular sport climb with a series of large holds (buckets) that make for a fun and relatively stress-free climb.

If you’re new to the sport, consider trying one of the park’s many guided climb services.

Hiking at Smith Rock State Park

Smith Rock State Park offers a variety of hiking trails that cater to different fitness levels and interests, providing stunning views of the rock formations, the Crooked River, and the surrounding high desert landscape. Here are some of the most popular hiking trails in the park:

1. Misery Ridge Trail

  • Distance: 2.6 miles, out and back

  • Elevation Gain: 1,115 feet

  • Difficulty: Extreme

One of the most famous and challenging hikes in the park, the Misery Ridge Trail is a tough ridge climb that offers spectacular panoramic views from the top. The trail takes hikers up a steep climb to the summit of Misery Ridge, where you can see iconic Smith Rock formations like Monkey Face, as well as impressive vistas of the Cascade Mountains.

2. River Trail

  • Distance: 4.3 miles

  • Elevation Gain: 324 feet

  • Difficulty: Easy

For those looking for a more leisurely hike, the River Trail offers a relatively flat and scenic route along the banks of the Crooked River. Suitable for all ages and abilities, this family-friendly trail provides beautiful views of the rock formations towering above. It's also a great option for wildlife spotting, particularly birds.

3. Summit Trail Loop

  • Distance: 7.3 miles

  • Elevation Gain:

  • Difficulty: Moderate

This relatively new loop trail offers a moderate hike with varied terrain and elevation gains. The Summit Trail circles around the entire park, offering stunning views of Smith Rock, the Cascade Range, and the high desert. It's a great way to experience the diverse landscapes within the park.

These trails showcase the natural beauty and geological wonders of Smith Rock State Park, making it a favorite destination for hikers as well as climbers. Whether you're looking for a strenuous workout, a leisurely walk, or simply to enjoy the outdoors, there's a trail at Smith Rock that's perfect for you.

Other Things to Do at Smith Rock State Park

Beyond its world-renowned rock climbing and diverse hiking trails, Smith Rock State Park offers a variety of other activities that cater to outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Here's a look at some additional activities visitors can enjoy:

  • Mountain Biking: The area around Smith Rock State Park features several mountain biking trails suitable for different skill levels. While biking is not allowed on the park's hiking trails, the surrounding public lands provide challenging and scenic routes for biking enthusiasts.

  • Wildlife Viewing: The park is home to a wide array of wildlife, making it a fantastic place for nature observation. Visitors might see golden eagles, prairie falcons, river otters, mule deer, and various reptiles. Birdwatching is particularly rewarding here, with the park's high cliffs providing nesting sites for several raptor species.

  • Walk a Slackline: For a unique Smith Rock experience, test your balance (and your nerve) on a harrowing slackline walk. The park boasts over 35 popular lines that offer a fun and fearful way to take in the scenery.

  • Horseback Riding: Horses are permitted in a large section of the park via riverside trails that wind along the scenic gorges and slot canyons along Crooked River.

Where to Stay Near Smith Rock State Park

While in-park camping is allowed with a permit, there are many comfortable vacation rentals around the area that offer cozy shelter after a day on the cliffs. Our private homes, condos and cabins are conveniently located in Sisters, a charming mountain town just 37 miles from the park. After climbing and hiking your fill, relax in modern comfort where shopping, restaurants, galleries and more are just steps away.

Whether you're drawn to its climbing routes, the scenic trails, or simply the beauty of the high desert,

Smith Rock State Park

is a destination that offers a unique blend of adventure, nature, and history. Let the Sisters Vacation Rentals team be your trusted host as you take your outdoor adventure to new heights.

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