It’s easy to scratch Smith Rock off your list of places to visit in Central Oregon if you aren’t a rock climber, but to do that would be missing out on a vibrant nature area with many hiking trails and camping areas.
Smith Rock, located outside the small town of Terrebonne, north of Redmond, might be a bit out of the way, but for hikers, bikers and, of course, rock climbers, it is well worth the journey.
The park is relatively easy to get to, with nice paved roads giving your three options to enjoy the rock formation that attracts up to 500,000 visitors per year.
The first area you see while travelling down NE Crooked River Drive is the Bivouac area, where you can set up a tent and camp if you like. Bivouac is a term used for a camp site normally used for mountain climbing, thus the name of this area.
Officials say there is no RV or sleeping in vans or cars in this area, it is strictly for camping. A large, flat area with underbrush gives campers a semi-protected area to set up a home-away from home, but the real nice amenity are the showers and bathrooms, which take some of the sting out of those of us who don’t want the full camping experience.
During the fall when I visited, there were more than 15 campsites set up in the shadow of the Asterisk Pass.
The second area along the dead-end road is the Rim Trail and Memorial Viewpoint. If you are more of a watcher, than a climber, this is the area for you. Parking your car in the big parking lot and then walking about 200 feet will get you to benches where you can look across the Crooked River to see climbers working their way up the Morning Glory Wall and the network of trails around both Asterisk Pass and Misery Ridge.
The area is also the perfect spot for day visitors to not only watch the amazing rock climbing – those folks look like Spider-Man crawling up those sheer cliff faces – but the various wildlife in the area.
While I was there I saw rabbits, eagles, and many other birds, and that was just walking to the viewpoint.
For you bikers, horseback riders, hikers, and climbers the meat of Smith Rock is in the day-use area, which not only has bathrooms, a telephone and information kiosk, but also a nice picnic area and is the trailhead for the more than 5 miles of trails in the park. Trails range from difficult to easy, so make sure to pick up a park brochure to get a map and a listing of the different trails.
The river trail, which loops around the rock formations, is 2.5 miles long and offers some stunning views of the topography and natural wonder of the park. It runs along the Crooked River and on the hot day I was there, it offered a cool alternative to the picnic areas.
For climbers, there are literally hundreds of routes to climb, which go from easy to extremely difficult, according to state officials. On some of the climbs there have been permanent anchors placed. State park officials want climbers to use “clean” techniques to maintain the rock face, so equipment such as chocks and camming devices are suggested. A quick Google search will give you several web sites of local guides and even entire webpages devoted to this climbing area.
There are some rules at the park, the first being that fire is only allowed in designated areas. With the dry desert climate, fire is a real issue. Another rule is for animal lovers, keep dogs on leashes and they ask all pets stay on the trails to keep from harming the habitat for native animals.
About the Smith Rock: If you enjoy scenic views of deep river canyons or rock climbing, Smith Rock State Park is the place for you. There are several thousand climbs in the park. More than a thousand are bolted routes. There are also miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Along your trip through the canyon, you might see golden eagles, prairie falcons, mule deer, river otter and beaver.
What to bring: All of the activities at Smith Rock are outdoors, so make sure to dress appropriately and bring the right clothes for the weather. In addition, you are going to be walking, standing, riding a bike or horse, the right shoes for the job are also in order. One of the things that I wish I would have brought during my trip was a pair of binoculars. I had a long lens on my camera that worked, but it would have been much better to have my binoculars to see the wildlife and the climbers up close.
Tip: If you aren’t going to camp, don’t bother stopping at the bivouac area, as the trail leading from it is called the “Rope-de-Dope” trial, and as you might imagine it is a little steep for hikers who don’t have climbing gear. If you are exploring the park on foot or horse or bike, the day use area is your best bet. If you just want to watch what is going on around the park the viewpoint in the middle of the bivouac and day-use areas is a nice place to stop and see what is going on or get the lay of the land before you head out on your adventure.
Season: The park is open year-round, but weather cooperates more during the Spring, Summer and Fall months.
Getting there: The address for the park is 9241 NE Crooked River Drive, Terrebonne, OR. The park is listed in many GPS units point of interests under parks. The park is off US 97 about nine miles northeast of Redmond.
By Patrick Johnson