Smith Rock State Park in Central Oregon is a rock climber’s playground. The Crooked River carved through layers of hardened volcanic ash to create a landscape that reminded me of Utah. Hiking here is a treat, and the Misery Ridge Loop is the perfect way to tour Smith Rock. It takes you across the river and up to the panoramic views on Misery Ridge. You will get a front-seat view of the popular climbing areas like the Red Wall, Monkey Face, Morning Glory Wall, and the Phoenix Buttress. And you might even spy otters frolicking in the river.
Getting to Smith Rock State Park
Time: 2-3 hours
Elevation gain: 850 ft
When to go: Spring-Fall
You enter the park at the top of the southeast bluff. There are restrooms, picnic tables and a climbing area for youngsters. And lots and lots of people, especially on the weekends.
Hiking the Misery Ridge Loop
After picking up a free map at the Welcome Center and hanging our pass on the rear view mirror of our rental car, we followed the Rim Rock Trail north to the Canyon Trail. There are some great views of Smith Rock, so take your time and soak it in.
The Canyon Trail begins as a broad paved trail that allows stroller-pushing parents to access the bottom of the canyon, but we cut off at The Chute — a steeper, shorter section that heads pretty much straight down toward the Crooked River and the bridge crossing. Look across the river and you’ll see the switchbacks of the Misery Ridge Trail.
At the bottom of the canyon there is a information kiosk with a map of the area — which you don’t really need because you brought your free map from the Welcome Center, right? It also has all the typical warnings about carrying plenty of water, watching for rattlesnakes in hot weather, staying on the trail and leave no trace.
This is also a good place to ponder the phrase “misery loves company” because when you cross that bridge over the river, you’re going to soon find out.
Immediately across the bridge you’ll see the initial steps of the Misery Ridge Trail climbing in front of you. Take a deep breath and head up. Take a breather below the Red Wall, one of several popular climbing locations you will hike past on this loop, and watch the climbers defying gravity. In case you catch the climbing bug, Smith Rock is also a great place to learn climbing, with a number of schools leading courses here.
The Misery Ridge Trail climbs pretty relentlessly, but is well engineered with steps to help prevent erosion. Remember to stay on the established trails, and be sure to stop every so often and soak in the ever-changing views. Soon, you’ll well above the bluff you began on.
Looking back down on the trail you’ve climbed you get a sense of how steep it is, and why they call it Misery Ridge. The geology of the park is on full display, with multi-colored layers of compressed volcanic ash.
The top of the ridge makes a great place for a break. You’ve hiked about 2-1/2 miles and reached the high-point of this loop. And the views are pretty nice, too.
Looking west, you can see the snow-capped Cascade Mountains.
Follow the signs for the Misery Ridge Trail to the west. At about the 3.0 mile mark, you’ll see use trails that lead to an overlook of the icon Monkey Face column. Bear right at that junction to stay on the loop and begin the descent via a dozen steep switchbacks.
If you have trekking poles, this is a good time to use them. The loose gravel and sand can make this steep trail slippery.
When you reach the bottom of the canyon, bear left to follow the River Trail back to the bridge. It’s normally an easy, rolling trail, but with higher-than-usual water levels, parts of it were submerged. We had one section that involved a light scramble to follow the detour. It was fine for us, but could be tricky with young children or dogs.
As you get closer to the bridge, you’ll pass by several other popular climbing area and see more and more people on the trail. The River Trail is the only trail in the park where mountain bikes are also allowed, so be alert for bikers.
Take time to enjoy the river and watch for wildlife. Otters, geese and deer all call this area home.
Misery Ridge Trail Map & Elevation Profile
Smith Rock State Park Tips
- The best time for taking photos at this beautiful park will be early morning and the golden hour before sundown. Note that the park closes as sundown, so be respectful.
- Even though this is a popular park, I recommend bringing the 10 essentials. Weather conditions are unpredictable, and it’s better to be prepared.
- Please stay on all marked trails. This will help minimize erosion.
- A day use pass is $5, but if you think you might come back here, one-year and two-year passes are also available.
More Smith Rock State Park Resources
- There is no backpacking at Smith Rock State Park, but there is a walk-in tent camping area near the entrance
- Official Smith Rock State Park website
- Get directions via Google Maps
Smith Rock State Park Weather Forecast
Photo credit: Jeff Hester. Originally hiked on March 26, 2017.