Smith Rock State Park


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Smith Rock State Park

A high desert gem of adventure and natural beauty

Amidst the grand backdrop of the distant Cascade Mountains, the Crooked River slowly winds its way along the base of the golden basalt and tuff cliffs we call Smith Rock. Smith Rock State Park was recently named one of the “7 Wonders of Oregon” by Travel Oregon. The park has served as iconic western scenery for half a dozen Hollywood productions through the years. Bend’s Deschutes Brewery even features this fantastical landmark on the label of its Twilight Summer Ale.

The 650-acre park is perhaps best known as a world-class rock climbing destination. But hiking, running, cycling, horseback riding, fishing, camping, and bird watching are several of the other popular activities at this gem of the high desert. With drive times from Bend at under 40 minutes, this is indeed a Central Oregon favorite.

Although the view from the Welcome Center alone is worth the journey, there are a number of absolutely must-do activities that are accessible from the main parking area. We’ll do our best to break those down by category here, but this is truly the sort of place you can’t go wrong.

Rock climbing at Smith Rock State Park

Rock climbing

Known as the birthplace of American sport climbing, Smith Rock has close to 2,000 routes ranging from 4th class to 5.14. The primarily sun exposed, south-facing routes and high desert placement of the park make it a popular climbing destination year-round, with peak climbing season falling in the late spring or early autumn. Anticipate a wait for many of the most popular routes during high season. Interested in a climbing guide? There are several options for local climbing guide services.


The Crooked River flows right through the middle of the park, with the park’s namesake basalt and tuff cliffs seemingly rising straight from the shore of the river. Both spinner angling and fly fishing are permitted in the park. Rainbow trout, brook trout, and mountain whitefish are the most common catches here. An Oregon Fishing License is required for fishing and fishing is allowed only in designated areas.


Smith Rock is a popular destination for both road cyclists and mountain bikers, but for very different reasons. The former uses the amenities and views at the park as a mid-ride stop, and the latter uses the park as a launching point. Both provide breathtaking views of the park and surrounding areas.

Road riding to the park from Bend, Redmond, or Sisters offers plentiful route options through mixed forest and agricultural lands, with mountain views throughout and multiple river crossings to keep the ride interesting. Each route features rolling terrain, without a large amount of elevation gain proportional to its length. Check out our article on road cycling in Bend for details on the Sisters to Smith Rock route, a part of the Three Sisters Scenic Bikeway.

Mountain biking options at Smith Rock start and finish from the main parking area and are all rated intermediate level and above, due to steep hills and loose terrain. Though this area can be extremely hot in the summertime, the lack of precipitation and high sun exposure makes it a great option for wintertime mountain biking when the trails west of Bend are closed due to standing snow and water. If you do choose to ride the Smith Rock area in the summertime, make sure to bring plenty of water as there are no guaranteed refill options once you leave the Welcome Center. The Summit Trail Loop is the longest route within the park itself, at 7.3 miles round-trip with 1664 feet of gain. For those interested in more, the Burma Road connection with the Gray Butte trail network to the north of the park provides additional options to extend your route.

Hiking in Smith Rock State Park near Bend, OR

Hiking and trail running

Several incredible trails from the main parking area include hiking and running options for beginner to advanced runners. Either option begins and ends with a steep paved trail connecting the parking area to the bridge over the Crooked River. 

The mellowest option at Smith Rock is the 2.5 mile River Trail. It’s mostly flat along the river bank other than the access to the parking area via “The Chute.” The 3.7 mile Misery Ridge Loop is a great option for those wanting a little more elevation gain (a little over 1500 feet). Starting and ending on the River Trail, this challenging loop trail climbs up and over the top of the rock formation via a steep section of technical trail. If you’re up for the election gain, the view from the top is well worth the climb. Take in grand vistas of the Cascade Range, Monkey Face spire, and the Crooked River below. 

The third primary option, the Summit Loop, is the longest of the three by far, coming in at almost 7.5 miles from the main parking area. Although this option has only slightly more elevation gain than the Misery Ridge Loop (1664 feet), that gain is highly concentrated towards the northeast corner of the loop atop Burma Road.

Horseback riding

A true western icon, it’s no wonder that Smith Rock is a popular destination for equestrian usage. Horses are permitted on sections of the Wolf Tree, Homestead, River, and Canyon trails. Horses are not permitted on the pedestrian bridge over the Crooked River, but two horse fords are marked at both ends of the park, one south of the Monument area, off of the Wolf Tree Trail, and the other near the Phoenix Buttress area off of the River Trail. Equestrian usage in the park is limited to several options, each around 1 mile each. However, horse access via Burma road to nearby BLM land offers much longer routes. Smith Rock Trail Rides offers guided horseback experiences along the Crooked River with amazing views of Smith Rock.

Bald eagle at Smith Rock State Park near Bend, OR

Bird watching

The Crooked River canyon is home to a variety of birds and nesting waterfowl year-round. Watch for birds of prey like hawks and eagles hunting from the trees and cliffs above the Crooked River. And it’s not uncommon to run into a park ranger set up with viewing equipment along the River Trail. Seasonal closures for both hiking and climbing routes are a part of life in the park, in an effort to protect sensitive nesting areas.


The park has a walk-in, tent-only campground on the south rim of the river canyon, complete with restrooms, showers and a cooking area (open flames strictly prohibited). The Bivouac Area is available on a first-come, first-served basis with no reservations accepted. RVs are not allowed in this area and camping in vehicles of any kind is strictly prohibited in the park. For additional options, the nearby Skull Hollow campground on BLM land just east of the park offers an additional 70 standard campsites. Dispersed camping is prohibited near the campground from Lone Pine Road to Rd. 5720.

Unless Smith Rock is a destination on your road cycling route, it’s most likely that you’ll be driving to this rural park. There’s a good amount of parking space available within a short walk from the main access point for pedestrian access to the river canyon, “The Chute.” That said, if you don’t see a marked parking stall, please do not improvise—park only within designated spaces. Parking is $5 per day. Alternatively, the annual Oregon State Parks pass is available for $30 for those who plan to frequent the many incredible state parks in Oregon throughout the year.

Pro Tip

If you are looking for a great meal either before or after your adventure, Terrebonne Depot is a solid option just a 5 minute drive from the park. The Depot serves lunch and dinner out of an historic renovated train depot just beside the tracks. Indoor and outdoor dining is available, with dogs welcome on the patio.