to Smith Rock
spectacular desert rock-climbing site surrounded by the looping
the Hike: Smith Rock juts from the Central Oregon lava
plains like an orange-sailed ship in the desert. Oregon's
most popular rock-climbing area, this state park challenges
mountaineers with 3 miles of rhyolite cliffs and Monkey Face,
a 350-foot-tall natural sculpture. Hikers can experience Smith
Rock's scenic drama too. For an easy trip, walk along the
aptly named Crooked River as it curls past the base of Monkey
Face. For a steep shortcut back, climb steps to cliff-edge
views of the High Cascades.
Rock State Park offers pleasant hiking most of the year.
Photo by William Sullivan
A moderate, 3.6-mile loop to the headland's tip gains 900 feet of
Open all year. The area is best in spring, when high desert wildflowers
bloom, or in winter when other trails are blocked by snow. Just
avoid July and August when the park bakes in 100-degree heat.
There: Drive Highway 97 to Terrebonne, 6 miles north of Redmond
or 20 miles south of Madras. Following "Smith Rock State Park" signs,
turn east for 3.3 zigzagging miles to the parking area.
A $3-per-car fee is charged here. It can be paid with bills or coins
at an automat in the parking lot.
Tips: Park near the restrooms and walk to an overlook at the
far right end of the picnic area. Follow a gated dirt road down
through an aromatic stand of tall sagebrush, cross the river bridge
to a trail junction and turn left along the riverbank. You'll soon
round a bend and come to three side trails signed for The Dihedrals
and Asterisk Pass; these climb up stairs and end at cliffs where
climbers dangle, jangling their gear. Explore these side trails,
if you like, by hiking up one and descending on the next.
by William Sullivan
continue down river, watching the plentiful bird life. Black-and-white
magpies swoop from gnarled junipers. Pigeons coo in rock cracks. The
eagles who hunt these birds soar from aeries high on the cliffs. At
the 2-mile mark the trail rounds the tip of a peninsula and soon offers
the first view ahead to Monkey Face. Look for climbers resting in
the mouth cave.
the trail passes below Monkey Face you'll reach a junction. For
the steep shortcut back, turn right and climb steps to a ridge,
where views extend to peaks from the Three Sisters to Mount Hood.
you're not afraid of heights, you can take a side trail down to
the right to a precipice opposite Monkey Face's cave-mouth. Otherwise
continue straight on the loop trail, contouring 200 yards to the
edge of Misery Ridge. Here several steep staircases have taken the
misery out of the switchbacking descent to the Crooked River footbridge.
The western vanguard of the Ochoco Mountains, Smith Rock is formed
of welded rhyolite ash. This ash erupted from the Old Cascades,
settled in a large inland sea, and fused to form rock by heat and
pressure. The resulting rock is popular with climbers because it
does not crumble easily. More recent lava flows pushed the Crooked
River up against Smith Rock and left the basalt rimrock of the river's