Smith Rock has held a mysterious fascination for me for many years. I worked for an outdoor travel clothing company that sold Smith Rock Tee Shirts before I ever knew that there was an actual Smith Rock in Oregon that inspired the name.
It took me this long to finally visit one of the most breathtaking state parks in Oregon. I suppose one of the reasons I waited so long was because I figured it would have to be a several-day trip to eastern Oregon to visit one lonely park. Boy, was I wrong. If you hit the road early enough in the day from Portland, this can easily be a day trip. Or, stretch it out into a two or three-day trip…your choice.
Smith Rock State Park is only a two-hour and fifty-minute drive southeast of Portland…2 ½ hours if the traffic is light. But I took a full two days to drive from Portland, first to Fossil and the Painted Hills, where I stayed overnight in the rural city of Prineville. My Sunday was devoted to exploring Smith Rock State Park. It is a mere half-hour drive east of Prineville and it was necessary to use my GPS to get there, as there are no prominent signs to the entrance of the park, as there are with many state parks.
Smith Rock, you gorgeous jagged monolith.
A few minutes’ drive outside of Prineville, and I saw Smith Rock off in the distance, rising like a jagged monolith above the flatland desert of central Oregon. Following the directions on my GPS, it led me through a nice sprawling suburban-type neighborhood with acreages holding small, modern houses and nicely manicured lawns. This is the land of successful ranches and later I was to learn that a fancy gated community with Spanish-style mansions bordered Smith Rock State Park to the north. In fact, you can see a couple of these mansions as you hike along the stream on the north end of the park.
Once you enter the park, park your car, pay the self-serve five-dollar day fee, and get your hiking on! Smith Rock is a nicely developed park, the trails at the entrance are well marked, with bridges that will get you over the stream that surrounds Smith Rock on the western and southern sides. Grab a trail map and spend a few minutes decided where you want to hike. The Park has several different trails of varying length and difficulty, and they are all connected together.
The trails completely circumvent the wide expanse of Smith Rock, with a couple of trails that cut into the monolith itself. These, obviously are very strenuous hikes, as you ascend the rock and there are switchbacks galore. But oh, the view at the top is second to none!
This is one of the most renowned rock climbing destinations in the world, so you will surely see a rock climber or ten ascending monkey face on your adventures. The park offers rock climbing guides and lessons HERE. You can even do horseback riding HERE.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
- This is Oregon’s high desert, so the prevailing weather conditions call for hot and dry in the summer (with occaisional thunderstorms). Rain in the spring/fall and the possibility of snow in the winter.
- Bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Wearing a hat is optional, but necessary for some people. There are a few picnic tables to enjoy a picnic lunch. Restrooms are mostly portable toilets (but clean and modern!)
- Pets are allowed, but keep them on a leash!
- The handy-dandy trail map available at the entrance where you pay the day fee is a great resource to plan out your hike(s). It gives distance and difficulty of all trails, so you and everyone in your party can make good decisions, given how much time you have.
- Allow 4 hours to get a couple of hikes in and get a good feel for the park.
- Serious hikers should allow three days to walk most all of the trails and take in all of the sights.