Hiking Smith Rock in Winter
From Mt. Bachelor’s pristine runs to the Cascades’ many snow parks, colder months turn Central Oregon into a winter wonderland. But, when storm cycles make the mountains unpleasant, places like Smith Rock State Park offer dry ground and panoramic volcanic rock views as a fun hiking option.
The 650-acre Smith Rock State Park—created through a mixture of land purchases and gifts to the state between 1960 and 1975—has been a long-time, year round destination in Central Oregon. Located a little more than 30 minutes north of Bend, and each year drawing in more than 800,000 visitors, the park is popular for rock climbers, hikers and those in search of a memorable photo.
The park’s picturesque scenery is particularly distinguishable in the winter. The golden red rocks contrast the patches of white snow and the gray Crooked River waters. Meanwhile wildlife, such as mule deer, river otters and golden eagles, all call the park home.
Adding to the mysterious wonder of this place, many still debate where the park actually got its name. It either came from Private Volk Smith, who fell and died at the park during a battle with a Northern Paiute tribe in 1863, or John Smith, a Linn County sheriff who is said to have discovered the area. Perhaps it’s best to attribute the name to both pioneers.
Smith Rock State Park is open year round from dawn to dusk, and leashed dogs are allowed to join in on a hike. Visiting the park during the winter will get you cooler temperatures, no worry of spotting a rattle snake and, of course, a less-crowded trail.
Smith Rock Trails
Another appeal of hiking here throughout the year are the many trails available from which to choose. There are options for novice and advanced hikers alike, providing choices ranging from a leisurely stroll to a tough climb.
One of the easier trails is the River Trail, which follows the winding Crooked River below the volcanic rock formations. This trail offers the opportunity to relax and take in the scenery on a shorter portion, or follow the entire route up around Monkey Face and down—rather than up—Misery Ridge. Watch for climbers ascending the many routes around the park.
Another popular—albeit more strenuous—local option is starting off on the steep 2/3 mile incline up Misery Ridge. Stop at the top to take in views of the Cascade Mountain Range and then follow the River Trail back down.
For a four mile loop, take the River Trail towards Monkey Face and then break off onto the Mesa Verde Trail up Misery Ridge and back down to the parking lot for a full loop. Or, for an even longer hike, take Summit Trail Loop. This nearly 8-mile trail provides a mixture of steep inclines and mellower walking areas for anyone looking for some variety.
The options here are endless. A few additional favorites include the Canyon Trail, Rope-De-Dope Trail and Wolf Tree Trail, to name a few. The trails are well marked and incredible views of the area can be achieved from any of them. If more views are desired, stop for a rest at one of the picnic areas found at the park’s entrance. There is no doubt that many people have been impacted by Smith Rock’s allure and grandeur over the decades.