Hey travelers! My name is Theresa Wang, better known on Instagram as @travelswitheresa. In this article, I will be sharing my experiences at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon’s high desert. Before I get started sharing stories, tips and recommendations – let me tell you a little bit about myself.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Jose to be specific. I did all of my college coursework in California and when I graduated, I felt drawn to the green forests and opportunities for adventure in the Pacific Northwest. I had also always been fascinated with photography, but I didn’t have the time or funds to properly invest in quality gear until after college.
Moving to a new city, learning how to use a camera and discovering the joy of experiencing nature soon led me to develop a passion for landscape photography. It also pushed me to try to inspire others – especially women of color – to get outdoors more and explore in a safe and respectful way.
Currently, I live in Portland and if I’m not working, you will likely find me hiking on a local trail, exploring Mount Hood National Forest, chasing waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge or photographing the sunset on the Oregon coast. It’s easy to find green spaces out here, rain or shine!
My Latest Trip to Smith Rock State Park
It was a very specific shot I had in mind that inspired my latest visit to Smith Rock State Park. My husband and I hiked up Misery Ridge, a trail that was closed for a while due to the pandemic. As the name implies, it can be miserable to hike if it’s hot – which it often is in the high Oregon desert!
We learned this the hard way the first time we hiked it and frankly we were nervous to hike it again. But I was determined and I convinced him that it would be much cooler and tolerable to hike closer to sunset, and it really did end up being a much more enjoyable experience this way. The shot I had in mind lined up well for this time of day, so all that planning paid off!
Once we made it to the top of the Misery Ridge Trail, we had a blast exploring the various side trails and hopping around the gigantic rocks to find the best composition. I absolutely love finding ways to make people look tiny compared to the natural landscape – not hard to do at a place like Smith Rock State Park where the rocks tower over you like giant cathedrals.
What it’s Like Hiking the Misery Ridge Trail
One of my favorite places at Smith Rock is just a few steps away from the main parking area, a path which is paved down to a spectacular viewpoint with info signs. It’s a special place to me because it really shows that in many places, you don’t have to hike a gazillion miles to take in the sights.
As someone with a sibling with physical disabilities, I think that parks like Smith Rock with accessible spaces are remarkable and that they should be a place for all to enjoy. As far as trails go, the Misery Ridge Trail is pretty much the main one, a spot known as the birthplace of US sport climbing.
Most of the other trails in the park connect with this trail or they connect climbers to the park’s several thousand climbing routes. The Misery Ridge Trail is also part of a loop that takes you from one end of the park to the other, giving you a taste of all the landscapes the park has to offer.
I enjoy hiking this trail counter-clockwise as you do the elevation gain first. During the hike, you will spot rock climber’s gearing up or on their way up the various routes at the Red Wall. Once you get to the highest point, you get a sense of why the Crooked River got its name as it winds through. As mentioned before, there are a ton of social trails to explore from this area.
There is even a bench for taking in the views. Continuing on the main trail leads you to a rock called Monkey Face, and you can easily see why it’s called this when you see it! You may also see some climbers and on a clear day, you can see Mount Jefferson from this viewpoint – a cool juxtaposition of desert landscape and a glaciated mountain in the background.
At the end of Misery Ridge, head south on the Mesa Verde Trail, and south again on the River Trail, which will take you back to the main area of the park with the bridge over Crooked River and parking lot just up above.
Tenino People of Smith Rock State Park
It’s important to acknowledge and learn about the Native Americans who first explored and cared for our natural spaces. The Tenino people, who were stewards of the land where Smith Rock stands today, were nomadic and moved between summer and winter villages in order to harvest food.
Fishing was important to the Tenino people, and they were able to smoke the fish they caught to make them last for years. Knowing the weather patterns in the Oregon high desert, it’s fascinating to learn how these people thrived in such extreme temperatures and how they took advantage of the resources they had available to them in a sustainable way.
Where to Stay at Smith Rock State Park
For those who want to be as close as possible to the main area of Smith Rock, they can camp first come first served at the Bivouac Area for $8 per person per night. There are restrooms and even showers available to use for overnight guests. There just aren’t really any restaurant options nearby, so you would have to cook at the camp or venture into town for food.
Otherwise, you can find a rental close by or stay in the nearby towns of Terrebonne or Redmond where there are many food options. We stayed at SCP Hotel in Redmond for that reason and we loved our stay there. Another option is to stay in Bend, an amazing city with plenty of hotels, Airbnbs and restaurants. Bend is about a 35 minute drive south of the park.
My Best Memory at Smith Rock
So I am most definitely not a rock climber, but I got a little taste of being one as we were scrambling over the boulders near the peak of Misery Ridge. As I climbed up this one large boulder, I recall thinking that it was going to be challenging to get back down. As someone who is mildly afraid of heights, I have been working hard on mitigating this fear over the years.
It’s been challenging, but this time I made it down without too much effort! Each time I work on this fear, I feel more and more confident in my physical abilities – all the while respecting nature and keeping in mind my limits.
Need to Know Before you Go
Follow Leave No Trace principles so that future park visitors can continue to enjoy our natural spaces the way they have been for centuries. Pack out what you pack in and stick to trails to avoid harming sensitive vegetation.
Like any desert, shade is hard to come by and it can get hot. Bring plenty of water, wear a hat, use sunscreen and go in the early morning or late evening. Good hiking shoes or boots are recommended for all the trails here. Day-use parking permits are required and you can pay for one day permits on site or display a valid annual Oregon State Parks Pass. Enjoy!