: William Mantani / @findingfreshair (Instagram)

Smith Rock in the Winter

November 14, 2018

Smith Rock State Park, also known as the birthplace of sport climbing in the United States, is one of Oregon’s most iconic visitor destinations — beloved for its striking geology and accessibility to adventure-seekers in Central Oregon’s high desert. While spring, summer and fall are typically quite crowded, things calm down in the winter, which makes it a special time to enjoy this fragile environment. You’ll be able to enjoy the awe-inspiring sights and sounds in quiet solitude, and wildlife such as bald eagles and falcons are more noticeable with less outside distraction. On a sun-drenched day, photography buffs and nature lovers delight in the geologic majesty of it all. You can hike, bike, climb and camp here, or just breathe it all in. Here’s what you need to know about Smith Rock during the colder months.

The mostly flat River Trail packs in views of the river and Monkey Face. (Photo credit: Cultura RM / Alamy Stock Photo)
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Trails suited for winter

Smith Rock park manager Scott Brown loves the park in the wintertime, but suggests that visitors come prepared for the conditions and know their skills and limits before they set out on a trail. Most importantly, to be hyper-aware of icy spots. For a short trek, try the 1.5-mile Canyon Trail (note that the trail is steep entering the canyon at both trailheads); the Rim Rock Trails half-mile stroll along the canyon ridge; or the mile-long Wolf Tree Trail, which follows the river. The mostly flat 2.5-mile River Trail is also a great choice for families, with excellent views of the park’s iconic 350-foot spire known as Monkey Face.

In the absence of snow and ice, more hardy trekkers may grab a trail map and set out for a few hours along the Summit Loop Trail, which connects with the Rim Rock, River and Wolf Tree trails for a total of 7.3 miles. A portion of the back section of the Summit Trail is on Bureau of Land Management land, so pups can run there off leash. See the trail brochure for details.

Many of the same trails are open to mountain bikers, so it’s wise to be aware of your surroundings and respect all users. Brown says mountain bikers should be prepared for steep and challenging terrain year-round (but even more so in the winter) on the Summit, River and Wolf Tree trails.

Wherever you are on the trail, keep an eye out for overwintering waterfowl, otters, songbirds, raptors and mule deer, and remember to respect their home by packing out trash and staying on established trails. Follow other Leave No Trace practices whenever you’re out in Oregon’s natural areas, and check out ways you can help improve access to the park for climbers and trail users with the nonprofit Smith Rock Group.

Climbing

The birthplace of U.S. sport climbing does not disappoint, even in the winter. With nearly 2,000 routes of all difficulty levels, fewer people at the park in the cooler months means more access for climbers. South-facing cliffs stay warm, even when there’s snow on the ground, and a little rain is hardly a deterrent since the rock’s welded tuff and basalt dry quickly in the sun. Avoid climbing for a couple of days after a deluge, when small bits can break off. For more routes, maps and climbing tips, visit the Smith Rock climbing page or pick up a guide book by climbing pioneer Alan Watts, the Eugene-based founder of Crux Rock Gym.

With the proper gear for cold weather, you can pitch a tent and sleep at Smith Rock State Park in the winter at Bivy Campground. (Photo credit: Tyler Metcalfe)

Year-round camping

With the proper gear for cold weather, you can pitch a tent and sleep at Smith Rock State Park in the winter at Bivy Campground, which is typically full in peak season and tricky to get into since it’s first-come, first-served. The “Bivy,” as it’s known, is Oregon State Parks’ only bivouac-style campground, a designated area for tent camping with a common cooking and communal area, heated restrooms with showers and charging station. Campfires are banned year-round.

If you’d rather camp in your car or RV, three nearby campgrounds are open year-round: 12 miles northwest of Smith Rock in Terrebonne, Crooked River Ranch RV Park includes spots for 90 RV sites and 20 tent sites (and is a short walk to the ranch’s golf course, tennis courts and pickleball courts for more fun).

You can also make your basecamp at Deschutes County Expo Center RV Park, 12 miles north, with 105 RV sites and 10 tent sites and full electrical and water hookups.

For even more facilities, check out the Redmond/Central Oregon KOA, 15 miles north of the park, between Terrebonne and Madras. In addition to RV and tent sites, they offer cabins that sleep two to six people; online or phone reservations are recommended. The KOA site includes a heated outdoor pool, kid-friendly events, an off-leash dog park, bike rentals and more.

Satisfy your comfort food craving at Baldy's BBQ, eight miles south in Redmond. (Photo credit: Baldy's BBQ)

Food and lodging

If you’re looking for more than freeze-dried food and other camping fare, there’s plenty of excellent grub to find within minutes of Smith Rock State Park. Housed in an old train station three miles west of the park, Terrebonne Depot Food + Drink is beloved for its scratch-made wood-fired pizzas, buffalo nachos and happy hour menu. You can also satisfy your comfort food craving at Baldy’s Barbecue, eight miles south in Redmond, where smokehouse chili, mac and cheese and baby back ribs will fuel you up for another day of adventure.

For a quick lunch in Redmond, locals love the mole and tacos at Mi Cielo Restaurant. Find more dining options in Terrebonne, Redmond, Sisters and Bend here. For non-camping lodging, try the cabins at Crooked River Ranch, Eagle Crest Resort, Pronghorn Resort or other accommodations for every budget here. In the Old West town of Sisters, stay at the idyllic FivePine Lodge & Conference Center or The Suttle Lodge & Boathouse, and consider riding the Sisters to Smith Rock Scenic Bikeway, a 37-mile moderately difficult route with spectacular views of the high-desert terrain as an alternative to driving to Smith Rock.

If you go:

The park requires a $5 day use parking permit (available from the self-service pay stations) or current Oregon State Parks pass receipt for each vehicle.

Smith Rock is one of Oregon’s most popular and iconic destinations, and can see crowds even in the winter months. For the best experience, carpool and plan your visit for mid-week.

Stay safe and pick up a free trail map to carry when venturing out, free at each of the fee stations. Check for any seasonal closures before you go, and abide by all signs at the park. 

Dogs are welcome to Smith Rock, but required to be on a leash at all times and in control. This is especially important in the winter months, when wildlife is particularly vulnerable to disturbance.

About The
Author

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters and other online content. She loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two young boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.

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