To a tourist, Smith Rock is a beautiful anomaly and a nice place to take a hike. To a climber however, it is so much more. The park played a central role in pushing the limits of sport climbing. Today it’s a proving ground where the young can test themselves against those who came before.
Situated in the high desert plateaus of central Oregon, Smith sits in a nearly perfect climate. Dry for most of the year and never so hot or so cold that you can’t climb, Smith Rock is it’s own little paradise.
If you’re passing through Oregon, you have to make a stop at Smith, even if you’re not a climber. Today I’ll lay out some of the most important things you need to know about visiting on a budget. Where to camp, where to park, where to get wifi, and where to eat. It’s all here.
Smith Rock State Park is located just outside of Terrebonne, OR, about ten minutes off highway 97. If you’re coming from the west, take the 26 out of Portland or the 20 out of Albany. The drive through the mountains is beautiful. Just make sure you have enough gas to make it across.
Coming from the East is the same story. Just hop on the 26 or the 20, depending where you are. You’ll wind up in the nearby towns of either Bend, or Madras. Both are beautiful and welcoming towns. Bend is an especially outdoorsy and adventurous community.
Parking and fees
When you arrive at Smith Rock, you’ll immediately see that it is one of the most well kept and accessible climbing areas in the US. That’s because it is also a state park and draws thousands of tourists every year, just to hike the incredible trails and see the formations.
Smith isn’t just for climbers, and unfortunately that means crowds, and fees for camping and parking. In order to park at Smith Rock, it costs $5 per vehicle, per day. You can buy your ticket either in The Bivy campground or at the terminal by the park info and general store. If you decided to park outside and walk in, you’d be in for quite a walk. I recommend paying the $5.
As for camping, the two most common options are The Bivy campground, right in the park or Skull Hollow campground, which is just a short drive down the road. Both cost money, however and personally, I don’t pay for them.
At The Bivy, you receive a free parking pass for the park on the following day, which is a great bonus. It’s also nice to be camped so close. However, you are not allowed to camp in your car, so any van dwelling dirtbags won’t be welcome.
At Skull Hollow, you do not receive a parking day pass. However, the camping is slightly cheaper and you can camp in your car if you like. Skull Hollow often also has space after The Bivy fills up.
If you are motivated to camp for free though, there are a number of secret spots around the area where a car can go unnoticed for the night. I won’t share mine with you, after all, I don’t want it to blow up. But if you find a secret riverside spot, congratulations and don’t get caught.
There is also a great horse camp about twenty or thirty minutes away from Smith. It’s free, and there are pit toilets and grills for cooking.
If you’re willing to drive a little out of your way or have a big group that would rather not pay for camping, this is a great spot. Just be sure to respect the equestrian crowd that frequent it. The GPS coordinates are 44.448482, -121.102916 or you can view details about the campsite here.
The climbing at Smith Rock is world class. Everyone talks about the incredible sport climbing. However there is also world class trad climbing in the basalt canyons, as well as some beautiful multi pitch routes and top rope areas.
The main area stretches from the Morning Glory Wall left to Astrix Pass. This includes all of the most famous and popular sport climbing areas at Smith and it gets the most traffic. It’s good to climb here on quiet days during the week or off season.
The backside crags around Monkey Face as well as the far off ridge line of the Marsupial crags and Monument areas offer all grades of adventurous sport and trad climbing. The longer approaches keep these areas from getting too crowded or polished. Excellent choice for a busy Saturday.
Or if you’re looking to test your trad on the local basalt, drop into The Gorge from the east side of the end of the parking lot. A short scramble trail behind the park ranger’s house will get you to the river. Both walls are lined with rows of pillars split by incredible lines and you can almost always find some shade. Grades vary from 5.6 and 5.7 at the Student Wall to test pieces that go up to 5.13 on the harder, westside walls.
The nearby town of Terrebonne is a beautiful little place. Make sure to stop in at Redpoint Climbing Supply where you can get any climbing gear you need, as well as a coffee or beer. They have free wifi and lots of board games and guidebooks to keep you entertained on off days.
There are a number of places to eat in Terrebonne as well. They may be a bit more pricey than eating at camp, but it can be a great way to cap off a big day of climbing.
For groceries, there is a Thriftway as well as Ferguson’s market. Both are within just a minutes drive of the road to Smith Rock.
So, although the weather is almost always sunny at Smith Rock, it still plays a huge role in what you do while you’re there.
If you’re looking at a blazing hot forecast, then try to climb any south or west facing objectives in the early morning. By the time you hit midday, you’ll be cooking. The Gorge, Basalt Rimrock, and Dihedral areas all have great shaded spots if you’re in the main area, but you won’t be the only one with the idea.
During the summer, evening climbing is a great idea as the sun is out late and the temps are near perfect. And although the crooked river runs right through the valley, the bugs usually aren’t bad in the evening.
If you are in for rain however, take it seriously. It doesn’t rain often at Smith, but when it does, it can really come down hard. On my last visit to Smith Rock, heavy rain caught us in the middle of a multi pitch climb.
Fortunately we had chosen a route from which we could easily retreat. However, we were drenched by the time we got down. We elected to hide in a cave until the weather let up, rather than run back in the rain.
So if you’re on your way to Oregon, stop by Smith Rock. It’s home to the world’s first 5.14 rock climb and has been a proving ground for climbers since it was first developed. The people are nice, the weather is great, and the rock is beautiful.
If you have any comments then please drop us a message on our Outdoor Revival Facebook page
If you have a good story to tell or blog let us know about it on our FB page, we’re also happy for article or review submissions, we’d love to hear from you.
We live in a beautiful world, get out there and enjoy it.
Outdoor Revival – Reconnecting us all with the Outdoors.