Hike the beautiful Misery Ridge Loop at Smith Rock State Park in Central Oregon. Don’t let the name fool you, this hike is anything but miserable!
No long weekend in Central Oregon is complete without a visit to beautiful Smith Rock State Park.
How do I know this?
Well, I’m a born-and-bred Oregonian. While I’m from the valley West of the Cascade Mountains (near Portland), my family makes the drive over the mountains every summer to camp for two weeks in Central Oregon.
Somehow my family has managed to do this for three generations without ever having visited Smith Rock State Park.
We literally have to drive past it to get to our camping area, yet none of us had ever bothered to stop.
In fact, I didn’t even know it was there until about a year ago.
Maybe my born-and-bred Oregonian status should be revoked.
Smith Rock State Park
See those rocks? That’s the view of the park from the highway.
Can you *kind* of understand how I drove right past without noticing it for so many years?
Yeah, me neither.
The park is positively glorious!
Smith Rock State Park is very popular for rock climbers, but I prefer hiking.
It’s only about 35 minutes from Bend, or 3 hours from the Portland Airport. I highly recommend staying in Bend and making a weekend out of it!
You can also elect to camp near the park if you’re visiting in the milder months of the year.
When you arrive at the park you’ll need to pay a $5 access fee. At the time of my visit, the machine only accepted cash — exact bills, no change.
I did hear a rumor that there is a machine in the nearby campground that takes credit card. I’d say just plan on bringing some cash!
If you camp in a state park, you can use your receipt as your parking pass. Win-win!
We visited the park in December, and I’m really glad we did.
There were very few other people in the park, so it felt like we had the place to ourselves.
We saw a little bit of frost here and there, but the weather had been mild so all of the trails were clear and open.
If you visit during the summer, be sure to get there early. As close to sunrise as possible would be my advice!
The park gets quite hot in the summer, and the more popular trails can get a bit crowded.
There are a few nice picnic areas in the park, so if you plan to spend the whole day there it’s a good idea to bring some food with you.
Choosing a Trail
Conveniently, the park has an awesome website where you can find lots of information about the trails.
There is a big map of the trail system in the car park when you arrive, but you’ll likely want to decide which trails to take before you get there.
Take a look at this great map of the park to help orient yourself to the various trails.
You’ll find plenty of places to explore in this 650-acre park!
Hiking the Misery Ridge Loop
We chose to hike the Misery Ridge Loop because my boyfriend is a sadist who likes to make me walk up-hill.
Looks pretty punishing, doesn’t it?
Okay, to be fair, the views were TOTALLY worth it.
See? I’m alive.
You will see plenty of beautiful things to see along this path, including lots of scraggly old trees.
I mean, just look at this view!
Okay, so to hike the Misery Ridge Loop, you’ll want to leave the parking lot and follow The Chute down to the footbridge.
Once you arrive at the footbridge there’s a little sign that points you to the Misery Ridge Trail. This trail leads you straight up, up, up to the top of a huge rock formation.
When you arrive at the top, you’ll have views of the park in every direction. This is a great place to relax and have a little snack if you brought one.
As I said, we did the hike in December so it was a bit chilly when we started out.
We were thoroughly warmed up from the exertion by the time we arrived at the top!
The sun was shining that day and there was hardly any wind, so we spent a good long while just relaxing at the top and taking in the views.
Continue following the Misery Ridge Trail all the way until you arrive at Monkey Face.
Monkey Face is a 350-foot tall monolith, and one of the most prominent features of the park.
It’s popular for rock-climbing, and if you look closely you can see the pitons for anchoring carabiners up and down the rock face.
So what do you think?
Does it look like a monkey?
Once you pass Monkey Face, you’ll join up with the Mesa Verde Trail which zig-zags you back down to the river.
The Mesa Verde Trail eventually connects you to the River Trail.
You’ll follow the River Trail all the way back around to the footbridge where you started.
To complete the Misery Ridge Loop, just follow the Misery Ridge, Mesa Verde, and River Trails.
Equally popular is tackling this hike from the opposite direction, aptly referred to as the Reverse Misery Ridge Loop.
Regardless of which direction you take the loop, you’ll be treated to stunning vistas both above and below.
I love the stark beauty of winter, but I definitely want to visit again during the green season.
Misery Ridge Loop is 3.7 miles long, with an elevation gain of around 1,500 feet.
Most people seem to consider the difficulty level to be “intermediate,” which is where I would rank it as well.
If you have more time (and energy!), check out the 7.3-mile Summit Loop trail which leads you through the whole park.
Looking for more things to do in the area? Check out my post on planning the perfect long weekend in Central Oregon!
Until next time,