Misery Ridge is the premier hike at Smith Rock State Park. Or maybe the most infamous. If you tell someone you going hiking at Smith Rock, they will ask if you’re doing Misery Ridge. Even though it is shorter and has less elevation gain than the Summit Trail, the trail is very steep and can be notoriously hot in the summer months. Plus it sounds cool.
Smith Rock began its formation around 30 million years ago when a large caldera that stretched from Smith Rock, through Powell Butte, and all the way to Prineville, collapsed into an underground lava chamber. The resulting avalanche of rock and ash filled the caldera and then solidified into a rock called tuff which makes up much of Smith Rock’s amazing cliffs.
Begin your hike at the welcome center and head down the trail/road towards the river. If you don’t mind steep descents, take the cutoff trail rather than the main road to quickly descend to the river. Enjoy the crowds of hikers and climbers as you make your way across the bridge over the Crooked River.
Once across the bridge, head straight at the four-way intersection, right at one of the rock faces. You will climb about 100 feet in 8 quick switchbacks as you approach the cliff face. From here, the trail heads to the northeast as it works its way around the cliffs and up river. The views are really impressive here as you climb, with a horseshoe bend in the river surrounded by more vertical walls ahead of you. The trail forgoes with the switchbacks for a while, traversing up the ridge. You would think that would make it less steep, but you would be wrong. You still have the privilege of climbing 300 feet in the next 0.3 miles. Then the switch back start again as you turn back towards the south and work your way up through a break in the cliffs.
The final push to the ridgetop has you climb another 300 feet in less than a quarter mile. Keep pushing through and you will be rewarded with a nice flat summit in the heart of Smith Rock State Park. The cliffs drop away from you in all directions offering some spectacular views as you hike over the ridge. Just be careful to not get too close to the edge getting that selfie. People seem to fall off every year and it’s a long way down.
The trail takes less than a quarter mile to traverse the ridgetop to the west side. From here, you can get up close and personal with Monkey Face, a 350-foot-tall free-standing pillar with the face of one of our simian friends. But then prepare your knees for a harrowing decent back down to the river. The trail switchbacks straight down the ridge at this point, dropping over 600 feet in about half a mile. The trail can get loose as you head down, making it feel like you’re walking on marbles at times, so watch your footing. As you head down, however, you will have the privilege of passing right past the base of Monkey Face, giving perspectives from both the top and the bottom of the pillar.
Once you reach the river, it’s a nice, easy 1.7-mile stroll back to the bridge. Be sure to watch all the climbers scurry up those cliff faces as you pass the best climbing routes and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife like river otters or blue herons. Once you make it back to the bridge, prepare for one last kick in the balls as you have to make the final, steep push back up to the parking lot.
From Highway 97 in Terrebonne, head east on Smith Rock Way where all the signs direct you. Follow the road down the hill for about 1.5 miles until you reach 17th street and see another sign directing you to the park. Turn left on 17th street and the right at the end of the road on Wilcox Ave. After another ½ mile on Wilcox, turn left again onto 25th street and follow that about half a mile to the park. You will know you are there when you can’t find a place to park.
Passes: A $5 day use permit is required.
Dogs: Must be leashed.
Open Season: Open year round. Can get very hot in the summer.