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Misery Ridge Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

TKO put tools to trail here.png
A typical view in Smith Rock State Park (Steve Hart)
View from the Misery Ridge Summit (Steve Hart)
Monkey Face Viewpoint (Steve Hart)
Blazing star (Mentzelia laevicaulis var. laevicaulis), Smith Rock (bobcat)
The western side of Smith Rock, from the River Trail (bobcat)
Map of the Route
  • Start point: Smith Rock TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Monkey Face Viewpoint
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 4.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 945 feet
  • High point: 3,310 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Year round, except in snow or rain
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for kids over 8
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes


Hike Description

Smith Rock is an extremely popular area for rock climbers, but there are some beautiful trails as well. Best times here are in the spring or fall. This area gets really hot in the summer, and there's not a lot of shade. At that time of year, the hike is best early in the day, before the real heat sets in. This is rattlesnake heaven, especially near the river. Care should be taken, particularly in shady areas created by some of the hollow rocks.

Behind the restrooms and picnic area, you can follow the Rim Rock Trail along the edge of a bluff, getting views to the expansive Picnic Lunch Wall and the Crooked River snaking below. A wide concrete path leads down steeply from a railed viewpoint. An interpretive sign explains the geology of Smith Rock’s colorful formations. They are the remains of Oregon’s greatest volcanic eruption, 29.5 million years ago, which created a caldera 20 miles wide (the town of Prineville lies within it, and the Crooked River bisects it). The caldera collapsed and the formations you see are formed of volcanic tuff, consolidated ash, and pumice from the eruption. Basalt flows, which erupted 400,000 years ago from vents on the Newberry Volcano to the south, form the rim of the peninsula that contains the park’s parking areas and facilities.

You’ll be taking the Canyon Trail down. A short steep alternative trail called The Chute shortcuts you to the river, but the Canyon Trail makes a single switchback on a gentler grade. At the river, there’s a grassy expanse with picnic tables and a restroom. Cross the Crooked River Bridge, and come to a junction of three trails, the River Trail to the left, the Wolf Tree Trail on the right, and the Misery Ridge Trail straight ahead.

The Misery Ridge Trail makes several short switchbacks up under the Picnic Lunch Wall as you get better views of the river below. To your left is the crumbly face of Shiprock, which is considered too dangerous to summit. A set of steps takes you to a traverse under the Red Wall, a rhyolite intrusion in the tuff formations. A spur at a switchback offers a view to an imposing spire, and then more steps open up views to The Monument, the impressive tower to the northeast. You’ll enter a rocky defile where hardy mountain mahogany trees survive. Views open up as the trail continues across the Misery Ridge Summit, where you’ll begin to get vistas towards the Cascades, including Mount Bachelor, Broken Top, the Three Sisters, Black Butte, Belknap Crater, Mount Washington, Black Crater, Three Fingered Jack, and Mount Jefferson. As you begin to descend, a spur leads left to a view across to the “head” of Monkey Face, a 350-foot spire of unwelded tuff and an eventual goal for all the rock climbers who come here. The gorilla-like face is most apparent from below, but from this angle you can make out the brow, nose, and mouth. Looking north, you should now also be able to make out Mount Hood, and small ponds and farm fields cover the plains west to the Deschutes River.

The Misery Ridge Trail makes nine switchbacks down to its junction with the Mesa Verde Trail at the base of Monkey Face. This section of trail will be in deep shadow if you’re hiking in the morning. About halfway down the hill, there's a hollow rock that kids love to play in although the area should be checked for snakes or creepy-crawlies first. Head left on the Mesa Verde Trail. It traverses along the side of the hill, heading gradually downward. It's about a half mile farther down to the River Trail.

Continue straight ahead on the River Trail. You'll stay close to the Crooked River for the rest of the hike. The trail runs southward to the bend in the river at the south end of the park. After you loop around the end of the rocks, you'll see lots of climbers on the various cliff faces. Follow the trail about another mile back to the Crooked River Bridge. Cross the bridge and head uphill to your car.

Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Day use parking permit required
  • Open dawn to dusk
  • Information kiosk, restrooms, picnic area
  • Dogs on leash


Trip Reports

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Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

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