camping: Smith Rock + Summit Trail loop
To escape the last several weeks of never ending rain in Portland this spring, two friends and I camped for two nights at Smith Rock State Park in Central Oregon, and hiked the Summit Trail.
This is high desert country, so it’s a good destination to catch some rays of sun in the spring and fall. We camped at the Climber’s Bivouac, with walk-in campsites near the rim overlooking the park. The facilities here include a restroom with hot showers, cell phone charging station, and a separate area for cooking. When we arrived on Saturday around noon, the day use parking areas were already full, and the parking at the campground was filling up fast. Spring is a busy season here, with rock climbers taking advantage of the cooler temperatures. The campground fee is $5 per person per night, payable at the automated pay station at the campground entrance.
River Trail hike
After setting up camp, we took a short hike along the Rim Trail and River Trail. There were rock climbers everywhere, and two slack lines were set up high on the rock with people walking them (and falling and getting back up over and over).
The winds were picking up, making it feel much colder than it was. With gusts up to 25mph, we rested in our tents for a bit before cooking dinner in the designated outdoor kitchen area. Right before we headed to dinner, the winds died down, which made cooking outside much easier. Both times I’ve stayed at this campground, the overall vibe is very friendly, with a smile on almost everyone’s face, and the tent area is calm and quiet. The first night was a bit cold, down to 32 degrees overnight, but with less wind than there was earlier in the evening. There was a full moon, so it never got dark. I kept thinking that there was an overhead light above my tent, but it was just the moon lighting up the night.
Hiking the Summit Trail
In the morning, we cooked breakfast and got ready for a loop hike to the Summit Trail: 7.2 miles with 1,200 ft. gain.
We took the campground trail to the Rope de Dope Trail, then the Canyon Trail to the river. After crossing the bridge over the Crooked River, we turned right to take the Wolf Tree Trail. As soon as you are on this trail, there are far fewer people. It follows the river around a bend and joins the Burma Road Trail, which leads up to the Summit Trail – our destination. Burma Road is visible from most of the park and looks like a giant zigzag leading to one of the park’s high points.
The Summit Trail has great views of the entire Smith Rock area. Luckily, the clouds lifted so we could see the mountains, including Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, North Sister, Middle Sister, South Sister, and Broken Top. With a daytime high of 61 degrees, it was a fantastic time to be here!
We stopped for lunch at the top, and then continued on the trail. It heads down through a small canyon filled with gnarled Juniper trees and sagebrush, surrounded by high hills with craggy tops. Then it heads closer to the rocky spires of Smith Rock, with great views of the park and the rim that surrounds the river on one side.
Continuing on the trail, it gradually heads down to connect with the Mesa Verde and River Trails. My friends decided to go up Misery Ridge, while I took the River Trail all the way around the park and back to camp.