Hiking a Ridge Called Misery

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The original plan had been this: Wake up early, make the drive to Smith Rock State Park before the clouds were due to roll in, and take an easy hike along the Crooked River.

And yet, two hours into our morning and we were standing at the top of the Misery Ridge trail – the most difficult trail in the park.

Smith Rock State Park in Oregon

So how did we get here?

Well, it's simple, really: my partner, Elliot, is always up for a challenge or adventure, and I can't say no to a great view. Even if it does mean hiking nearly a mile up the side of a mountain.

Smith Rock State Park

Smith Rock State Park is located in central Oregon's High Desert, near the towns of Terrebone and Redmond, roughly a 40-minute drive from Bend. It's famous for its jagged rock face that rises up to 600 feet above the Crooked River, which lives up to its name as it snakes along the canyon floor.

This may be the first time you're hearing about this state park, but Smith Rock actually has a couple of claims to fame.

First, Smith Rock is a mecca for rock climbers. In fact, it's often considered “the birthplace of modern American sport climbing,” and has more than a thousand bolted climbing routes.

Rock climber at Smith Rock State Park
Rock climber at Smith Rock

On top of this, three years ago Travel Oregon named Smith Rock one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon.

And since it was super close to where Elliot and I were staying in Bend, we couldn't pass up a visit.

Smith Rock State Park in Oregon

But, like I said, our original plan had been to head down into the canyon and take a nice stroll along the 2.2-mile River Trail. This trail is wide and relatively flat (also great for mountain biking), yet still offers up fantastic views of the tuff and basalt cliffs. (And in case you're wondering what “tuff and basalt” are, basically it's hardened volcanic ash and lava! This is volcano country, after all.)

As soon as we got to the upper parking lot near the Rim Rock Trail and had a look down into the canyon and over to Smith Rock itself, though, I had a feeling we were going to be throwing that original plan out the window.

Smith Rock State Park in Oregon

Because the beginning switchbacks of the park's most difficult trail were in plain view. And the trail didn't really look THAT difficult. And I was already imagining what the view from the trail would be like…

Smith Rock State Park in Oregon
Heading into the canyon

Hiking Misery Ridge

By the time we had taken the Canyon Trail down to river level, we'd already decided to just go for it. We had plenty of water and sunscreen with us; I was already wearing my hiking boots; and the sun was hanging out behind a very thin layer of clouds that made it feel a bit less warm.

And so we crossed the bridge over the Crooked River and immediately started up the first switchbacks of the Misery Ridge Trail.

Misery Ridge Trail at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon
The first switchbacks of the Misery Ridge Trail
On the Misery Ridge Trail
The view from halfway up those switchbacks

The first set of switchbacks wasn't really that bad, and both of us assumed that the trail would flatten out once we got to the back side of Smith Rock.

But it didn't. The trail continued to go up and up and eventually led to even more switchbacks.

Misery Ridge Trail at Smith Rock
Looking down on the last set of switchbacks

To be fair, I've hiked more “miserable” (i.e. more difficult) trails before. (Angels Landing, with its 1500 feet of elevation gain and half a mile of using fixed chains to scramble up a narrow spine of rock comes to mind.) But since I hadn't really prepared for this hike, I found myself needing to stop more often on the switchbacks than I would have liked.

But I just pretended to be taking lots of photos. (That's the secret, my fellow non-hiker folks.)

Smith Rock State Park in Oregon

Rock climbers at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon
Plus, there are rock climbers to stop and watch!

We eventually made it the 700 feet up to the top of Misery Ridge, where you do get amazing views out over the canyon and nearby rock formations.

Smith Rock State Park in Oregon

From here, we headed across the top of the ridge to the parts you can't see from the parking lot or canyon floor. Namely: Monkey Face!

Monkey Face at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon
Can you make out the monkey head?

This rock column is named for the fact that the top kind of looks like the face of a monkey. Climbers are common here, and you can sometimes even see slackliners. We stopped for a while to watch, and to enjoy the views out over the high desert. On clear days you can see the peaks of the Cascade Mountains in the distance.

Rock climbers at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon

Rock climbers on Monkey Face

Then it was time to make the trek down the back side of Smith Rock. Be careful here, as the trail (which goes down to the right from the Monkey Face viewpoint) is extremely steep and covered in loose rock/sand. Even with good hiking boots I was slipping all over the place!

We soon met up with the Mesa Verde Trail at the base of Monkey Face, and continued downhill to the left until the trail merged with the flat River Trail. (Yay no more climbing!)

We followed the River Trail back around to the front side of Smith Rock, stopping briefly to dip our hands into the Crooked River and to watch lots of climbers tackling routes up the red and orange rocks.

River Trail at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon
Along the River Trail

Our total hike was just under 4 miles and took us a little over 2 hours total (and that was with plenty of stops!).

Afterwards, we headed back to the car and rewarded ourselves with lunch at Terrebone Depot, a restaurant in an old train station just a few minutes from Smith Rock. (Try the buffalo nachos!)

If you want to hike at Smith Rock

Think you might like to take a hike at Smith Rock State Park? Well here are some things to know:

  • There's a day use / parking fee of $5, which you pay when you enter the main parking lot.
  • You can bring pets into the park (even up Misery Ridge!), but they do need to stay on a leash.
  • Make sure to have the proper gear. Smith Rock is located in the high desert, meaning it can get dry and hot in the summer. Be sure to have plenty of water, along with sunscreen and a hat.
  • If you're hiking Misery Ridge, have good shoes. The trail is steep and slippery in many parts. My Merrell Moabs did well for me.

Monkey Face at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon

If it's really hot and sunny when you start your Misery Ridge hike, I recommend doing the hike in reverse – head left after the bridge, and start the hike on the River Trail. This way you'll go up the switchbacks on the back of Smith Rock (near Monkey Face), keeping you out of the direct sunlight on the most difficult part of the hike (i.e. the “up” part).

And if you don't want to hike Misery Ridge? There are plenty of other easier trails to choose from, many of which still have great views of the surrounding landscape and climbers. Check out the Smith Rock trail guide here.

Have you heard of Smith Rock before? Is it someplace you'd like to take a hike?

 

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Hiking the Misery Ridge Trail at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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39 Comments on “Hiking a Ridge Called Misery

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  1. This looks like such an amazing hike!! Great photos too. 🙂

    -Rachel @ Backcountry Petite

      It was fun! And the weather wasn’t too hot yet, either – perfect for hiking!

    Awesome – I’ll be out there in September, this looks like a great hike! I guess I’m not the only one who takes “photo breaks” to catch my breath – I had so many photos from every curve of the Angel’s Landing hike! 🙂

      Haha “photo breaks” are the only way I can push myself through most hikes! 😉 Definitely check this one out – it should be lovely in September!

    Hi Amanda,

    What a view! Definitely worth the effort. Definitely worth even thinking about hiking somewhere called Misery Ridge LOL. Thanks for the inspired share 🙂

    Ryan

      I think it was worth it, too! I’m not a huge hiker (the idea of hiking for multiple days does not appeal to me at all), but I’m usually up for a couple hours if the views are great!

    This post makes me so happy. It’s been way too long since I camped and climbed here. Already have plans to go in the fall once the desert is a little cooler.

      I had no idea it would be as beautiful as it was!

    Wow! Great photos and its an amazing place to hike. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience.

      It’s definitely a great place for a day of hiking. And we loved watching all the rock climbers, too!

    I like how the trail is mostly visible from the road! I would enjoy that as a driver, being able to anticipate the cool hike I’m about to do, and also as a hiker, being able to look down at where I came from

      Lots of great views to be had!

    I’m an expert at taking photos while hiking 🙂 The name of that ridge would seriously put me off hiking it haha!

      I’m glad it didn’t scare us away, because it was a pretty cool hike!

    What a gorgeous hike! And I wouldn’t have guessed it was in Oregon! Glad to hear it wasn’t too miserable and you guys had fun! 😀

      Oregon has lots of surprising things, from great beaches to wineries to cool hikes like this!

    The perspective shots of the ant-like rock climbers scaling the monkey’s tummy are incredible. And the Crooked River makes the scene look like something out of a fantasy. Plus, I really just like to say Crooked River — It reminds me of that old nursery rhyme hahaha <3

      It was pretty cool to watch those rock climbers. I don’t know if I could have watched if there had been people slacklining there too, though – that crap is terrifying!

    Such gorgeous views all along. That name surely raised my eyebrows for a moment but what a wonderful hike to do!

      Haha yes the name certainly makes it sound more daunting than it actually is!

    I live about 10 miles from Smith Rocks, and can see Smith Rocks from my back deck. It’s an awesome place to hike and explore!

      Luck you! That’s a beautiful view, I’m sure!

    That is some tough going Amanda! Looks amazing though. Very weird to see how close it is to the main roads though! Would love to give it a go 🙂

      It’s not really that close to main roads – what you may see in the photos are the hiking/biking/riding trails maybe? One of the overhead shots is taken from the parking lot, but that’s as close as the road goes. 🙂

        Ah yes sorry, my mistake! I think I forgot to put my contact lenses in when I looked first time haha! Great photos though 🙂

    Oregon keeps amazing me! I have been to Portland few times and to Cannon Beach once but it seems like there is so much more!

      There IS so much more! Just wait until I publish my Oregon photo essay!

    Smith Rock looks terrifying, but I’d totally do this hike anyway!

      It’s not really that bad – you’ve hiked in Zion, meaning you’d be fine! 🙂

    Amazing! This looks like a fantastic hike – I love challenging my mind and body with hikes and climbs like this, it really gives you a new appreciation for life and your surroundings. When I was in Chile I did some incredible hikes and loved every minute of it too!

      It was a good hike! A challenge, yes, but not *too* challenging as to be miserable (despite the trail’s name!).

    Just finished hiking Misery Ridge. Read your “story” while we rested at the top. A little tougher than we expected. THEN we saw the sign at the bottom that says “most difficult”. Oops! Beautiful views!!! Definitely worth it. Go early, though. We started at 10:30 am and it was a bit hot on the last half!

      Glad you still thought it was worth it! So did I. 🙂

    Thanks for the post and tips, Amanda! I’m heading to Oregon two weeks later, and your post is really helpful! Just a friendly reminder: you haven’t painted Oregon state red in your travel map. =)

      I hope you enjoy Oregon! And yes, I need to update my US map! (I’m currently on a road trip through a bunch of northern states, so I’ll definitely be updating it after this!)

    Misery Ridge doesn’t look miserable at all. What incredible pics, they really give you a feel of the landscape and convey how high you climb. I look forward to doing this trail at a steady pace so I can enjoy those views.

      I’ve done much more miserable hikes, for sure! And the views are definitely worth it.

    Hey Amanda,

    Hiking Misery Ridge looks challenging!! But looking at the photos the view and everything looks worth it. Great job and thanks for sharing the tips it would be very helpful if ever we plan to hike Misery Ridge 🙂

      Worth it for sure, especially if you hit a nice day like we did.

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