Smith Rock is known for its sport climbing — tough climbs protected by bolts drilled into the rock. However, sport climbing destinations typically feature steep limestone or sandstone walls, dotted with small pockets and ridges that test a climber’s strength and endurance.
The exposed cliffs of Smith Rock, on the other hand, are composed of welded tuff — ancient volcanic ash that was welded together into solid rock due to intense heat and pressure. This unique rock type creates a wide variety of climbs, from moderate hikes up wide open huecos to technical test pieces on blank faces. There can be no doubt that Smith Rock is easily one of best climbing destinations in North America. Here’s everything that you need to know to plan your next trip to Smith Rock.
The nearest city to Smith Rock is Bend, Oregon. While Bend does have an airport, if you plan on flying in, then you’re more likely to end up in Portland. From Portland it’s a relatively quick three-hour drive to Smith Rock. The most common route — I-84 to Highway 26 passes by Mount Hood, but it’s also possible to head south on I-5 if you’re worried about weather or traffic.
If you plan on driving the whole way, you can expect to spend a lot of time on I-5 or I-84. Depending on where you’re coming from, some other hot climbing stops along your way include City of Rocks — located near the site of the annual Idaho Mountain Festival — or Arches National Park — home to legendary sandstone formations near Moab.
There is a plethora of camping available near Smith Rock. However, during peak season there can also be an unending stream of visitors, so you’ll have to arrive early if you want to pick the best spots. If you’re just here for the climbing, then you’ll probably have the most luck at The Bivy, a walk-in campground with plenty of open space for tents and a common area for eating and talking beta.
In addition to the walk-in camping in the park itself, there are also a number of sites for camping or parking your RV in the woods just outside the park.
For those who need their beauty sleep in order to climb their best, there are hotels in the nearby town of Terrebonne. However, if you don’t mind a 30-minute drive, then you can probably find more options and better deals in Bend.
One of the reasons why Smith Rock is so popular is because it really does offer something for everyone. Whether this is your first time climbing outdoors or you’re looking for your next hard project, there’s a crag at Smith Rock that will suit your needs.
If you’re just getting warmed up, then you can expect to find some of the best routes in the main Smith Rock formation. The Northwest Face in particular is home to some easy 5.5s to get climbers started on their first leads. Once you’re warm, the classic Smith multipitch Wherever I May Roam is located on this same wall.
If you’re not quite ready to lead, the Rope de Dope Block is full of good top-rope opportunities at fairly moderate grades.
Beginners who are tagging along with more experienced friends should ask to stop by the Morning Glory Wall to try the classic Five Gallon Buckets.
If your usual range is anywhere between 5.10 and 5.12, then Smith Rock was practically made for you. Virtually any of the major crags within the park will have at least one epic route for you to tackle. Some mega classics include Screaming Yellow Zonkers, Nine Gallon Buckets, and Pure Palm.
In the past, Smith Rock made its name based on the number of really hard climbs (5.13 to 5.14) that were waiting to be discovered in the park. If putting up new projects is your thing, there’s still plenty of rock left to canvas here. However, there are also a number of exceptionally difficult climbs that already see regular traffic.
The Morning Glory Wall and the Dihedrals are home to a number of high-quality, difficult projects. If you’re tagging along with less-experienced friends, these crags also offer a number of moderates to keep them busy.
Although Smith Rock is known as a sport climbing destination, it also offers a lesser-known basalt area full of unbolted climbs ripe for gear placements. The Lower Gorge is made up of many 100-foot-tall basalt columns and hosts some great crack climbing if you’re eager to get away from all the sharp edges and power screams of the main rock formation.
Smith Rock is a legendary climbing destination, but there are a few things first-time visitors should be aware of:
No fires are allowed in the park. Sorry, but if you’re camping in the park then you’ll have to skip the usual campfire.
Smith Rock is famous for its difficulty. Since the area was established by some exceptionally talented climbers, grades don’t necessarily line up with what you may have experienced in the gym or at other crags. Start a few grades lower than your usual and expect to be humbled.
Rest days matter on long climbing trips. Nothing ruins a great climbing trip faster than an injury. Make sure to get the most out of your rest days so that you can be fully recovered by the next time you climb. Remember, overworked climbers get hurt.
Peak season is late spring or mid fall. This is when temperatures are the best for hard climbing, although it’s theoretically possible to climb at almost any time during the year, depending on your tolerance for hot or cold weather. Climbers looking to beat the crowds should try visiting during the summer. Just make sure that you get all of your climbing done early in the morning.
Pick up a guidebook. Rock Climbing Smith Rock State Park by Alan Watts is the guidebook for the area. It contains detailed information on more than 1,800 climbing routes located within the park.
With a wide variety of truly unique climbs, Smith Rock really does have something for everyone. Climbers in the Northwest should plan on visiting often, and those further away should plan on a Smith Rock trip at least once in their lives.
Feature image credit: Access Fund/Rich Crowder
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