If you’re looking for a stunning location to do some winter hiking think about checking out Smith Rock State Park near the town of Terrebonne just north of Redmond, Oregon. While primarily known as a rock climbing destination, the landscape and hiking trails are perfect for those like me who are uneasy with heights.
Early morning and late afternoon light are both excellent for photography at Smith Rock, but more of the rock is evenly light during the morning. By late afternoon the main climbing faces are in partial shadow and it can be tricky to get a balanced exposure. I visited the park in the late afternoon and managed to hike around the rock formation via the Misery Ridge Trail (not as bad as it sounds) and then along the Mesa Verde Trail before looping back in the twilight on the River Trail. The light on the far side (west facing) Mesa Verde was quite good but faded quickly towards sunset. The entire loop was just over 3 miles in length (about 5 km).
I wanted to check out the morning light so I returned a couple of days later. Getting to the park early is a good plan since the parking lot seemed to fill up quickly. The main climbing faces were very nicely lit and as the morning progressed climbers started to arrive which made it possible to capture a sense of the scale of the rock. Instead of repeating the loop, I worked my way west (counter clockwise from the parking area) along the Morning Glory Wall, following the River Trail to photograph landscape that I had passed in the darkness on my previous visit.
Trails lead from the River Trail up to the base of the cliff providing access for climbers. The rock is heavily chalked in places and bolts and clips show established routes up the rock. It’s impossible to get a “clean” image of the face, but since climbing is such a big part of Smith Rock I decided to focus on the patterns and lines formed by the rock and climbing gear. Early in the morning there were a few climbers on the face, more arrived as the day progressed.
The section of cliff face between the Phoenix Buttress (Smith Rock group) and Southern Tip is well worth photographing in both the early morning and late afternoon. On my first visit I was walking in near darkness through this part of the River Trail. The landscape here is so dramatic I wanted to return with better light. Wind seemed to be a constant factor on both of my visits to Smith Rock State Park—I guess climbers have a bit more shelter against the stone, but it was tricky to get photographs where the vegetation wasn’t blurred.
By the time I started to make my way back to the parking lot there were a few more climbers on the rock. See if you can find the climber in white on the Picnic Lunch Wall in the image below—this really gives a good idea of the scale and height of the face these climbers are working up.
The rock formations at Smith Rock State Park are spectacular and it is worth taking a hike around the park to experience the landscape. If you’re like me and very uncomfortable with heights, it’s also a excellent place to do some “vicarious” climbing. Plan some time to just sit and enjoy the show. The trails are well maintained and completing the loop is a good workout. Aside from a few steep bits going up and coming down Misery Ridge, it’s a fun hike!
Need to Know:
- Access to the park is straightforward from Terrebonne, Oregon—follow the roadsigns
- Early morning and late afternoon present good light for photography, added bonus is that the parking lot seemed a little less congested at both of these times
- Bringing some water and a snack would be a good idea, in the winter it wasn’t too hot so that makes it a good time to visit
- Visit the Oregon State Parks Smith Rock State Park website for more info about user fees, camping options, and more