Smith Rock is one of my favorite places near my mom’s house. I’m sure that its sort of like saying Mt Si is your favorite place near Seattle, but there is a reason these natural wonders draw people in, and I see no reason to avoid it because its popular. Smith Rock State Park is full of well maintained trails of all difficulty levels, plus spots for rock climbing. I try to visit every time we’re in town. I was hoping to get in 5 miles towards our 30 mile goal for April, but toddler pace struck again.
We started in the late morning on Easter, expecting it to be full of people. While a lot of people seemed to have the same holiday hiking plan as us, the trail never felt crowded. After letting T play around on the little climbing structure near the parking lot, we meandered down to the river. If you are just looking to stretch your legs, you could just hang out down here at a picnic table watching rock climbers then head back up, and still feel like you saw something cool. We brought the pack, so of course T had to be in it almost immediately. As soon as he saw the bridge over the river, he wanted out to run free though. We let him pick the way for a bit but he kept trying to lead us up the summit trail, which I really wasn’t feeling up to. After coaxing him the other way, we made our way down the River Trail, one boulder at a time.
This route is fairly level and accessible, you could even take a stroller along the well-groomed path. The trail winds around the border of massive volcanic rock formations. Honestly, photos or parking lot views don’t do it justice. It isn’t until you descend into the old caldera that you’re truly awed by the beauty and scale of Smith Rock. Dozens of climbers scaled the rock faces, effortlessly ascending the vertical surfaces. Slackliners make routes a hundred feet above the ground between two sharp columns. A mile or so in, we stopped at a bench and took a nursing/snack break. T even gave me the last slightly-drooled on bite of the Kind bar we were sharing, which is just about the most heartwarming thing a toddler can do.
The trail follows the river and rock perimeter, with large pine and juniper leaning over the path. T noticed a cave, which he had to navigate at least two times before being satisfied. We found this to be a good turnaround spot and headed back. It was good timing too, because toddler-feels arose soon after and we ended up with a trail tantrum over whether he would ride in the pack or not. Justin talked him down enough to get him to the picnic tables near the bridge for a snack (there are never enough snacks when it comes to hiking with kids…), and put him in the pack for the climb out of the main trail area. This is the only major climb outside of making the trek to the summit, and its quite steep. Halfway up, T was insisting on walking one last time. Justin let him out of the pack on the condition that he walked the remainder of the distance to the car (this tactic has mixed results).
T starts up the walkway, leaned way in against the incline, and exclaims “Walk hard!”. Yup dude, gravity’s a b*tch. Justin told him that yes, it is hard, but doing hard things is how you get stronger, which T found an acceptable explanation and continued his struggle up the hill. We had a little cheer at the top before making our way back to the car.
If you’re hiking this with kids, know that the summit trail is pretty tough. We did the Misery Ridge route a couple years ago; its short but very steep and rocky. Most little kids will probably be satisfied by the River Trail and a picnic lunch. Also, being Central Oregon high desert, it can be pretty chilly even when sunny, and unforgivably hot during the summer.