The word "majestic" doesn't even begin to cover the beauty of Smith Rock State Park, located in Oregon's high desert plateau. Known as one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon, Smith Rock State Park is your next stop for adventure.
With several thousand (yes, thousand) climbing trails, Smith Rock State Park is a mecca for adventurers of any age. The park, located in Oregon’s high desert, is chock full of things to do and see. It has sheer basalt cliffs perfect for rock climbing and a plethora of abundant wildlife you can see while hiking a trail.
Pro tip: The park doesn’t allow RV camping, so reserve a spot at one of the many other campgrounds in the area. It does permit camping in tents, though—no reservations required.
With one of the best views money can buy (just kidding—they’re free!), Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint is a great place to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and gaze out at the vast and majesty beauty of our country. The overlook gives you a glimpse of the Crooked River Gorge and the railroad bridge of the same name.
With its breathtaking views from the cliffs over Lake Billy Chinook, The Cove Palisades State Park is another great stop on your trip across Oregon’s desert region. The park features the Crooked River Petroglyph, an engraved 18-ton stone dating back to somewhere between 2,000 and 6,000 years ago. The rock nearly had been covered by water when it was discovered, and was promptly moved to a safe viewing spot in 1964. In addition to this historical stone, the park has a seven-mile hiking trail and a scenic campground that offers full bathrooms with free showers. The park also has marina access to Lake Billy Chinook.
Smith Rock State Park is known for its climbing, but there are some top-notch hikes here as well. You can make your way to the top of the massive Smith Rock by hiking one of the park's two most famous trails: Summit Trail and Misery Ridge. Despite its depressing name, Misery Ridge is definitely one of the best hikes in Oregon: the 3.8 mile loop features switchbacks, oversized stairs, and gorgeous views of Oregon's Cascade Mountains. There are tons of unique rock formations ripe for exploring, great for some easy bouldering. Along the hike, keep your eyes out for golden eagles (sometimes there are telescopes you can use to observe their nests), river otters, beavers, prairie falcons, and other unique wildlife, or you can watch the climbers tackle the sheer cliff face from a relatively safer location. And, while it gets cold in the winter and very hot in the summer, you can at least rest assured that this desert region gets sunny weather 300 days out of the year.
Named for a Native American from the Wasco tribe, Lake Billy Chinook sits in a canyon at the convergence of three separate rivers (including the Crooked River). The lake offers a plethora of fishing opportunities (it is one of the only lakes where bull trout can be caught legally), as well as kayaking, and swimming. For a really unique experience, rent a houseboat for the weekend from Lake Billy Chinook Houseboats.
Smith Rock Brewing might be known as Oregon’s smallest commercial brewery, but it’s mighty. Smith Rock has a tiny half-barrel brew house and only keeps two to three beers at a time in order to keep things interesting, but they brew their beers with meticulous attention to detail and maintain complete quality control. The brewery even features a pub that offers food made from scratch. Make sure to try their famous Smith Rock Onion Rings made with fresh yellow onions and homemade breading.
You are sure to find something to enjoy in Oregon’s desert region, whether it’s beer, breathtaking overlooks, ancient petroglyphs, or homemade onion rings. So, pack up the Airstream and get driving!
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