🥾 Hiking Misery Ridge Trail in Smith Rock: Ultimate Guide (2024)

The Misery Ridge Trail in Smith Rock State Park is a 2.5 to 4-mile hike taking you through some of the most spectacular scenery within Central Oregon’s high desert.

Despite its less-than-appealing name, Misery Ridge Trail is the most popular hike in the park and our personal favorite for photographing Smith Rock State Park. The sweeping views over the Crooked River and impressive volcanic rock formations make Smith Rock’s premier trail anything but miserable!

While it is indeed a challenging, uphill climb, hikers are rewarded with spectacular views from the very beginning that only get better as you near the pinnacle.

In this complete guide, you will learn everything you need to know about the Misery Ridge Trail hike including times, distances, photo tips, and more.

Discover all the rest:

🌅 About Misery Ridge Trail

View from Misery Ridge Trail of Crooked River and many hiking trails below.
Misery Ridge hiking trail provides some of the best views of Smith Rock State Park.

❤️ Misery Ridge Trail Quick Facts

  • Location: Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
  • Length: 2.5-4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 860-1220ft
  • Time: 2-4 hours
  • Type of Trail: Options for out and back or loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate-Challenging
  • Family Friendly: Older children
  • Dog Friendly: Yes, on a leash
  • Services: Yes – Restrooms, picnic area, playground and drinking water at the Welcome Center. Composting toilets at the trailhead and along the River Trail.
  • Fee: $5 parking (Oregon State Park Pass accepted)
    *accurate as of Dec 2023

⛰ Description of Misery Ridge Trail

The Crooked River bends around Smith Rock with a skyfire sunset above, as seen from Misery Ridge Trail Loop hike.

Smith Rock State Park is an outdoor lovers’ paradise with 10.8 miles of walking trails. Among them, Misery Ridge Trail is considered the best hike in the park.

This reputation is earned from the spectacular views it offers of one of the seven wonders of Oregon. Additionally, the trail is tailored to hikers with no mountain bikes or horses permitted.

The Misery Ridge Trail can be hiked as either a 2.5 mile out-and-back trail to Monkey Face rock formation, or as the 4-mile Misery Ridge Trail Loop.

This trail also connects to many other hiking routes through Smith Rock State Park so there are options to increase the length of your trek. You will find all options laid out in detail below.

🧗 Hiking Misery Ridge Trail

View from the top of the Misery Ridge Trail over Smith Rock and Crooked River on a bright, sunny winters day.
The Misery Ridge Trail provides unbeatable panoramic views of Smith Rock.
  • Length: 2.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1220ft
  • Time: 1.5-3 hours
  • Type of Trail: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate-Challenging

Do not be fooled by the name of this trail, it is the most popular and beautiful hike within the park!

The Misery Ridge Trail actually starts at the Crooked River footbridge. However, this trail guide will direct you from the main day-use parking area as that is where most visitors begin their hike.

🚶 Starting the Trail

View of Smith Rock State Park from the parking lot
View from the parking lot in the winter.

From the parking area, follow signs for the Canyon Trail. After 300ft, you’ll reach a railed viewpoint with interpretive signs explaining the geology of the area.

As a side note, it’s remarkable to think that the golden rocks of Smith Rock are the result of volcanic activity from around 30 million years ago. Since then, the Crooked River has carved its way through the landscape to create the features seen today.

Crooked River in Smith Rock from junction of Canyon and Chute Trail.
Junction of Canyon Trail and Chute Trail during the summer. The Canyon Trail is the longer, gentler trail curving to the left and back. The Chute Trail is the shorter, steeper fenced trail shown on the right.

After another 350ft, you’ll have the option to turn right onto the Chute Trail or to continue along the Canyon Trail. Both will deliver you to the same endpoint at the footbridge, so the choice is yours. The Chute Trail is a short but steep 0.1-mile hike, whereas the Canyon Trail is a gentler, longer 0.4-mile walk. We opted for the Chute Trail.

Prior to crossing the river, you’ll find a large grassy area that serves as a helicopter pad, along with a single picnic table, water fountain, and a compostable toilet.

Make sure your water bottles are full and your bladders are empty as this is the last toilet and water fountain on the hike!

🥵 Hiking up Misery Ridge

View over the Crooked River from the Misery Ridge Trail in the winter with the footbridge and helicopter pad to the bottom left.
From the bridge, head straight to follow the stairs and switchbacks up Misery Ridge Trail.

After crossing the river, you will reach a junction with three trails to choose from: the Wolf Tree Trail to the right, River Trail to the left, and the Misery Ridge Trail straight ahead. Take a moment to glance up to Picnic Lunch Wall, where you’re likely to spot rock climbers ascending.

When you’re ready, continue straight for the Misery Ridge Trail and your ascent! As you head up, you’ll pass Ship Rock and the Red Wall, another couple of popular rock climbing spots.

A girl in a yellow jacket on the edge of a rock looking out over the sweeping views of the Crooked River meandering below and Smith Rock from the Misery Ridge Trail.
Take time to pause and soak in the views along the Misery Ridge Trail.

The path will lead you to the highest viewpoint on Misery Ridge via a variety of stair-steps and switchbacks. It is a steep, grueling hike with limited cover. However, you will find plenty of places along the way to take a break if needed.

A distant snowcapped mountain with farmland, houses and lakes in the foreground, as seen from the Misery Ridge Trail in Smith Rock State Park Oregon.
Admire the breathtaking mountain views from Misery Ridge Trail.

After 0.6 miles, you are rewarded with spectacular views back over Smith Rock and down to the Crooked River. On a clear day, you are also treated to mountain views of the Cascade Range, Mt. Bachelor, Sisters, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, and even Mt. Hood in the distance.

You’ll find a bench here to the left of the trail. Continue a little further beyond the bench for mesmerizing, expansive views that are our favorite in the park. If you are hiking up for sunset, this is the place to be.

A girl sat on the edge of a rock overlooking Smith Rock and the Crooked River, with mountains in the distance, as seen from the top of the Misery Ridge Trail, Oregon,
Continue a little off the trail for incredible views over Smith Rock and the Crooked River below.

Once you’ve soaked in the views here and caught your breath, continue to follow the Misery Ridge Trail for another 500ft until you reach one of Smith Rock’s most prominent features, Monkey Face.

As the name suggests, this 350-foot rock monolith resembles the face of a monkey when viewed at the correct angle. Here, you’ll find another bench with more panoramic views.

Monkey Face Rock monolith at the end of the Misery Ridge Trail in Smith Rock State Park.
Can you see the resemblance to a monkey’s face?!

From here, the Misery Ridge Trail continues a further 0.3-miles on a steep descent around Monkey Face to a junction with the Mesa Verde Trail. At this point, you have reached the end of the Misery Ridge Trail.

You now have the option to turn back and retrace your route to the parking lot, or continue along one of the other trails for a longer hike… more on that to come.

A bright pink, yellow and purple sky above Monkey Face and the Crooked River at sunset in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon.
Monkey Face and the Crooked River during a beautiful summer sunset.

🏃 Misery Ridge Trail Extended Hikes

For those who are looking for more of an adventure where the Misery Ridge Trail ends, you have two options for extending your hike. One is to continue along the Mesa Verde Trail and River Trail, and the other is to return via the Summit Trail.

Our recommendation is to take the River Trail for a new perspective as you will have already seen Smith Rock State Park from above.

🌄 Misery Ridge Loop Trail

A bright orange and yellow sky above Mt Jefferson at sunset from Misery Ridge Trail in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon.
Sunset views over Mt. Jefferson from the Misery Ridge Trail.
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 860ft
  • Time: 1.5-3 hours
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate-Challenging

The Misery Ridge Trail Loop is truly the best of the hikes in Smith Rock. In addition to all the remarkable views you have along the Misery Ridge Trail, you also get to meander along the river for a new perspective.

It is worth noting that you can complete the Misery Ridge Trail Loop in either direction. The guidance below takes you counter-clockwise, getting the more challenging uphill climb out of the way first. This is the most popular way to hike this route. However, you can opt to reverse the route and walk along the River Trail first.

To complete the Misery Ridge Trail Loop, take a left when the trail ends to continue along the Mesa Verde Trail (rather than turning back). The path gradually descends for 0.4 miles until it becomes the River Trail.

This gentler stroll back to the starting point allows you to appreciate the sheer scale of the tuff and basalt cliffs that tower above you. You may share the River Trail with mountain bikers and horses too.

Follow the River Trail for 1.7 miles to reach the footbridge where you began.

This part of the trail is mostly flat as you will be walking along the canyon floor. Along the way, you will pass a number of climbing areas including the Southern Tip, Phoenix Buttress, Christian Brothers, The Dihedrals, and Morning Glory Wall. Keep a lookout for climbers on the rock faces!

You will also find a compostable toilet and picnic bench along the River Trail, making for the perfect spot to stop and relax.

Cross the Crooked River at the footbridge where you began your ascent hours priors. Follow the Canyon Trail and The Chute uphill to return to the parking lot and complete the Misery Ridge Trail Loop.

🚶 Misery Ridge and Summit Trail Loop

View over Crooked River and Wolf Tree Trail from hiking the Misery Ridge Trail.
View over Crooked River and Wolf Tree Trail from the Misery Ridge Trail.
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,770 ft
  • Time: 4-6 hours
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Difficulty: Challenging

For those with more energy, the Summit Trail combined with the Misery Ridge Trail combine to become the longest hike in Smith Rock State Park, with the highest elevation gain on top of that. It also allows you to see the park in its entirety, providing views of Gray Butte and The Monument.

At the end of the Misery Ridge Trail, turn right onto the Mesa Verde Trail. This will lead you to a junction with the River Trail and Summit Trail, keep right to continue on to the Summit Trail.

After almost 1 mile, you will find a short 0.1-mile side trail that takes you to the Summit Trail Viewpoint which provides another breathtaking vantage point. The Summit Trail continues to climb from here along a number of switchbacks for 1.4 miles before converging with the Burma Road Trail.

From here, you will have a steep decline along scree for 1.1 miles before reaching the Wolf Tree Trail. This easy, mostly flat trail takes you back along the river to the footbridge.

This route takes you through both private land and BLM land, so please be respectful and remain on the trails at all times.

🤔 Planning Information for Hiking Smith Rock

A distant mountain peeks above the jagged rocks of Smith Rock with a foreground of lush green grass in the summer
Smith Rock State Park in the summer.

💰 Fees

There is a $5 parking fee for Smith Rock State Park, or you can use your annual Oregon State Parks pass if you have one. Only card payments are accepted!

There are a handful of automated pay stations in the parking lot.

*Pricing accurate as of Dec 2023

📍 How to Get to the Misery Ridge Trail

Smith Rock State Park is located in Terrebonne, Oregon. It is around 26 miles (35 minutes) north of Bend in central Oregon. To reach Smith Rock from Bend, take the US-97 N towards Terrebonne. You can find driving instructions from Bend here.

From Portland, it is 142 miles (2 hr 50 min) southeast via US-26 E. You can find driving directions from Portland here.

While Smith Rock can get very busy, there is ample parking. Once you’ve parked and paid, make your way to the Canyon Trail trailhead to begin your hike to Misery Ridge Trail following the guidance above.

🌅 When to Hike Misery Ridge Trail

Sunset over the mountains in Smith Rock.
Sunset over the mountains in Smith Rock.

Smith Rock is open year-round. However, it is a day-use only area so hiking is only permitted from dawn until dusk.

The best time to hike the Misery Ridge Trail is 2-3 hours before sunset. This will allow you to complete the climb and enjoy the expansive westerly views from the top.

While we have hiked this trail in the winter and the summer, the best time of year to visit Smith Rock is during spring or autumn. During these shoulder seasons, the weather is cooler making the hike more comfortable and the crowds are fewer.

In the summer, the temperatures can often reach over 100°F (38°c) and the crowds can pack the narrower trails like Misery Ridge. However, the greenery was far more lush in the summer than during our winter visit.

If you’re looking to visit Smith Rock for photography, sunset is truly the best time to visit. Keep in mind, however, that the park closes at dusk.

A juvenile bald eagle soaring high against a background of bright blue sky.
A juvenile bald eagle soaring high above.

From mid-January to the end of July, raptors nest throughout Smith Rock State Park. This is a great time for bird-spotting! Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles, prairie falcons, and golden eagles soaring above or nesting in the rocks.

⚠️ Useful Tips for Hiking Misery Ridge

Canyon Trail and the River Trail snake either side of the Crooked River, while giant rock formations tower over.

Hopefully, we’ve convinced you to hike Misery Ridge by now! Before you go, here are a few useful tips to ensure you have the best possible hike.

  • Arrive early: Misery Ridge Trail is the most popular hike in Smith Rock and is very narrow in places. The park can be exceptionally busy at the weekends and during holidays, particularly in the summer. It can also become very hot during the middle of the day, so take advantage of the cooler mornings for exploration.
  • It gets hot: Smith Rock is a high desert environment and the Misery Ridge Trail provides limited shade. In the summer, the heat can quickly cause dehydration and the sun can be intense. Make sure you carry plenty of water and sunscreen.
  • Leave no trace: Please be respectful of the park. Keep to the trails, dispose of waste properly, and leave any plants etc. that you find.
  • Let wild animals be wild:  Animal encounters are rare in Smith Rock. However, it is home to mule deer, river otter, beaver, and other small mammals. Birds of prey also nest at Smith Rock, including prairie falcons and eagles. Please do not feed or disturb any wild animals and take note of any seasonal closures in place to protect nesting animals.
  • Rattlesnakes:  Rattlesnakes are found in some areas of the park, particularly near the river, and are an important part of the ecosystem. They will not attack unprovoked, however, they will defend themselves if disturbed or cornered. Seek medical attention immediately If you are bitten by a rattlesnake.
  • Check for closures: Parts of the park may close seasonally due to birds nesting, wildfires, or other reasons. Check the Smith Rock website in advance for any current closures.
  • Photography and drones: The use of drones is not permitted during raptor nesting season. This is typically mid-Jan to beg-Aug but check current photography guidance on the Smith Rock website. Additionally, there may be specific photography restrictions in effect near raptor nesting sites.
  • Pets: Dogs are permitted within Smith Rock, but must remain on a leash no longer than 6 feet. This is to protect both the fragile desert environment, as well as your beloved furry friend as there are rattlesnakes in the area.

🎒 What to Pack

Impressive rock towers jut up from the ground at Smith Rock State Park
  • Camera: Smith Rock is a spectacular park and you’ll want to capture the beauty of this hike. We use the Sony a7riii and highly recommend it. However, beginners may wish to consider a more budget-friendly entry level DSLR.
  • Sunscreen: We prefer to use Stream 2 Sea sunscreen as it’s eco-friendly and most of their bottles are made from sugarcane resin rather than plastic.
  • Hiking shoes: This should go without saying, but make sure you have comfortable shoes! The trail is typically well-maintained but there are areas of scree and exposed roots so ensure you have good traction.
  • Layers: The weather in the high desert can change quickly and Smith Rock has its own microclimate. In February, we began our hike in 65°F (18°c) sunshine and finished it through a light snow!
  • Jacket: A wind and waterproof jacket is also likely to come in handy. I love my Columbia jacket as it’s comprised of two layers. This allows me to just wear the outer waterproof/windproof shell, inner insulated layer or combination of both, depending on the rapidly changing weather.
  • Reusable water bottle: We don’t travel anywhere without a reusable water bottle. Remain hydrated without wasting single use plastic bottles! You’ll find drinking water at the Welcome Center, Bivuoac Area, and at the start of the Misery Ridge Trail.
  • Mini first aid kit: Even on shorter day hikes, we always have a mini first aid kit in our bag just in case. You never know when it may come in handy (particularly as I’m clumsy)!
  • Hiking poles: While not essential, you may find a set of hiking poles useful due to the steep nature of this trail. These are particularly helpful if you have any knee issues.
  • Snacks: We also keep a few high-energy snacks in our backpack. Even if you’re only on a short hike, it is always better to be prepared!

🗺 Map of Smith Rock State Park

The official Smith Rock State Park map shows all of the hiking trail throughout the park.

Above is the official Smith Rock State Park map showing the various hiking trails throughout the park. The Misery Ridge Trail is shown in red.

While the trail is easy to follow, you may wish to download and print a copy of this map. You can download a pdf copy of this map on the Smith Rock State Park website.

🙋‍♂️ FAQs About Misery Ridge Trail & Smith Rock

🌅 When is the best time to hike Misery Ridge Trail?

Mornings are the best time to hike Misery Ridge Trail, especially in the non-winter months. This is when crowds will be most limited and temperatures will be cooler.

Alternatively, you may wish to hike up a few hours before sunset to enjoy the westerly views from the top of Smith Rock.

The trail can be hiked year-round, but spring and autumn bring pleasant temperatures and smaller crowds.

🥾 How long is Misery Ridge hike?
Sunset over Monkey Face rock formation at the end of Misery Ridge Trail.
Monkey Face rock formation marks the end of the 2.5 mile out and back Misery Ridge Trail hike.

The Misery Ridge Trail can be hiked as either a 2.5 mile out-and-back, or as the 4-mile “Misery Ridge Loop Trail.”

⛰ What is the elevation gain at Misery Ridge?
View over Smith Rock State Park and the Crooked River from the end of the Misery Ridge Trail.
The end of the Misery Ridge Trail provides sweeping views that make you forget the 1220ft elevation gain!

The Misery Ridge Trail has an elevation gain of 1220 feet. If instead completed as the “Misery Ridge Loop Trail”, the elevation gain is 860 feet.

🥵 How hard is Misery Ridge?

The Misery Ridge Trail is considered a moderate-to-challenging hike. It is relatively short at only 2.5 miles, but has a rapid elevation gain of 1220ft. It is, therefore, not recommended for those with knee problems or young children.

🧗 Is Smith Rock a difficult hike?
Smith Rock State Park rock formations fill the background with a small lake in the foreground with a cow drinking from it at sunset.

Smith Rock offers a variety of different hikes, varying in difficulty. The River Trail provides a very walk along the canyon floor and is entirely flat. Misery Ridge Trail, meanwhile, is the most popular but challenging hike in the park with a steep 2.5-mile vertical ascent. This can be combined with the Summit Trail to become the most difficult trail in Smith Rock.

🌲 More Oregon & PNW TRavel Guides

Sunrise over Mt Hood and the city of Portland.
Mt Hood is one of the other 7 wonders of Oregon.

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By now, it should be obvious why Smith Rock State Park was recognized as one of the most beautiful places in the state and listed as one of the official 7 Wonders of Oregon. However, the Pacific Northwest is an absolute treasure trove of beauty. If you have the time, we highly encourage you to explore more of this wonderful area.

In particular, did you know that the Painted Hills of Oregon are less than a 2-hour drive from Smith Rock? Or that three other locations nearby are included on the list of the Best Places to Visit in Oregon for Nature Lovers?

To provide you with some inspiration, you’ll find some of our other travel guides for Oregon and the nearby regions of Northern California and Washington below.

If you are planning on visiting any of these other locations, you will discover far more in-depth descriptions and information for planning your trip in these guides.

Oregon Guides

Washington & PNW Guides

Northern California Guides

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Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's “Chief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

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