A visitors preparatory guide

Some 30 million years ago a volcano belched and formed the beautiful tuff cliffs of Smith Rock. Here I have compiled all the information you will need for your first pilgrimage to the birthplace of sport climbing.

Smith Rock overview


Smith Rock is a State Park that contains a couple hundred acres of tuff and basalt rock. The formation resembles a peninsula because of the way the Crooked River circumvents the 300 foot high peaks.

View from the top of Wherever I May Roam 5.9

When to go

Climbing can be done most of the year, but this is the high desert, so Spring and Fall are the best seasons. There are 360 degrees of crags, so you can easily chase or evade the sun.

Getting there

The nearest major airport is Portland (PDX), but there is also a regional airport in Redmond, Oregon. Driving from Portland takes a bit over 3 hours.

Mount Hood seen during the approach to PDX

Where to stay

Smith Rock State Park has the Bivouac (bivy for short), which is the best option for dirtbags. The bivy has toilets, sinks, hot showers, picnic tables, potable water, and electric outlets. All this luxury can be yours for the low price of $5 per person per night. For such a bargain it is no surprise that some people live here full time.

Smith Rock Bivouac Dispersed camping at the Bivy. Hot air balloons are not an everyday occurrence.

Getting around

If you stay at the bivy, it's just a short hike (20 minutes) to the bridge. If you stay elsewhere, you can park in the Day Use Lot for $5 per vehicle and hike 10 minutes downhill to the bridge. Having a car gives you the option of a resupply run to the grocery store, Wal-Mart, or the climbing gear shop. You would also need a car for some of the rest day activities.

Asterisk pass is the shortcut to the West side. There is a person standing to the left of the boulder for scale.


The most common guidebook is Rock Climbing Smith Rock State Park by Alan Watts (not the Zen philosopher) published by Falcon. However, the last edition is from 2007, so you might want to supplement it with Mountain Project or beta from some friendly locals. The guidebook lists everything counter-clockwise (i.e. right to left) starting from the bridge, which can be confusing.

View from Dirty Pinkos 5.9

A nice starting area is the right end of the Dihedrals. There are some sport and trad lines from very easy to moderate. A bit to the right is the Morning Glory Wall, which looks like swiss cheese. These giant huecos make for interesting climbing.

Five Gallon Buckets 5.8 is the left-most line, and they increase in difficulty as you progress right. This is also the base of Zion 5.10a.

If you are in the mood for moderate multi-pitch, I cannot recommend enough the 5 pitch 5.9 sport line of Wherever I May Roam. Another fun outing is the recent addition of Dirty Pinkos. It has varied climbing and is a little inconsistent, but the mellow traverse is enjoyable. For trad heads, Spiderman is a nice romp best done in 2 pitches.

Spiderman 5.7 with belayer for scale.

Kicking it up a notch, the 4 pitch 5.10a Zion is one of the best lines in the park. Pick from a few sport lines for the first pitch. Continue straight up the right-facing corner for a pitch and a half, then traverse right and diagonal up to the base of the final pitch. This juggy flake climbing is the whipped cream topping on a delicious sundae.

The line for Zion 5.10a

John Galt Line 5.11b with climber for scale, Pack Animal Direct 5.10b is the stellar right-facing corner under the first triangular roof.

Karate Crack 5.10a

What to bring

Some consider Smith Rock the world capital for sport climbing, but there are plenty of high quality trad lines to be found. There are also some mixed routes that are partially bolted. If you're visiting during a busy time (like a holiday weekend), bring your rack to have more options and flexibility. A 60m rope is sufficient for most routes. Besides the possibility of hitting your head as a climber, many routes have loose rock or pebbles on upper pitches. It should go without saying, but bring a helmet.

Steelhead Falls. Don't forget a bathing suit, especially if you visit during the warmer months.

If you have a rest day in Portland, don't bother with the Japanese Garden, which isn't worth the price of admission. Instead, donate a buck to the International Rose Test Garden, which is free.