Flatiron Rock Trail and Smith Rocks SP

Bend, OR

The weather was very nice last week so we were able to get out for a couple of hikes.  The first was on the Flatiron Rock Trail.  To get to the trailhead we drove east of Bend on US-20 to mm-16.  There is a sign for the trailhead along the highway and a small parking area.

One hiking website described this trail in glowing terms.

When you venture out to the Badlands just 16 miles east of Bend, you’ll be treated to a harmonious blend of ancient juniper trees, vibrant lichen growing on contorted lava rocks, and a geological history that makes even the dirt under your feet seem interesting.

We found the trail to be interesting but a bit monotonous as we hiked the sand through some cool ancient Juniper trees.

The sign at the trailhead stated that the distance to the formation known as Flatiron Rock was 3.5 miles.  After looking at Google Maps it appeared (to us) that the trail ended there.  So when we came to a sign that said the trail continued straight in front of us we thought we needed to keep hiking.

But we should have known something was up when we had to step over a narrow tree limb blocking the trail, a well-recognized sign by hikers to not proceed.

If we had looked to our left, we would have seen a trail leading up into some rocks.  Turns out this is Flatiron Rock and that trail leads up into the formation.

But we followed the sign and kept hiking.  After almost a mile it became apparent that something was wrong.  We held a brief meeting and came up with a brilliant strategy to address our concern – turn around.  Once back at the sign we spotted the side trail and headed up into the rocks.

It was only a short hike up to the top of the formation where we had a nice view of the mountains to the west.

But we found the best view of the mountains was on the ride back to Bend on US-20.

A couple days later we drove about 25 miles north of Bend on US-97 to the small town of Terrebone for a visit to Smith Rock State Park.  The park is famous in the world of rock climbing for the many high rock formations located on a narrow peninsula formed by the Crooked River as it makes an almost 360 degree bend.  The park also has a number of interesting hiking trails at various levels of difficulty.

Once in the park we paid our $5 day use fee and walked over to the small visitor center located inside a Yurt.

A nice lady in the visitor center gave us a map of the park and described some of the trails available for hiking.  We decided to hike the Misery Ridge Loop, a four mile hike that combines three trails: the River Trail, Mesa Verde Trail, and Misery Ridge Trail.  To access any of the trails in this park the first thing you do is hike steeply down to the river.

First part of the trail heading down to the river

Once down the hill we crossed a bridge over the river and headed south on the River Trail for a little over two miles.

As we said, Smith Rock State Park is a world class climbing area and it seemed that every time we looked up at the rocks we spotted someone.  In the picture below are two climbers who caught our attention.

We could hear them talking so we zoomed in on each of them.  The man on top was calling out encouragement to the girl below him

We don’t know if she was new at climbing and a bit frightened, or just tired.  But she just hung there the few minutes we watched them.

The woman at the visitor center alerted us to a Bald Eagle nest high up in a tall pine across the river from the trail.  Just as we spotted the nest, the male took off before we could get a photo.  We watched for quite a while and were able to spot the female, but couldn’t see the young eight week old eaglet she was watching over.

As we rounded the sharp bend in the river and headed back to the north, the rock formation called Monkey Face came into view.

We sat on some rocks near the water and enjoyed lunch with a nice view of the river below us and Monkey Face above us.

Lunch with a view

A short distance north of our lunch spot the trail split.  We took the right fork and headed steeply up a half mile on the Mesa Verde Trail.  Monkey Face loomed large in front of us.

Looking back to the south on the Mesa Verde Trail

After a half mile we again took a right at a fork and began the steep climb up a series of switchbacks going around the other side of Monkey Face on the Misery Ridge Trail.

The dot on the top of Monkey Face is a climber

The view looking back down at the switchbacks

It was a long and very steep climb, but the views from the top were impressive.

Once at the top we hiked about a quarter mile before the trail headed back down another series of switchbacks on the other side.  Our hiking poles came in real handy as both the trail up and the trail down are on loose gravel, making for some tricky footing.

Our return trail

As we made our way down the Misery Ridge Trail the river crossing came into view, along with the trail on the other side leading back up to the visitor center.

It seemed a bit strange to be hiking down the steep trail and look over to the right to see someone perched on the sheer rock.

As we made our way down to the bottom a sign alerted us to use caution on the Misery Ridge Trail.  We appreciated the warning!

We crossed the bridge over the river and made our way back up the other side.  As we looked back across the river we could see the bottom set of switchbacks we had just hiked on the Misery Ridge Trail.

We really enjoyed this hike through Smith Rocks.  We may even return to do the Summit Loop, a seven mile hike that combines four different trails within the park.  More on that later . . .

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36 Responses to Flatiron Rock Trail and Smith Rocks SP

  1. Laurel says:

    Looking at your photos of the steep switchbacks, I can see why the trail is called Misery Ridge! Great photos, and the views look absolutely amazing. It’s on our list. That hike on the Flatiron Rock Trail, though — I hate hiking in sand!! Maybe if I had an appreciation of the geological history? :-)))

    • placestheygo says:

      The Flatiron Rock hike is more about exercise. The sand was not a problem until after you step over the stick that means don’t go there!! The dirt/sand on the trail is not a problem at all. It was very quiet and we only saw a couple people. The dead junipers made for some nice photos and there were lots of wildflowers. Remember John is not a flowery blogger!!

  2. Debbie L says:

    Yes, looks like Misery Ridge is appropriately named! Ah but the views! Great rewards on this hike. We’re yearning for the mountains and real hikes. We’ve been “walking” for months in the flat lands!

  3. Stunning photos! Can’t wait to see it for ourselves! Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

  4. That is one steep trail but those views were certainly worth it!

  5. Sue says:

    Thanks for taking us to the top and showing us the view. I’ll not see it on my own with that switchback trail to get there! Your lunch with a view shot by the river is just my speed! Beautiful!

  6. We screwed up on the Flatiron trail, too, and it turned into an 8 mile hike. Luckily it’s flat!
    The first time we went to Smith Rock the volunteer told us to hike up Misery Ridge to start the loop. She said the most injuries in the park occur from people falling going down Misery Ridge, so we took her advice. It’s still really steep and slippery going down those switchbacks near Monkey Face.
    The Summit Loop was on our list but we never got around to it. Hope you do!

    • placestheygo says:

      I didn’t realize you, also, got to “enjoy” the extra mileage. We all should have know better when we stepped over the limb!
      I felt the gravel was worse on the back side of the Misery Ridge Trail and was glad the volunteer suggested we go up on that side. But both sides are a challenge when going down.

  7. Yeah, the Badlands trails are not that exciting, but at least there are trails to hike when the mountains are full of snow!

    Love looking at your photos of Smith Rocks…I love that place! The views are incredible and the rock climbers crazy! I always look for otters in the river but I’ve yet to see any.

    • placestheygo says:

      The Badlands are also nice to hike on a cooler day since there isn’t any shade.
      We’ll have to keep an eye out for otters if we should return to Smith Rocks! I’d like to check out the eaglet and see if it is visible this time.

  8. Jeff says:

    Looking at those switchbacks I can see why the trail is called Misery! Beautiful pictures and description of your awesome hike.

  9. This is where Ian and I went for our first trip together and started dating from that trip (back in 2011!). It’s a fun place to explore. We climbed there and also hiked down to some river nearby and found a popular swimming hole.
    Alicia @ http://www.GirlonaHike.com

  10. Sherry says:

    Boy those are some seriously confusing signs. Well done to figure it out. I love seeing the beautiful snow capped mountains in your pictures. There’s been nothing like that anywhere in my vistas for far too long. LOL at “Misery” Loop. Not a very hopeful name. But your lovely shots of the river trail – not all misery obviously. I guess it’s the steep climb for those gorgeous views and the return trail clearly qualifies. Those are some switchbacks. Wonder how many people turn around just because of the trail name?

    • placestheygo says:

      We were surprise by some of the people we saw that actually completed this trail. It wasn’t the climb as much as the loose little pebbles on the very steep slopes.

  11. pmbweaver says:

    Three Sisters is so beautiful. When we were there, there wasn’t as much snow as your photo shows.
    Misery Ridge Loop looks awesome. I actually could make out Monkey Face.sometimes I am not so good at that. Talk about switch backs. Good grief.

    That poor, poor girl. She looks like I would look. Just pulled me up because I have no idea what I am doing.

    What a treat to see the bald eagles..

  12. geogypsy2u says:

    Awesome views! Those switchbacks look like good practice for a rim to rim. The sandy juniper trail looks familiar to UT.

  13. Gay says:

    What a beautiful hike with breathtaking views! Love the lunch with a view! And what a real treat to see the Bald Eagles!

  14. Jodee Gravel says:

    Sometimes those strategy meetings are actually productive! I envision you pulling out a folding white board and markers to plan your next move there on the trail :-))) Those views along the river are beautiful! The steep switchbacks, not so much, not even a little bit. Had to hold on to my chair just to look at the view down! I’m sure after all that, those stairs were particularly daunting – glad you managed to navigate them safely 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, Jodee, we always carry the necessary materials in our packs for those strategy sessions…haha! The River Trail was beautiful. Too bad it is quite a hike downhill to get to it. I am thrilled I made it down without a fall!! I always seem to slide on the gravel and end up on my butt at least once.

  15. joannie6535 says:

    Love the photos and reading about your journey. I do believe you did see the eaglet. A fully grown female Bald Eagle would have a solid white head…pretty much identical to the male except for size. Since the photos show a bird that is mostly brown, it would be the baby. Both adults tend to babies in the nest so it is likely that one of the adults would have been in a nearby tree to keep an eye on things. A Bald Eagle juvenile won’t get its white “bald” head until it is 3-4 years old. I do enjoy following your travels. Check my blog out at birdingboomers.com.

  16. Jim and Barb says:

    Misery Ridge looks like a killer trail, that shot from the stop showing the switchbacks is incredible! I think you guys should take up rock climbing, just think of the “lunch with a view” shots you could get!

  17. jessieworley says:

    Great shots of the monkey face! We weren’t able to hike in that close as we wanted to get climbing immediately, but will definitely be heading there our next trip down!

    • placestheygo says:

      It was so much fun to watch the climbers on Monkey Face. There were two people in the mouth waiting while the friends climbed to the top of the head. Climb safely:)

  18. LuAnn says:

    We loved Smith Rock State Park and also did the Misery Ridge Trail. The descent on the loose rock was a little unnerving but the beauty of the area was all worth it. Great photos!

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