Climb On! Rock Climbing with Kids at Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

by Josée

“There’s Smith Rock!” my son exclaimed from the back of our van. We could see the towering rocks of Smith Rock State Park peak above the land and the excitement in our van was palpable. We had driven over 800 km (500 miles) to reach this very location for two reasons: to rock climb and to watch the total solar eclipse. Driving to Smith Rock had been a last minute decision and people warned us of big crowds, scorching temperatures and difficult climbing. We weren’t sure what to expect but as we gaped at the towering spires coloured in beautiful hues of red, orange and green, we knew we’d made the right choice.

Smith Rock State Park is one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders and the birth place of sport climbing in the United States. With thousands of climbing routes, endless sunny days and breathtaking views, Smith Rock is a climber’s paradise like no other. We spent four days exploring Smith Rock and I’m happy to report that this is an awesome place for a family rock climbing adventure. While spring and fall are the best times to climb at Smith Rock, with some thoughtful planning it is possible to climb in the summer months too.

Before Heading Out

Before heading out to Smith Rock with your family here are a few things to consider.

Get the Guidebook

The Smith Rock guidebook is a must, especially when climbing with kids. Don’t waste time getting lost or climbing bad routes, get the guidebook and climb the good stuff.

Recommended: Rock Climbing Smith Rock State Park: A Comprehensive Guide To More Than 1,800 Routes

Purchase a Parking Pass

It costs $5 a day for a parking pass at Smith Rock State Park. Pick up a daily pass at one of three fee stations available in the parking area. If you plan on coming more than six times, or you want the convenience of not having to get a pass every day, purchase a one year pass ($30) or two year pass ($50).

Purchase one/two year passes from: the Smith Rock State Park Welcome Center, the Terrebonne Thriftway grocery store or online at the Oregon State Parks: Park Store.

Be Prepared

Specific skills and gear are necessary to rock climb safely with kids. If you’re new to climbing and interested in taking your kids out I recommend reading: A Beginner’s Guide to Learning How To Rock Climb with Kids. Another option is contacting Smith Rock Climbing School and taking a Family Rock Climbing Course.

Apart from the regular gear you will need to climb, kids should have their own properly fitted climbing helmets (one helmet per kid), harness and shoes. While rock fall isn’t a huge concern at Smith Rock it can still happen. A stick clip is also highly recommended because some of the first bolts are quite high up.

Smith Rock can be scorching hot in the summer months so staying hydrated is very important. If you’re climbing in the summer plan to take 2L (1/2 gallon) of water per person (including kids) for the day (minimum). There is a potable water refill station right before the bridge; take stock of your water supply regularly and refill as needed.

And a first aid kit is a must.

Climb On!

There are so many places to climb at Smith Rock; it can be really overwhelming! Below I’ve listed three places that our family enjoyed climbing at Smith Rock. These three areas have easier climbs, easy approaches and relatively safe landing areas.

Rope de Dope Rock

If you’re climbing with kids at Smith Rock, Rope de Dope Rock is a great first stop. This square rock sits across the river from Morning Glory Wall and is shaded until the mid-afternoon. The approach is quick and easy and there’s a nice wide landing with picnic tables. There’s about ten easy to moderate bolted routes on this rock (from 5.7 to 5.10b) making this a fun spot for the whole family.

Directions: From the parking lot take the Canyon Trail down into the canyon and continue on this left veering trail to Rope de Dope Rock.

Pros:

  • quick and easy approach
  • wide, flat (safe) landing
  • picnic tables
  • shade until mid-afternoon (perfect for hot summer days)
  • easy to moderate bolted routes (5.7 to 5.10b)

Cons:

  • limited number of bolted routes
  • can get really busy
  • a bit of a jaunt back to reach a toilet (for… you know…)

Morning Glory Wall (Zebra Area)

Morning Glory Wall is one of the most popular areas to climb at Smith Rock. You can spot this wall from afar with it’s towering face, large pockets and hoards of climbers. The wall gets a bit of shade first thing in the morning and then again in the late afternoon (around 5pm). As soon as the sun hits this wall it’s an instant oven, sweltering in the summer months, and warm in the cooler months. In the summer, the best time to climb this area is in the late afternoon (from about 5 to 8pm) but be ready to nab your preferred route because as soon as the shade comes so do the climbers.

A classic climb on Morning Glory Wall (in the Zebra Area) is Five Gallon Buckets (5.8). Climbers from near and far line up for a chance to climb this route because it’s lined with huge pockets the entire way up. It’s a fun climb and my kids really enjoyed it, but don’t let it eclipse the other (arguably better) climbs in the area. Just to the right of Five Gallon Buckets is Outsiders (5.9) another fun climb and further right there’s Light on the Path (5.10a) and Lion Zion (5.10c).

Directions: From the parking lot take the Canyon Trail down into the canyon and on Chute Trail towards the bridge. Cross the bridge and take the River Trail (left) continue along this trail until you see Morning Glory Wall. Follow the trail by the bathroom (small building) up to the rock.

Pros:

  • quick and easy approach
  • safe landing area
  • composting toilet nearby
  • wide variety of routes (easy to very difficult)

Cons:

  • sunny most of the day (good for cooler weather)
  • can get really busy

The Dihedrals (Left and Right Side)

The Dihedrals are located just passed Morning Glory Wall and are home to some of the most classic routes at Smith Rock including North America’s first 5.14 To Bolt or Not to Be. While we won’t be climbing 5.14s anytime soon, the Left Side and the Right Side of the Dihedrals are great areas for kids to climb. The Right Side is a dark slab with very easy sport climbs ranging from 5.5 to 5.8 that gets early to mid-afternoon shade. The Left Side also has easy routes on knobbly slab that range from 5.7 to 5.12c that get early to mid-afternoon shade. My daughter loved lapping Bunny Face 5.8 on the Left Side and practicing her footwork on all those fun knobs.

Directions: From the parking lot take the Canyon Trail down into the canyon and on Chute Trail towards the bridge. Cross the bridge and take the River Trail (left) continue along this trait, passing the bathroom and taking the next right veering trail up to the rock wall.

Pros:

  • quick and easy approach
  • composting toilet nearby
  • fun easy routes

Cons:

  • sunny most of the day (good for cooler weather)
  • can get really busy
  • landing has some loose rocks in the retaining walls

The moment we left Smith Rock we started making plans to return. It was such a great location for a family rock climbing adventure and four days was hardly enough time to explore the area, next time we’ll stay longer.

Have you visited Smith Rock State Park? Do you have any recommendations for visiting the area? Feel free to share your adventures and tips in the comments section below.

4 comments

Jeremie August 25, 2017 - 10:27 am

Great photos! I especially like the one where Claire is focused on Five Gallon Buckets!

Reply
Rachelle August 26, 2017 - 3:35 pm

Great blog Josée!!! and talented family to boot!

Reply
Robyn August 29, 2017 - 3:05 pm

We love climbing at Smith Rock and even if you aren’t a climber, this place is so gorgeous and worth exploring. My daughter and I did one of our favorite multi-pitches together–Wherever I May Roam– and created great memories together 🙂

Reply
Kelly July 23, 2018 - 1:28 pm

Awesome pictures and great write up! Good for you parents for getting your kids out there and enjoying the outdoors!

Reply

Leave a Comment