A perfect hike in fall

When it comes to a hike with steep climbs, there's a world of difference between going on an 80-degree day or when temperatures hover around 100.

That's why our family likes to make its annual pilgrimage to the top of Smith Rock in Central Oregon in the fall rather than the summer. September and October are the perfect months for the two-mile round trip trek.

To get to Smith Rock State Park, travel 20 miles north of Bend on Highway 97 to the tiny town of Terrebonne. As you enter the town, drive past a Texaco gas station and turn right. Then follow signs to Smith Rock State Park.

There is a $3 parking fee, but ample parking, a restroom and a grassy area with trees and several picnic tables.

Even if you're not a hiker, it's worth going to Smith Rock State Park to have a picnic. You'll be rewarded with beautiful views and the smell of juniper trees and sagebrush. We saw people from a Central Oregon retirement home picnicking there, and everyone seemed to be having a great time visiting and breathing in the fresh air.

If you're up for a challenging hike, pack lots of water and walk on the asphalt path that leads away to the right of the picnic area. The path will turn to a slippery dirt and rock trail as it descends a quarter mile down a canyon to the Crooked River. There is an outhouse, a shaded picnic table and a drinking water fountain by the river — a last chance to fill water containers before starting up Smith Rock itself.

Cross a pretty wooden bridge and you'll see a flat trail going off to the left, a trail going up and a second flat trail going to the right. The trails that lead left and right provide gentle hikes, but to get to the top, choose the middle trail and start climbing a series of switchbacks past giant boulders.

After climbing for three-quarters of a mile, you'll be at the top of Smith Rock, looking down on the Crooked River canyon and the Central Oregon landscape. As great as the view is from there, don't neglect to follow the path around to the other side of Smith Rock. It's an extra quarter mile of mostly flat walking that will yield views of Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters and Mt. Jefferson. On clear days, you may even be able to make out Mt. Hood far, far to the north.

On this other side of Smith Rock you'll also have views of the towering Monkey Face formation. You're likely to see rock climbers trying to scale its vertical sides.

When your hike is done and you're driving away from Smith Rock, watch for a small wooden store with a big sign advertising huckleberry ice cream. The ice cream makes a perfect reward — whether it's summer or fall.

Aldous can be reached at vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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