As I wrote a few weeks ago, my family enjoyed a stay at Eagle Crest Resort just outside of Redmond, Oregon, in August. It was a three-generation vacation, with the youngest less than 2 years old and the oldest just north of 70. As I indicated in my first blog, Central Oregon offers year-round outdoor recreation of many types, so we readily managed to find activities to appeal to everyone and each one’s abilities.
Less than 5 miles from our accommodations at the resort, Cline Falls State Scenic Viewpoint offered a short and easy hike for the whole group, as well as a nice shaded picnic area alongside the Deschutes River. We staked out a picnic table just steps from a calm, shallow little wading area the little ones could enjoy and hiked about a half mile to views of the falls. The route was fairly flat through juniper and sage and along basalt cliffs. The closer we got to the falls, the deeper the river cut down and the narrower (and faster) it became. The falls are only about 20 feet tall, but they drop in several courses over a basalt ledge for a pretty view. Downstream, the river continues through a scenic gorge. Most of us admired the views from above, but my daughter and son-in-law and two grandsons climbed and hiked down to the river’s edge for a bit more challenging and thrilling experience.
I enjoyed the walk back, choosing to stick closer to the water’s edge, admiring how the river over the course of ages had worn the rough rock into satin-smooth surfaces in fantastic shapes. After we all enjoyed our lunch, the kids splashed in the water, chasing water skippers (or water striders, depending on where you’re from) while the adults enjoyed the peaceful summer day.
A few days later, several of us drove about 20 minutes away to Smith Rock State Park, a mecca for rock climbers for decades that also offers mountain biking and hiking and horseback trails over its 650-plus acres. Boasting several thousand climbs within the park (and over a thousand which are bolted), the park features impressive volcanic tuff towers (compressed volcanic ash) formed over 30 million years ago, at whose feet twists the aptly named Crooked River. It’s primarily a day-use park, and a mere $5 fee allows a carload to park and explore the area.
One doesn’t have to be an experienced rock climber to enjoy the views and tamer trails. From the edge of the river gorge and a visitors center one can take a steep but well-maintained trail down to the river and then cross a footbridge over the river to trails that follow the river or switchback up one of the cliffs opposite (appropriately named the Misery Trail). Because we had my 20-month-old granddaughter with us, we opted to just go a short distance along the river trail, but high above us we could see the tiny figures of those who had departed early in the morning before the day’s heat set in to climb the heights.
We also spotted a few rock climbers on some of the vertical faces of the rocks. They were wrapping up their climbs at mid-morning, ahead of the heat which would soon make the surfaces too hot to climb. I don’t have an issue with heights, but I nevertheless could not imagine attempting what they were doing. While the whole landscape was awe-inspiring, I knew that at sunset the views would be even more impressive, as the evening light paints the rocks in magnificent hues. I decided I’d have to return again to enjoy that experience.
A few warnings and suggestions to those who plan a visit here: The elevation averages about 3,000 feet in the park, so even if you’re in good shape, be aware that if you’re not acclimated, you may find yourself easily winded. During the summer months the heat can be intense most of the day, so visit early in the day or during cooler months. (The park is open year-round, but snow can make trails treacherous if not impassable in the winter.)
The whole family really enjoyed our time in these beautiful spots, and as our grandchildren get older, I imagine they will return over and over again, each time stretching themselves to climb higher and hike farther as they and their abilities grow.
— Patty Vanikiotis, associate editor
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