Fort Rock State Park Central Oregon
Central Oregon is high mountain desert in climate and terrain. As such, it seems to lend itself to incredible geologic landscapes you might not expect in this part of the country. However, Central Oregon is one of the crown jewels in all of Oregon with its unique places to see and things to visit. Hiking is one of the many things Central Oregon is famous for.
Fort Rock State Park is no exception. Situated south of Bend and east of the little town of La Pine on the road to Reno, Nevada, Fort Rock rises up out of the barren landscape on a canvas where one can see nothing for miles and miles but the distant outline of the mountain ranges.
Though it is very isolated and a bit of a drive to get to, it's well worth spending a day checking out the many hiking trails in and about Fort Rock. If you have time and plan ahead, you can even go on a cave hiking tour--usual limit is 10 per hike and you have to call ahead to make reservations. Pets are not allowed on this particular hike but on all the other hikes, dogs on leashes are allowed.
Fort Rock State Park is a place you should add to your to-see list when it comes to Central Oregon (though some folks refer to it as being part of Eastern Oregon.) No matter which, it's a place you won't want to miss.
Fort Rock State Park and its History
Touring above the vast emptiness for miles and miles in the Oregon desert, Fort Rock State Park is something to see in the distance as you approach. Fort Rock is a volcanic rock formation that is said to have been a lake at one time perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 years ago.
The rock formations on the top of several of the sides have many interesting shapes that do give you the image of being inside a giant fortress made of stone. This one does have an entrance, however, as one entire side of the rock wall is open.
On the other side of the spectrum, climbing high up the trails to the top of one of the trails, you see hundreds of caves carved out of the massive volcanic rock and can imagine all kinds of sea creatures coming in and going out as they swam in water 150 feet deep.
Fort Rock today is called a tuff ring--a formation of volcanic rock rising about 200 feet in height off the desert floor.
However, back in ice age times, the formations were part of a body of water, one of many lakes in the area that were interconnected and that encompassed about 900 square miles. This particular part of the lake is thought to have been about 150 miles deep.
Indians are said to have roamed the area and foot gear (sandals) were found in one of the caves at Fort Rock that are said to date back 9000 years. These were discovered by archaeologist Luther Cressman back in 1938. The sandals were made of sagebrush and bark.
If you visit the Fort Rock Museum, located at the park's entrance, you can see many of the artifacts that have been discovered in the area, including an unbelievable number of arrowheads.
Hiking The Trails at Fort Rock
The hike around the interior portion of the rock is about 1 mile; however, there are numerous side trails leading up many parts of the rock formations such as the one up to the "Crack in the Wall" as I termed it. This one in particular was very steep and probably at least 1/2 mile one way. The trail was also completely composed of sand and gravel.
There are numerous side trails that people hike. People of all ages visited the day we were there. The terrain is fairly easy to maneuver except for the shale-like parts descending. They were all negotiable with care, however.
As Central Oregon is high mountain desert, the temperatures are usually polar opposite, meaning there are great extremes. Days can be perfect at 65-80 degrees but oftentimes in late spring, summer, and even into fall, temperatures can soar to 100 and above by noon or early afternoon.
Likewise, temperatures plummet on the desert very rapidly and early October, are already down into the 20s when evening approaches and throughout the night.
Hiking in Central Oregon can be a challenge if you don't have the right clothing or supplies so always check weather forecasts and make sure you have plenty of water.
Fort Rock Valley has extremes in temperature because they are so exposed.
There is also an abundance of wildlife in this part of Central Oregon, boasting deer, elk, bobcats and cougars to name a few. The cougars in the area are said to harrass the elk populations quite frequently on the open lands.
There was also report of a baby bobcat atop a telephone pole but the presumption is that it was grabbed by a golden eagle.
Hiking the Fort Rock area can net you some great birding opportunities. This author was fortunate to catch a flock of yellow-rumped warblers feasting on sagebrush the day we visited.
HIKING AT FORT ROCK STATE PARK
What to Bring to Fort Rock State Park
- Hiking Boots
- Leashes for dogs
- Dog waste bags for dogs
- Portable water bowls for dogs
- Light jacket or heavy jacket depending on weather
Cautions for Hiking at Fort Rock
- Fort Rock is out in the middle of nowhere--you are about 35 minutes from a medical facility though there are places in town such as a restaurant, gas station and small grocery store
- The weather can change dramatically in Central Oregon--beware of electrical storms which can happen in minutes--since Fort Rock is in an exposed area, take cover
- Many of the trails at Fort Rock are sand--many are flat but there are several which go to the top of the rockery. This author wore Keen hiking sandals and it was not pretty. Hiking boots are the footwear recommended for a reason
- If you do not like dust--stay home. This author was literally covered in dust from head to toe after hiking for hours at Fort Rock--there is a restroom at the trailhead where conveniently I was able to sponge off at the end of a long, hot, dusty trek
- Rattlesnakes are prevalent in Central Oregon--on hot sunny days, be alert and listen for the telltale rattling as they can coil in bushes and strike if they feel threatened. Be particularly careful with dogs as if bitten, could you get your dog safely to a vet in time to provide treatment?
- The Central Oregon sun is misleading--remember that it is high mountain desert terrain and have a care that you are at a higher elevation. This also means that the sun is closer and while the blazing sun might feel good on your skin, sunburns are a common problem because people don't wear sunscreen
- Water, water, and more water. There is a rest area at the entrance to the hiking trails and Fort Rock itself. Avail yourself of water there but make sure you have plenty on hand when hiking. If you bring pets, make sure you carry poop bags and water for your dogs as this author's dogs were parched by the time we made it to the top of the trails up top from slogging through sand
- Be aware that there are no barriers or rails to hold onto anywhere on the jagged mountains. If allowing your children to climb up the mountains and explore, make sure someone is with them to prevent falls. This author saw lots of kids climbing without supervision--it's a long drop to the bottom
- If you find something (such as an artifact), it's a crime to remove it. You should report it to the museum or call their number to report it--or email
Where to Stay at Fort Rock State Park
- La Pine is roughly 30 miles west of Fort Rock Park and has several inns, cabins and private vacation homes that rent by the night, by the week and by the month
- Bend is roughly 45-60 minutes west and north of Fort Rock Park with an abundance of every type lodging imaginable
- Cabin Lake Campground is located in Fort Rock--14 sites (RV or tent) on 5 acres. Bathing facilities, toilets--can be found at AAA.com--campground is at 4550 feet elevation
- China Hat Campground is located in Fort Rock--14 sites (RV or tent) on 6 acres. Bathing facilities, toilets--can be found at AAA.com--campground is at 5100 feet elevation
- Horse Ranch RV Park is located about 6 miles from Fort Rock on Highway 13. Call 541-576-2488 for more information.
- Thompson Reservoir Campground is located at Silver Lake OR--19 sites (RV or tent) located on 8 acres. Bathing facilities, toilets--can be found at AAA.com--located at 5000 feet elevation
- Eastbay Campground is located at Silver Lake OR--17 sites (RV or tent) located on 10 acres. Paved roads. Bathing facilities, toilets--located at AAA.com--located at 5000 feet elevation
There is a small general store at Fort Rock, a small gas station and a restaurant.
More Places to Hike in Central Oregon
As well as Fort Rock State Park, there is what this author likes to call the Grand Canyon of Central Oregon--otherwise known as as Smith Rock State Park in Terrebone, Oregon. Whereas Fort Rock is south, Smith Rock is due north and a little bit east of Bend and Redmond Oregon. It's well worth the hike down to the river and the long walk around the back to see Monkey Face. As always, the hike down isn't too bad but the climb back up is a bit arduous. There is Misery Ridge, which is a steep hike that takes you to the top of the cliffs and lends fantastic views of Monkey Face and all the park's geological wonders.
There are the Painted Hills in Mitchell, Oregon which are part of the famous John Day Fossil Bed National Monument. This fantastically unique geo wonder lies east of Redmond and Prineville, Oregon. There are multiple trails to hike which are all easy; pets are also welcome here on a leash.
The Clarno Unit near Fossil, Oregon is also part of the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument and is located east but further north. This is a great spot to see what Central Oregon looked like millions of years ago and also is a photographer's dream come true as well as a wonderful hiking spot full of trails for all levels of ability.
Also part of the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument is Sheep Rock near Dayville, Oregon. Again lying east of Bend on the way to eastern Oregon, you'll find all kinds of hiking trails and loads of information on Oregon's volcanic past.
There are endless hiking trails in Central Oregon including at the Newberry Volcanic National Monument, trails for hiking throughout the Cascade Mountain Range, and the pristine and incredible Crater Lake further to the south.
Anyone who likes hiking could literally hike forever in Central Oregon. Always check on weather conditions but hiking in Oregon is a favorite pastime of residents and vacationers alike.
Getting to Fort Rock
- Take Highway 97 south from Bend, OR 31 miles to La Pine, OR
- On the south end of La Pine, turn left (east) onto Highway 31 towards Reno, NV
- Stay on Highway 31 for about 33 miles and turn left on the paved county road at the sign marked Fort Rock
- You can't miss it if you're looking to the left after 33 miles
Fort Rock Valley Homestead Museum
Before you get to the Fort Rock trailhead itself, you will pass the wonderful museum called the Fort Rock Valley Homestead Museum.
Here you can gather information on the history of Fort Rock as well as view many of the artifacts found in the area, including hundreds and hundreds of arrowheads.
We spent some enjoyable time there before our hike visiting with Jack Swisher who was full of information on the area.
There's a small gift store and restrooms. You can even dry camp in the parking lot of the museum.
There are also many interesting displays but perhaps the most intriguing part of the museum is the grouping of outbuildings next to the museum itself.
Almost all of the old buildings were rescued or moved from other parts of Central Oregon and now stand as a tribute to the past. My favorites were the General Store from the original Fort Rock days and the Catholic Church.
Fort Rock Valley Historical Society
P.O. Box 84
Fort Rock, OR 97735
Open Memorial Day weekend through second week in September
Friday through Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Closed Monday through Thursday
Call for special tours by request.
Cave Tours at Fort Rock State Park
In June, July and August, you can arrange to do a cave tour.
Call 1-800-551-6949 for reservations. There is an $8 fee per person for the tour.
Limited usually to 10 people but for larger group tours, call 541-923-7551, extension 21 for more information.
The tours typically are from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
You will need:
- Plenty of water
- Appropriate clothing to the day's weather
- No pets!
- Pets are NOT recommended to be left in cars in Central Oregon's hot season when temperatures soar inside vehicles. Hot weather and pets do not mix!
- The Fort Rock Cave is in a remote area and participants are required to walk at least 1/2 mile in dusty conditions over uneven terrain
- Sandals are NOT recommended--wear sturdy hiking boots
Fort Rock Cemetery
If you go to Fort Rock State Park, you can't miss the cemetery as you have to pass it on your way to the trailhead.
It's worth a stroll through or worth a photo op. It's a very small cemetery but with the backdrop of Fort Rock in the background, it's definitely a must-see place.
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on October 07, 2012:
Thanks, Pamela--while Smith Rock will always be my favorite, Fort Rock really is a unique part of Oregon as well. There is much to see in the Pacific Northwest but the Central Oregon area is a rare treat for those of us who (now) live here.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 07, 2012:
One of my best vacations several years ago was touring Oregon. I only did a little bit of hiking but I thought the state was just beautiful and we had a wonderful time. Your hub is very thorough as to the sites and the equipment you might need to bring with you. I love your photographs also. Voted up, useful and beautiful!
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on October 07, 2012:
Thanks Happy Hank--you know--that didn't sound right to me when I wrote it~~~~I seemed to remember it being way closer but that was what it said on the Internet--goes to show you you cannot believe everything we read there~
Thanks, Peggy--hope you get the chance--it is a great place to visit.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 06, 2012:
This is a part of Oregon that I have never experienced. Your photos and descriptions were wonderful. It would be fun to do some hiking through the Fort Rock State Park someday. Up votes and sharing.
Happy Hank on October 06, 2012:
Great pictures and good advice about visiting the Fort Rock area. Only change I would suggest is to move the Horse Ranch RV Park back to its location only about 6 miles from the Fort Rock Park instead of 33 miles a way in LaPine.
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on October 06, 2012:
Thanks, BJ--and I'm not the real photographer of the 2 of us~~ ha ha - I just have a lot of fun with the camera--except when I happen to be in front of it. It was a glorious hike and will definitely go back--would love to camp but I'm too old for that crap to tell the truth--but the thought of cougars and elk in the fields...hmmm...maybe I could rent a luxury RV~
I was upset about the bobcat kitten though and tried to pretend that I did not hear about the golden eagle. I'm going to pretend that he scurred back down and ran home to his mom where he belonged.
drbj and sherry from south Florida on October 06, 2012:
Fort Rock State Park looks like a fascinating place to visit with those volcanic rock formations jutting out from a rather barren landscape. Thanks for the intro, Audrey. But the most remarkable part of this hub, m'dear, is your very professional-looking photographs. Well done and more interesting-looking than any picture postal cards could be.
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on October 06, 2012:
Denise--most definitely---I'm still mad at my husband--I said later (he read an article about hiking there and NOT to wear sandals)....and so you DIDN'T notice the Keens on my feet when we left??? OMG--I did get a total exfoliation job out of the hike though~
Denise Mai from Idaho on October 06, 2012:
Beautiful photos of a spectacular place. Oregon is a gorgeous state with extremely different climates. Thanks for the helpful info. If I hike there I'll remember--no Keen sandals!