Photograph the Golden Hours at Smith Rock

Oregon Rim Rock Trail

Added by Gemina Garland-Lewis

  • Amazing warm light illuminates the canyon walls
  • Over 11 miles of trail networks to find the perfect golden hour locations
  • Variety of terrain - go high up on the mesa or stay low along the Crooked River for different perspectives in your images
  • Get greeted by river otters and other wildlife as they become more active at dusk and dawn
  • Affordable and accessible camping area so you can snatch shots at both sunset and sunrise

Most of you may know Smith Rock as a climbing mecca. While it is undoubtedly that, this doesn't mean that there aren't other great options for those less inclined to move vertically, particularly for photographers. The park's variation in topography and orientation means that at both golden hours, pre-sunset and post-sunrise, there is incredible light to work with in this awesome setting.

For those new to photography, the golden hour at this latitude typically begins an hour before sunset and lasts an hour after sunrise. At this time the light is softer, warner, and more indirect, and turns the already stunning rock walls at Smith Rock into a glowing orange color. You generally won't need a tripod at these times of day, but it can come in handy - especially if you want to take multiple exposures of the same shot and merge to HDR when you get back home.

First off is to decide where you want to explore for the evening golden hour and sunset - the park boasts 11 short interconnecting trails (all under one mile to two and half miles in length) that allow you to mix and match to individualize your adventure based on your ability and how much time you have. Although there are lots of great options to choose from when planning your hiking route, for photographers, watching the light will often be your deciding factor in which direction you move within the park. Think about the type of shots you want - do you want to be on the bottom of the canyon looking up? Do you want to plant yourself near climbers and take some action shots with less harsh lighting? Do you want to be high on the mesa looking out across the surrounding landscape and see the sun go down behind all the mountains to the west? Try and plan what you're looking for ahead of time so that you don't have to think too much about it as you go - don't want to risk losing the light! Keep in mind that the Crooked River will be illuminated from above with the colors of the sunset.

You'll want to make sure that you spend the night here come back for the morning golden hour as well, which is arguably the nicer of the two! There's easy and affordable camping on site at Smith Rock, so curl up for the night and then hike back down to the canyon come morning time. If your body isn't on track to wake up before sunrise, double check what time sunrise is the next day and then set an alarm with enough time ahead of sunrise for you to hike back to the canyon for those early morning shots. Keep in mind that all the rock walls bathed in morning golden hour light will be different than the ones you shot during the previous day's sunset golden hour - this will help you plan your shots accordingly so that you can capture Smith Rock in all its glory! If you're looking for a great place to start for early morning photography, head over the Morning Glory Wall along the River Trail and continue to explore from there.

Bend is an awesome spot to find an assortment of great food and breweries and is just about 30 minutes south of Smith Rock. While you could do a whole trip just to Bend for this purpose, I'd start with Bend Brewing Company as the best place for local food and beer!

Getting there:

Take Highway 97 to Terreborne, about 30 minutes north of Bend. You'll see signs for Smith Rock from the highway (and, frankly, you'll see Smith Rock itself from the highway as well). Follow the signs and head east from Terreborne for just a few miles and you'll have arrived!

Pack List

  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Extra camera batteries and memory card
  • Enough food and snacks to keep you going
  • Plenty of water - keep in mind that there is easily accessible potable water at campsites so you don't need to worry about a filter
  • Headlamp/ flashlight
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Chillin, Photography

Skill Level:



Year Round



Dog Friendly
Easy Parking

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Amazing Golden Hours

The red rock makes more some of the most amazing light and landscapes. If in central Oregon, you must catch this place at the golden hours!

1 day ago

3 months ago


Such a beautiful place to hike, run, and climb. I have done many hikes and climbs here.

3 months ago

5 months ago


Definitely the highlight of our trip through Oregon. This place was magnificent! We went early in the morning, which turned out to be a good thing, as by noon the parking lot was full. My husband hiked Misery Ridge, while my daughter and I stuck to the River Trail; both were gorgeous, providing completely different views and photos. I highly recommend this place!

5 months ago

9 months ago

the most golden of hours

The sunset I took in from Misery Ridge was one of the most spectacular I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The Cascades from Bachelor to Hood, silhouetted in front of vibrant skies. Perfect!

9 months ago

10 months ago

An Oregon icon, this place is stunning under great light. If you don't have good color at sunrise or sunset though, the rocks can look a little flat.

10 months ago

over 1 year ago

Excellent article. Absolutely love Smith Rock State Park!

over 1 year ago

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