For those looking for a long, challenging run from Smith Rock State Park, head out to Gray Butte. At 5100, Gray Butte offers 360-degree views of the Central Oregon area.
“We really love going out on the Gray Butte trail to get the best views from the top of Gray Butte. It’s a tough climb but a really fun descent from Gray Butte and another fun run down Burma Road,” claims Go Beyond Racing’s Renee Janssen. “The views at the top are unbelievable with so many Cascade peaks, especially on clear days.” Go Beyond directs the Smith Rock Ascent in May.
Both the Smith Rock Ascent and Run the Rock trail races run to or around Gray Butte. A great way to train for these races is a 24.5 mile-route that uses many of the same trails. Start at the Bivouac Area and run down the Rope-de-Dope Trail toward the Crooked River. Turn right at the Canyon Trail for .4 miles and cross the bridge over the river. Head left on the River Trail for a scenic view of the river and the rock formations that make up Smith Rock. Three miles into the run, turn right to climb Summit Trail for two miles to the junction of the Gray Butte Connector Trail and the Scar. Both trails will be used, so it doesn’t matter which way to go. For this route, turn right on the Scar Trail as this one is pretty steep. Head up a short but extremely steep and technical climb of the Scar Trail to the top of the hill in front of you. On the return, stay on the Gray Butte connector trail and off the ridgelines. “Trust me as you don’t want to attempt hiking back down the Scar as it is unsure footing to descend,” urges Bend trail runner Saulius Eidukas.
The reward for climbing the Scar Trail is the expansive view of Smith Rock and Central Oregon from the Eagle’s Nest. After the Eagle’s Nest, continue on the trail/road for three miles to the Gray Butte Trail and Cole Loop Trail. This can be confusing, but stay to the middle and climb the jeep road up to Gray Butte and not the Gray Butte Trail to start a 1.8-mile and 1300′ climb to the Gray Butte Summit.
After enjoying the views of Gray Butte, continue on the trail for a quarter-mile and turn right. Turn right again in another quarter-mile on BLM roads. In a half-mile, turn left at the trail junction. Shortly after, turn right FS-57. In 1.75 miles, FS-57 meets the Cole Loop Trail. This is about the halfway point of the run, but most of the hard work has been done.
Continue the descent of Cole Loop for four miles to the Skull Hollow Campground. Proceed through the campground and on the Cole Loop Trail for 2.5 miles of a slight ascent to the junction of Gray Butte Trail and turn left.
Follow Gray Butte Trail for three-quarters of a mile and turn right down Burma Road near the Scar junction. Burma Road is a technical jeep road that descends back to the Crooked River. Follow it to Wolf Tree Trail and continue along the river to the bridge that crosses the river and go back up the Chute Trail, Canyon Trail, and Rope-de-Dope Trail back to Bivouac Area.
The out and back to Gray Butte run is one of Saulius Eidukas’s go-to routes. “It’s a fun, beautiful and difficult run I always find rewarding. 13.5 miles with 4,500 feet of elevation gain,” says Eidukas.
Start at the Welcome Center and take the trail down and hang a right towards Burma Road. Look for the switchbacks of this road climbing the hillside from the parking lot. Once at the top, head right again and actually leave the park. Quickly come to another junction and here one has two options. This is a much easier route, both in terms of less climbing and ease of navigation is the Gray Butte connector trail. “For those less experienced runners and route finders, I’d suggest staying off the ridgelines until you’ve been to this area a time or two,” advises Eidukas. “The connector trail is self-evident and you see your destination if you choose in the form of a peak rising over the surrounding landscape, Gray Butte. One needs to be self-sufficient and bring their own fuel and hydration as you will be miles away from any kind of and aid facility.”