Seattle to Bend Road Trip – Camping at Smith Rock State Park

P1030173KEarlier this month we took a road trip to dog-friendly Bend, Oregon for our 1-year Anniversary. For once we were packed and all ready to go 3 or 4 days before our scheduled bug-out day. If you ever think that time goes too fast, try packing for a trip you are super excited about a few days before and then waiting. Slooooooow doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

We decided to leave a day early and camp somewhere along the way. We looked at places to stay between here and there and felt it was silly to drive 3 or 4 of the 7 hours it was going to take just to sleep in our car.

S is a former rock climber, and I have worked in the outdoor industry part-time for years….and have some climbing friends, so the infamous climbing spot, Smith Rock State Park, stood out to us. It is considered the birthplace of modern American sport climbing, and is host to cutting-edge climbing routes.


Neither of us had been there, and it was only 40 minutes north of our final destination, so we decided to stay there Tuesday night.

I researched campgrounds in the area. There are a decent amount of walk-in camp spots inside of the park (you can’t sleep in your car and the camp sites are a bit away from the parking spots) and a drive-in campsite, Skull Hollow, a few minutes east. Camping in your car was allowed at the drive in campsites so we picked there. We would be getting in after dark and getting up early and didn’t want to bother with a tent.

There was no reservation system for these camp spots. It was good news because there was possibly one available for us. It was bad news because there possibly wouldn’t be one available for us.

We figured that the place might be jammed packed with summer climbers, even on a weeknight and that we might not find a camp spot when we got there. We decided to give it a shot anyway because, worst-case scenario, we could poach a parking spot on the side of the road somewhere to sleep or get a (hopefully cheap) hotel room in the nearby town (we did bring a tent too in case there was only a walk-in camping option).

We did arrive after dark. Not having been to the area, and only having a not-to-scale schematic map to go off of, we got a little lost. We drove down a few roads looking for the drive in campsite and turned around when we figured we went way too far. We ended up back at the State Park and didn’t want to snoop around for a walk-in campsite there. We were able to pull up the crappy map again and saw that maybe we hadn’t gone far enough…so back down the road we went.

We managed to find the Skull Hollow Campground. It certainly wasn’t obvious from the main road where it was. We pulled in and there was no one there. Out of the 28 spots, there were only 5 campers including us and the hosts. The campground was undeveloped with no electrical hookup and only a pit toilet….so if you ever want to stay there, expect to be self-sufficient.

We shoved the back-seat stuff into the front seat, laid the back seats flat and went to sleep. We got up not long after the sun rose, did the whole gear-shuffle routine backwards and went to Smith Rock State Park to do a little hiking.

I am a Geologist by training so I may be a little biased but the park was beautiful. It’s mostly volcanic rock – welded tuff and basalt – that is part of a large volcanic caldera.


We hiked around for a little over an hour before heading down the road for Bend.



About the Author

Hi, I’m Jessica. I’m a Dachshund sitter, President of the largest social Dachshund club in Washington State, a dog trainer in training, and I’ve been a Dachshund owner for 20 years. I have over 150,000 hours of experience with the breed. When I’m not working, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.


  1. What a gorgeous place! It kind of blows my mind to read about you possibly sleeping in your car by the side of the road…that is NOT something you can even contemplate in South Africa.

    Hope you have a lovely trip!

    Robyn (and Wally & Sammy)

    1. It that not safe in South Africa? Or not legal? There are people here in the US that wouldn’t think of doing it either but mainly because they are afraid – they think it is dangerous. I am not a very paradoid person though so it doesn’t bother me. I have been doing it for years and never had any issue.

  2. I’m so very jealous of where you live and the places you can visit. Here in England the scenery is nothing like that!

    1. Over the last 3 years of blogging, I have learned more and more how fortunate we are. I always knew the scenery here in Western Washington was great but I didn’t quite realize that there are so many places people live that don’t have stuff like this.

    1. I haven’t spent much time in Oregon, other than driving up and down I-5,, so this was kind of our first discovery. Last year we did take a bike trip with the dogs down the coast a bit. Eastern Oregon is a lot like our central Washington in climate and feel. Ben reminded us some of Leavenworth, WA…without the Bavarian theme 🙂

  3. The pictures are stunning and I’m still amazed that you slept in your car. I could never sleep in my car. Hell I can barely sleep in a hotel!!

  4. Wow! That is amazing that you slept in the car!! The scenery is positively gorgeous there!! Hope you enjoy your trip and we look forward to more pictures!
    xo Chloe and LadyBug

    1. I probably should have clarified… “car” I mean SUV with with fold down seats in the back. It’s a little smaller than a queen bed and a little bigger than a twin.

  5. This place is quite picturesque!! Amazing how this place is so near my home yet I rarely get to be adventurous. I need to try and venture a little more, especially if I get to be rewarded with such scenic sights. How was it sleeping in the car though?

    1. Actually, I’m a strange one. I LOVE sleeping in my car. Sometimes I sleep in my car when I go to visit friends just because I want to. Honestly, part is the reason is that I get better sleep too. If Chester and Gretel are in a strange house, especially with cats or other pets, they are VERY restless when I am trying to sleep.

      When we live near a place, we tend to take it for granted. I have lived in Western Washington all of my live yet have never been to Mount Rainier National Park (I have been NEAR there but never visited the park).

  6. Love the pictures you took at Smith Rock State Park. I’ve gone past that park a few times in my RV on my trips. Now I want to take the time to visit them. I didn’t think it had any RV camping there. Can you only sleep in a car and not an RV?
    I just returned from a 49 day RV road trip with my two stroller dogs, my next trip will probably be back to OR.

    1. Hi Patty. I know it doesn’t look like too much from the road. I was inspired to check it out because I knew it was an “outdoor mecca”. I was not disappointed.

      There were RVs at the campground I mentioned. I just don’t own one….hence “sleep in my car” 🙂 RV’s are not allowed at the campground inside the park though. That campground is just a bit parking lot for cars and you hike out into the bushes and pitch your tent.

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