Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Central Oregon five weeks ago, we have been looking for places to hike which are still fairly easy to access yet not subject to closure restrictions. This weekend we found Gray Butte. Every Central Oregonian knows iconic Smith Rock with its fabulous rock formations and the destination of many rock climbers from around the world. We have often hiked in this state park and enjoyed watching those climbing and rappelling down Monkey Face or the other cliffs many times. We have climbed Misery Ridge and enjoyed hiking many of the trails as well. One path we have never hiked before, however, is the looming Gray Butte immediately to the east of Smith Rock - although we have noticed people walking up the trail.
On Saturday we drove east around Smith Rock to the access point to Gray Butte Trail in Skull Campground (which was closed), part of the Ochoco National Forest. We drove several miles up the dirt road in Cow Canyon toward Gray Butte Trail head, but before reaching this, turned left over a cattle guard and drove up a service road which paralleled Cole Loop to a flat area which had several campers. The part of Gray Butte trail which eventually ends at Smith Rock could easily be accessed here and we saw it off in a southeast direction from our stop along the ridge line of the lower parts of Gray Butte. But instead we decided to climb the highest peak of Gray Butte which could be done by continuing up the service road which got us to our stop. Instead of doing this, however, we followed Cole Loop around the base of Gray Butte and when we reached its west side, found another service road which we took straight up the butte. I would not recommend doing this as the road up was extremely steep.
Rather than attempt the steep service road down, we walked the relatively gentle service road on the east side of the butte back to our car. The views were spectacular and various wildflowers were blooming.
All in all we spent roughly 3.5 hours enjoying our experience on Gray Butte and will go back again - this time to hike that section which ends at Smith Rock.