A Remnant of the Ice Age
Fort Rock is the remains of a Pleistocene Age volcano that emerged from the depths of a currently dry inland sea referred to as Fort Rock Lake. Although no lake can be found here now, a vast body of water formed by melting ice age glaciers once filled many of Central Oregon's Basins (some of these lakes remain such as Summer Lake and Lake Abert to the SE). Not a large volcano, Fort Rock was a small basaltic vent to the southeast of Newberry Caldera that formed a tuff ring due to its intrusion into water. Over thousands of years wave action of the lake eroded the tuff ring's southwest wall away and left terraces along the front and insides of Fort Rock. Like Newberry, Fort Rock is one of several distinct geologic sites in the Brothers Fault Zone region and is a National Natural Landmark and an Oregon State Park. Although for most visitors of Fort Rock the appeal lies in exploring its expansive caldera or searching for petroglyphs, the rock walls make for entertaining scrambling and low difficulty rock climbing. The summit of the Caldera is easily reached with some class 3 and 4 rock climbing from the inside of the caldera. The view from the rim is rewarding, with Newberry to the west, and many volcanic remnants laying around the basin in all directions.
An easy way to reach the highpoint of Fort Rock's rim is to travel from the parking lot west across the caldera and then north to a trail that steeply leads up towards a notch high in the craters wall (watch out for jackrabbits). From this notch travel up and south toward the rims highpoint where you will find witness markers embedded in the stone, but no actual summit marker as it was pried loose and no longer remains. Near the summit area you will find a shallow basin that you can easily sit in and find solace from the wind that often gusts across the basin. Consider that you are likely sitting where many Paiute and their ancestors did hundreds and thousands of years ago, as historical evidence indicates this onetime island was a popular area for the indigenous people of Central Oregon's past.
Given its location and relatively low elevation, nearly anytime of the year is prime for exploring Fort Rock. If you plan on climbing the rim, waiting until nesting season has ended late in the spring is a good idea as the walls of Fort Rock are laced with holes the birds use.
Elevation gain is around three hundred feet to summit, total hiking distance varies on how much of Fort Rock you explore, but most likely you will walk less than 2 miles.
Starting in Bend travel 33 miles south on Highway 97 to the junction with Oregon Highway 31. Turn southeast towards Lakeview and follow Highway 31 thirty miles to Fort Rock Road. Now you will be able to see Fort Rock to the east, appearing mirage-like against a high desert backdrop. Turn left on Fort Rock road which you will follow a little over 6 miles into the town of Fort Rock. On the east side of Fort Rock town is County Road 5-11. Follow 5-11 out to Fort Rock state park.
Other POI in the Fort Rock Basin
Fort Rock Basin has several interesting places worth visiting. Here are a few links to point you in the right direction:
Fort Rock Cave Guided Tours
Hole in the Ground and Fort Rock Basin Geology
Crack in the Ground SP page
Fort Rock Homestead
Roadside Geology of Oregon by David D. Alt and Donald W. Hyndman
Red Tape / Camping
No fees are collected at Fort Rock. Rock climbing does not appear to be encouraged here, nor is it prohibited, use common sense when deciding where to climb. There is no camping allowed at Fort Rock.