The Lower Gorge is Smith's best "secret." In a park known for its sport lines lies an impeccable collection of cracks. The lower gorge contains more four star cracks than bolts. The majority of the climbs range from easy 5.10 into the .12's.
Even on Smith's busiest days there are usually only a handful of crack connoisseurs in this serene area. The Gorge is composed of a series of striking vertical basalt columns located on both sides of the crooked river. The rock is generally of superb quality with sometimes sharp edges and good friction.
Although the most classic crack lines were done long ago there are still a few new mixed lines going up as well as 2nd pitches going to the top of the formation.
There are several popular ways to descend into the crack mecca depending on which side of the river you want to climb. As spring turns into summer the river goes down allowing for adventurous boulder hoppers to ford the river and get quick access to both the east and west sides of the river.
West Collums approaches: From the turnaround at the northern end of the parking area head East to the rim. Find a place where there are detached pillars and a rebar ladder going down a chimney. Climb down this chimney and head upriver (southeast). After crossing a large slide of small boulders you'll see the start of many pillars that are the lower gorge.
A second method of descent is my preference. This "secret entrance" once went through private property but now is owned by the park. This way also starts at the turnaround parking lot. Park and then head back up the road until you see a driveway leading to a house on the east. This house is now owned by the park. Go behind the house and through a gate. Walk along the rim for about a 100ft to find an improbable but easy 3rd class descent into the gorge.
East side Columns descent: Descend the main trail toward the river. Cross the bridge and follow a nice trail next to the river to the right. Make sure to stay near the river as alternate trails head to other areas of the park. Pass the student wall, a series of shorter columns, until you arrive a the longer colums of the lower gorge.
Also worth mentioning is that the West Side of the gorge is almost always in the shade due to its orientation. For climbers seeking a respite from the scorching heat of the main area this is a great place to cool off.
Beware the horde of flying rats (pigeons) that sit above Wildfire and Windfall wall constantly dropping bombs. After my partner and I were crapped on about 6 times I began daydreaming about shotguns and arsenic birdseed. I. Hate. Pigeons...