Exploring Utah's Best Rock Climbing Spots: A Comprehensive Guide
Rock-climbing enthusiasts worldwide flock to Utah to experience its unique sandstone formations and challenging routes. In this guide, we'll look at some of the best rock climbing spots in Utah that offer a variety of challenges and stunning natural beauty.
Moab, in southeastern Utah, is home to some of the most iconic rock climbing areas in Utah. It is a worldly recognized trad-climbing destination with picture-perfect cracks in immaculate sandstone being the main draw. Routes vary by location as there are numerous single-pitch cragging destinations as well as iconic multi-pitch towers.
Canyonlands National Park
Wall Street is the epitome of roadside cragging access. Located just outside Moab the area offers a range of climbing routes for all skill levels, practically from the seat of your car! The mostly vertical sandstone cliffs contain a wide range of climbs. It’s a great place to climb with groups of mixed ability all while enjoying beautiful views of the Colorado River and the surrounding canyons.
Castle Valley is home to some of the most iconic desert towers in the world. All of the climbing is traditional multi-pitch in the area. Castleton Tower, the crown jewel of the area, is a highly sought after feature, which boasts two classic moderate routes: the Kor Ingalls 5.9 and the North Chimney 5.9
Somewhere between a child's beach mud-castle and Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, Fisher Towers is a series of highly chossy, but iconic sandstone spires east of Moab along the Colorado River. Numerous multi-pitch trad routes scale the towers but few are moderate in nature. The one outlier being the ever-classic Stolen Chimney 5.10 A0 on Ancient Art.
Indian Creek is THE crack climbing cragging gift to the world's climbing community! The concentration of crack based routes is astonishing. Climbers from around the world come to Indian Creek every year to test their skills on cracks, which range in size from fingers to fists and the whole body!
Canyonlands National Park
There are few areas that will feel as remote as climbing in the desolate red-rock wilderness of Canyonlands. This is home to some of the finest multi-pitch traditional tower climbs in the world. A multi-day trip driving and camping on the White Rim Road around Island In The Sky while climbing towers each day is one of the prime experiences for a climber in North America.
2. Wasatch Mountains
As the backyard of most of Utah's population base around Salt Lake City, the Wasatch mountains provide a surprising diversity of quality climbing options. Everything from concentrated sport climbing to traditional multi-pitch wonders, the area is ripe for exploration. There is also a large degree of variability in rock type depending on the exact location. Quartzite, granite and limestone are all widely available.
Little Cottonwood Canyon
Big Cottonwood Canyon
American Fork Canyon
Little Cottonwood Canyon
Arguably the most prized of jewels of the Wasatch Canyons, Little Cottonwood is widely recognized for its traditional climbing and bouldering on immaculate quartz-monzonite (white granite). The area has numerous crack climbs and slabs alike, some of which have received attention on the world climbing level. This is where the sport of climbing was first really pushed in Utah by hardmen of the 60s like George Lowe and Les Ellison. Popular areas include: The Coffin, The Fin, The Thumb, Gate Buttress, and Penta Pitch.
Big Cottonwood Canyon
Big Cottonwood climbing is some of the most accessible around Salt Lake and provides options for all ability levels of climber. There is a mix of traditional and sport routes as well as routes which have a little of both. Most of the climbing in the canyon is on quartzite, which tends to be smooth and fractured providing good edging opportunities on vertical or less than vertical rock. Crack and face climbing techniques are often used in the area. Some of the first climbs in Utah were done in Big Cottonwood as well as (arguably) the first 5.10 in the country, Goodrow’s Wall. 1949. Popular areas include Steorts Ridge, Outside Corner, Challenge Buttress and The Slips.
American Fork Canyon
American Fork Canyon was one of the original hard-sport climbing areas in the USA that came to fame in the 80s-90s. Steep limestone walls and caves are widespread in the area and provide a perfect proving ground for those looking for a sporty pump climbing on bolts. Many of the older routes are quite polished and slippery from extensive use. In more recent years a wider array of moderate routes have been established. There are some crags here that provide good shade in summer when it’s hot! Popular areas include: Hell Cave, The Membrane, The Division Wall, and Escape Buttress.
3. Uinta Mountains
The Uinta Mountains in Northeastern Utah provide a pleasantly cool alternative to Utah's sweltering summer heat. The area has great camping and fishing, as well as a huge array of moderate sport climbing on near vertical quartzite. What could be better than camping by an alpine lake, clipping bolts, taking a dip to refresh the senses, then pressing repeat? Most of the climbing areas are single pitch but a few zones have reasonably long multi-pitch outings available with a mix of bolts clipping and gear required. Popular areas include: Ruth Lake, Cliff Lake, Moosehorn and Hayden Peak
4. Zion National Park
Zion National Park in SW Utah has some of the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world and consequently a good deal of rock climbing. Most of the climbing here is on traditional multi-pitch routes, many with a good deal of aid climbing required. The rock quality is variable overall and the bigger undertakings often are focused on the adventure side of things and the route's position, more than the actual quality of the climbing. There are notable exceptions though that check all the boxes and more such as Moonlight Buttress, Shunes Buttress, The Headache and several others.
5. Maple Canyon
Maple Canyon in Central Utah is known for its sport climbing opportunities on unique conglomerate rock formations. Of all the climbing areas in Utah, Maple provides some of the best variety of climbing routes for all skill levels. Some of the best climbing spots in Maple Canyon include: Pipedream Cave, Box Canyon and the Minimum Wall.
6. Joe’s Valley
Joe’s Valley is a world class bouldering area in Central Utah. The area consists of sandstone boulders strewn through a tight valley with a beautiful blue-green creek running through. Hundreds of projects of all ability levels are present in the area.
7. St. George
St. George, in SW Utah, is one of the few winter climbing destinations in Utah. Most of the climbing of note here are single-pitch sport climbs. Routes span the spectrum of difficulty depending on the exact crag. Most of the rock is variations of Sandstone. A little south of the nearby AZ state line is the Virgin River Gorge which is a hardmans limestone climbing area. Popular areas: Chuckwalla Wall, Turtle Wall and Snow Canyon
Utah is a rock climbing mecca with some of the world's most challenging and beautiful climbing spots. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced climber, there's something for everyone in Utah. So pack your gear and head to one of these top spots for an unforgettable climbing experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I bring on a rock climbing trip to Utah?
It depends on the context and the type of climbing anticipated. At a minimum you will need a harness, climbing shoes, a helmet, belay device, a rope and know-how. You should also have plenty of water, snacks, and layers of clothing and sunscreen to protect yourself from the elements.
Do I need to be an experienced climber to climb in Utah?
While some of the routes in Utah are more challenging and require experience, plenty of routes are suitable for beginners. Researching and choosing a climbing spot that matches your skill level is essential.
What is the best time of year to climb in Utah?
The best time of year to climb in Utah is spring and fall, when the temperatures are mild, and the weather is generally dry. Summer can be sweltering, and winter can be cold and snowy, so it's best to plan your trip accordingly. Certain climbing venues are more suitable at certain times of the year than others.
How do I find a guide or climbing partner in Utah?
Several guide services and climbing schools in Utah can provide instruction and companionship, and can also help you find a climbing partner. You can also connect with other climbers through online forums such as Mountain Project and social media groups.
Is Climbing Safe?
Climbing has a degree of inherent danger; as with any activity in the vertical environment. Climbers and climbing guides take measures to minimize risk with specific equipment, techniques and overall route selection. It is important to seek qualified instruction to be able to properly manage risk.
Can I climb in Utah without a permit?
Many of the climbing spots in Utah are located on public lands, which means you can climb without a permit. However, some areas may require a permit or have specific regulations, so it's essential to check before you go. Zion and Canyonlands National Parks have entry fees and specific travel regulations.
What is the best way to prepare for a rock climbing trip to Utah?
Preparing for a rock climbing trip to Utah involves physical and mental preparation. You should build your strength and endurance through regular exercise and training and familiarize yourself with the specific techniques and challenges you'll encounter on the routes you plan to climb. Developing a safety plan and preparing for emergencies is also essential.
Now that you have a better idea of the best rock climbing spots in Utah and some tips and advice for planning your trip, you're ready to hit the rocks and experience the beauty and excitement of this unique climbing destination.