Arizona is said to have the most exposed rock of any state in the country. While a lot of that is unusable sandstone, there’s also a ton of amazing limestone and granite- as well as very climbable sandstone. One of the biggest draws to Arizona for climbers is the year-round availability. During the hottest part of the summer you can climb in the northern region near Flagstaff, and during the spring, fall, and winter you can climb everywhere else.
There is absolutely no off-season for outdoors sports in Arizona, so you have no excuse not to be outside! With around 7,000 named routes listed on Mountain Project, you can spend a lifetime exploring remote crags and sending brand new pitches.
Here’s a list of the best climbing in Arizona, listed geographically from North to South:
- The Pit (Flagstaff)
- Oak Creek Canyon (Sedona)
- Jack’s Canyon (Winslow)
- Queen Creek Canyon (Superior)
- McDowell Mountains (Scottsdale)
- The Homestead (Globe)
- Mt. Lemmon (Tucson)
- Cochise Stronghold (Tombstone)
For further directions and route descriptions, check them out on Mountain Project.
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Best Climbing in Northern Arizona
The Pit (Flagstaff)
Due to its proximity to Flagstaff, The Pit gets a lot of visitors. Locals hit it up in the afternoon and evening on work days for a quick climbing session. It makes for an excellent summer escape from the heat, and even stays warm enough to climb in the winter. The area has around 90 bolted sport routes, but not much in the way of trad or bouldering. Most of the routes are fairly short, and can be done with a regular 60m dynamic rope.
The rock at The Pit is white limestone, characteristic of the Flagstaff and Mogollon Rim areas. The canyon between the road and the crag is known to flood if there’s a lot of rain, so keep an eye on the forecast during monsoon season. The walls are pretty much grid-bolted, which can be nice, but also can be frustrating. It’s a great place to bring new climbers, with routes going from about 5.7 to 5.13. Affectionately known as “Le Petit Verdon,” The Pit is a great, convenient sport crag 15 minutes from Flagstaff.
Oak Creek Canyon (Sedona)
If you’re looking for a destination climbing area, Oak Creek Canyon is the place to be. Most of the routes are creekside, providing opportunities to cool off and relax in between climbs. As opposed to the other Flagstaff crags, this Sedona area is all Coconino Sandstone. The sandstone offers less big holds and jugs, and requires a lot more focus on crack climbing.
The majority of the area is catered to trad climbing (as are most sandstone crags), but Oak Creek has its fair share of sport and bouldering areas as well. Check out the Oak Creek Canyon Overlook for some basic trad climbing, and the Doctor’s Office for sport climbing. If bouldering is your thing, cross the creek and check out the Anvil Boulders.
Due to the height of a lot of the walls here, you probably want to have a 70m rope. With the nearby water, the area stays cool enough to climb all summer, and is warm enough to climb during the winter- though they do get snow occasionally. Sedona is one of the most beautiful parts of Arizona, so don’t forget to stop at the top of the routes and enjoy the scenery!
Jack’s Canyon (Winslow)
Jack’s Canyon is one of the best sport crags in the state. The rock is limestone, making for lots of pockets and vertical climbing. From the parking lot, the approach is a steep set of switchbacks dropping down one side of the canyon. When you get to the bottom, go straight across to get to the main wall and get going!
Each little area inside the canyon has around 20 routes, so you can climb in one place for several hours. Jack’s is pretty well known among the climbing community, so it’s known to be pretty crowded on weekends.
It’s a great place to make some friends and learn from others! People generally start on one side of the canyon in the morning (with the sun in the winter, or with the shade in the summer) and switch over to the other side in the afternoon. By following the sun, you can climb here all year round. If you’re going during the summer, be sure to stop at East Clear Creek just outside of Winslow for some incredible Deep Water Soloing.
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The downside to Jack’s Canyon is the remoteness. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Phoenix, or 1.5 hour drive from Flagstaff. Fortunately, there’s camping right at the top of the canyon in a campground pretty much solely comprised of climbers. The end of the drive is a few miles of dirt road, but it’s pretty well graded and can be done in a passenger car.
Best Climbing in Central Arizona
Queen Creek (Superior)
The Queen Creek area of the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix is my favorite area in all of Arizona for sport climbing. Located just an hour from downtown Phoenix, the Queen Creek area hosts more than 700 routes of all difficulties and styles.
Because of the slight elevation change and shadows cast by the steep canyons, you’ll see climbers out there in all but the hottest days of the summer. Queen Creek is an absolute haven during the winter months, and can get pretty crowded on the weekends. A 60m rope and 10-12 draws should be plenty for this area. Some routes are fairly chossy, due to the quality of the rock, so make sure to wear a climbing helmet.
The most popular areas are The Pond and Atlantis, because they are both a really short approach from the highway and have a ton of routes in close proximity. Atlantis is 150 yards from the road, down a steep hill. In between two canyon walls, something is in the shade all day long. The climb up to The Pond is a little bit sketchy, involving a rebar ladder and handline, but the views from the top are unforgettable. Catch it when there’s water flowing, and there’s a 70 foot waterfall.
McDowell Mountains (Scottsdale)
Granite slab climbing at its finest. The McDowell Mountains are another local crag about an hour’s drive from downtown Phoenix. The McDowells are composed of a handful of different walls of differing heights and angles scattered throughout the preserve. This area hosts sport climbs from the 5.3 range to 5.12, and a bunch of trad climbing as well- including the iconic Tom’s Thumb that sticks up above the top of the mountains providing views of everything in Phoenix.
Granite climbing is very different from the other limestone and sandstone climbing in Arizona, so plan on starting small. The Girlie Man Wall is a great wall to start with before moving onto other areas like the Sven Slab or Gardener’s Wall. With a short approach right outside of Scottsdale, the McDowells are a great option for the cooler temperatures of the year- they’d be blistering during the summer heat.
The Homestead (Globe)
The Homestead is probably the most remote area on the list, unless you really hike up into the heart of the Cochise Stronghold. The routes are long, and the desert serene. The different areas of the homestead hold over 250 different single pitch sport routes, so you could realistically spend a couple of weeks out there before climbing the same stuff twice. The walls are limestone, though the specific characteristics of each wall vary. The best part of the Homestead is the complete lack of crowds for an area with close-by parking.
The main caveat with the Homestead is that you have to have a high clearance vehicle to get there in order to avoid an hour hike in. The drive itself is about two hours from Phoenix, but the dirt road adds an extra half hour. The Access Fund did a full scale campaign a couple of years ago to preserve The Homestead for climbers, and has since invested a good amount of time and money into further developing the area to climbing. The road in still crosses some private land, so be careful where you camp.
Best Climbing in Southern Arizona
Mt. Lemmon (Tucson)
It’s hard to pick just one area in the Santa Catalina Mountains. You can pretty much pull over anywhere along the Catalina Highway and find some rock to climb. From bouldering to a 10-pitch sport climb, Mt. Lemmon has it all. The area is divided by the mile markers along the highway, with the lower markers being around 2,000 ft elevation and the higher ones being up to 9,000 ft elevation. The lower elevation climbs are in more of a desert setting, and are best climbed during the winter.
The rock really solidifies as you go up into the mountains, and the temperatures drop until you can even climb during the middle of the summer. The approaches are generally really nice, with parking just off the highway. There are hundreds of routes in each area, so there’s plenty to explore. Some of the most popular areas are the Butterfly Wall and the Orifice. One of the lowest places to climb all winter long is Crags Against Humanity.
Cochise Stronghold (Tombstone…I guess)
The Cochise Stronghold is the wild, wild west of Arizona climbing. Drive south from Tucson about an hour and a half approaching the border with Mexico, and then peel off on a well-graded dirt road towards a pile of rock where Geronimo made his last stand. While there are a few crags close to the road on the west side, you really have to trek into the ‘stronghold’ to get to the heart of the Cochise climbing. Think: expedition climbing.
The Cochise Stronghold is mostly known for long multi-pitch trad routes up granite towers. This is a true backcountry area with no facilities. I recommend deciding to either climb on the east side or west side, because there’s no really good way to go between the two. Both sides are approachable with a passenger car, but the east side is generally known for having the better climbing.
You may get some snow during the winter, and the high desert will get a little too hot to climb comfortably during the summer. This is a great place to spend a couple of weeks exploring and climbing some of the most rugged terrain in the state.
Best Climbing Gyms in Phoenix Arizona
There are really only two true rock climbing gyms in the Phoenix area, as well as a handful of smaller bouldering gyms. Due to the blistering heat in the summers and lack of a truly local crag, anyone serious about climbing has to spring for a gym pass.
Phoenix Rock Gym
PRG, as it’s called by locals, has a super convenient location right next to ASU in Tempe. They have a huge gym with top rope and lead sections, but only a small bouldering cave (there’s a larger bouldering area for members). The overhangs are a blast, and there’s plenty of wall to climb. The location is great for anyone living in the east valley, and Mill Avenue offers a ton of stuff to do after climbing. While the facilities are a little old, there’s plenty of space to make up for it.
AZ on the Rocks
AZR is a very modern climbing gym with a large bouldering area to go along with the top ropes and lead sections. Possibly due to its location in North Scottsdale, AZ on the Rocks just seems fresh and new. The climbing area isn’t quite as large as PRG, but the bouldering area makes up for it. One of the most unique things about AZR is the American Ninja Warrior training course upstairs.
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