Whether you’re looking to take a trip to or through Utah, or even if you’re a Utah native looking for a place to climb, it can be daunting to select the right area from the 12,000+ named routes. No matter where you’re at in Utah, you are always within an hour of a crag. Rock varies from quartzite, limestone, and granite in the north to sandstone towers in the south- probably the most diverse climbing available in any state.
You can usually find all of the location information you need from Mountain Project and from guidebooks, but my purpose here is to highlight some of the best crags and areas in each region of the state I grew up in. At the end of the post, I included a brief reminder of standard climbing ethics, as well as some stuff specific to Utah.
Here are some of the best places to rock climb in the state of Utah, listed from geographically from North to South.
Starting up in Northern Utah, the limestone rock in Logan Canyon makes for a lot of juggy routes. In general, they are pretty difficult, though there are a few easier spots in each area. China Wall is definitely the place to go in Logan Canyon if you are looking for a challenge.
There are a couple of easier routes, but the majority are 5.12+. The China Wall even includes a 5.14b route, which are really hard to come by. Check for seasonal closures for endangered species, as this happens periodically.
Another cool one to check out is the Mile 385 crag, but keep in mind the mile marker is actually at 472. The short approach and slightly easier routes make this one nice. Keep in mind that Logan can be a lot cooler than the rest of northern Utah, and snow usually lasts quite a bit longer. As a college town, it is generally less busy during the summer; although a lot of the students are locals.
With really close parking, and ample sport climbing routes, the 9th Street crag is probably the most popular spot to climb in Ogden. Routes range from 5.6 for beginners to 5.12 for more advanced climbers.
There’s really something for everyone, which can lead to crowds on the weekends. All of the routes can be toproped, which makes it really nice for working with beginners. The only downside here is that the cliff is fairly short, at around 40-50 feet.
The Schoolroom has a bit more of an approach, but is also more spread out. It still gets busy, but not as much as 9th Street. You can play with the sun here a little bit more, as it heats up in the afternoons and evenings. The majority of the routes are sport, but there are a few trad as well.
The quartzite rock makes for fun climbing, and you feel pretty far away from the city. The Ogden Boulders are a pretty good bouldering field too, if that’s your jam. The local gear shop is at The Front climbing gym.
Salt Lake Valley Rock Climbing
There’s a ton of climbing within half an hour or so of Salt Lake City. Depending on where you start from in the valley, you can be to the crag in a few minutes. The two main canyons in terms of climbing are Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. In Salt Lake, you have convenient close access to everything you may need, with a lot of Utah night life (just ask NBA stars).
Nearby climbs are limestone, quartzite, and granite, so you really get a good mix of whatever you want. Come in the winter for some ice climbing, and the “Greatest Snow on Earth.” The local gear shop is International Mountain Equipment, but there are several others throughout the valley.
Note: Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons are watershed area, so leave your dog at home (unless you want a fine).
Big Cottonwood Canyon
In general, due to the type of rock in each place, Big Cottonwood is best for sport climbing and Little Cottonwood is best for Trad. With 800 routes in BCC and 1200 in LCC, there’s just a whole lot of everything- sport and top rope, bouldering and trad.
For climbing locations within Big Cottonwood Canyon, check out the Dogwood crag. Dogwood is extremely close to the city, only about a mile from the base of the canyon. This is a beginner’s area (lot’s of 5.6 to 5.9) where a lot of climbers have cut their teeth. A lot of it can be top roped as well. Be patient with those who are learning. The most difficult routes are in the 5.11 range, so it makes for some fun climbing for the beginner to intermediate climbers.
Ferguson Canyon is right in between Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. It’s got a bit of an approach hike (15 minutes), but it’s a nice area, so no complaints. As with Dogwood, routes range all over the spectrum- there’s a lot of everything.
Being a smaller canyon, you pretty much stay in the shade all day. This makes for an awesome summer crag when temperatures are in the 90’s elsewhere. Watchtower is the most popular area in Ferguson.
Little Cottonwood Canyon
Best Summer Trad Climbing
LCC is definitely more trad-focused, with very few routes that can be top-roped. If you’ve never climbed granite before, you’re in for a treat (and a lot of frustration!). Nothing is sandbagged in Little Cottonwood Canyon (like other areas in Utah), so a 5.11 is a hard 5.11.
By far the biggest area in LCC is the Gate Buttress Area. It’s just over a mile up the canyon, but the approaches vary. Check out Beckey’s Wall for some beginning to intermediate routes (with a class 4 approach), and consider linking them together for some awesome multi-pitch.
Little Cottonwood Canyon also has a lot of bouldering throughout the canyon. The White Pine Boulders about 5 miles up the canyon are awesome on a hot day, higher in elevation and with a minimal approach.
Red Rock (Draper)
Best Sport Climbing for Beginners
I actually learned to lead climb at the Red Rock area in Draper, so it holds a special place in my heart. It’s definitely not a destination, but is probably the most accessible beginner crag in the area. Draper is on the southernmost mountain of the Salt Lake Valley, which makes it easily accessible from either Salt Lake or Utah Valley. The proximity to everything is fantastic, and there’s a pretty good variety of beginner routes.
The wall looks over all of the valley, and only has a 5-10 minute approach. It can get really hot during the worst part of the summer, but can also be climbed early or late in the year since snow doesn’t stick around as long down low.
The wall used to have little plaques (pun intended- you’ll understand when you see the route names), but many have been removed or damaged. If you show up on a weekday evening, you’ll likely run into families or scout troops.
There are about 10 routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.10, so it’s definitely a beginner’s area. My favorite route is “Bad Case of Gingervitus,” though I think it’s easier than the 5.10a rating. This is a great place to bring new climbers, since everything can be top roped.
Utah Valley Rock Climbing
Utah Valley boasts 2 large Universities and a ton of families, so you’ll probably see a lot of students and families climbing (and scouts). The growth in the area in the last 10 years has been crazy, and the crowds are starting to approach those of Salt Lake.
For now, things open up a lot more towards Payson and Nephi, but I’m sure that’ll change over time. Pretty much every canyon going down the Wasatch Range does have some climbing, but these spots stand out. The local gear shop in the valley is Mountainworks. Stop by and say hi to Darren for me.
American Fork Canyon
Best Summer Sport Climbing
AF Canyon, as it’s known to locals, is a storied climbing location made up of pocketed limestone cliffs. The routes are all either vertical or overhung, which was a novel concept back in the 80’s. At the time, climbers generally avoided chossy limestone. Bolting techniques developed in AF Canyon were shared with visiting climbers, and spread all over the country.
Due to the elevation and steep canyon walls, it’s one of the first in the area to get snow. You can climb during even the hottest days of the summer though, which is a nice break. AF Canyon is a fee area because of the National Forest, but you can get through using the America the Beautiful Pass. The fee is really low to get in ($6 for a 3-day pass) if you don’t have a National Parks pass. Check the fees on the Forest Service website. While you’re there, it’s definitely worth taking a tour through Timpanogos Cave.
AF Canyon doesn’t have as many beginner routes as other areas, and there’s not much top roping at all. There’s no trad that I’m aware of either (limestone), so it’s all sport. The Hard Rock area has the most variety in one single location, and is one of the first places I can ever remember climbing as a kid. For more moderate routes, check out The Membrane, and for some of the most difficult routes in Utah, the aptly-named Hell’s Cave.
See Also: The Complete History of Rock Climbing
I spent a lot of time in Rock Canyon while in school at nearby BYU. My dad actually had a friend live in a tent in Rock Canyon in order to save money while in school, so it’s pretty much always provided an escape from campus for college students.
The closest routes are a 10 minute walk from the parking area, and the climbing just gets better and better the farther you go in. About 40 minutes in, you come to Squawstruck (5.11b), a 22 pitch monster straight up 2000 feet (600m) to Squaw Peak. It’s on my bucketlist, but is just out of reach for me right now (someone take me please).
The rock is pretty chossy everywhere, but is cleaner in the more developed/frequented areas. The routes are generally easier than AF Canyon, but there are still some difficult areas.
The closest cliffs are made of quartzite, but the canyon transitions into limestone by the time you get to the end. The majority of the climbing is sport, but there is also some trad and even a few that can be top roped.
My favorite area to take new climbers is The Wild, which can even be climbed in the hottest part of the summer thanks to the ample shade trees nearby. For more difficult routes I recommend the Jobsite, and for beginners, you can top rope routes at Red Slab.
My first Multipitch was Western Front (5.7) in the chossy Bad Bananas area. Rock Canyon is a really fun place that never really sees crowds thanks to the sheer volume of rock. You can always find something that’s open.
Most Unique Crag
Although Ephraim isn’t quite a part of Utah Valley, it’s the southernmost piece of civilization before you hit Cedar City and St. George. There is a $3 day use fee (free with the National Parks Pass), or camping for $8. The unique thing about Maple Canyon is the conglomerate rock.
The rock is made up of embedded round knobby rocks of all sizes. It’s sort of like climbing on Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, only you don’t pull of handholds every few minutes. This is one of the best places to climb during the summer because it stays relatively cool.
Most of the routes are sport due to the type of rock, and you won’t find any top roping either. Routes range from the lowest class 5 up to 5.13, with a pretty even mix of everything. The style of climbing requires a lot of grip endurance, and you may find that you tire easily if you’re not in prime shape. Some of the best climbing is in the Right Fork.
Check out Minimum Crag for 5.9 to 5.11 routes, and Pipe Dream for the more difficult overhanging cave stuff. Along the main road, The Early Bird Crag is the best place to bring beginners when it’s not too hot outside.
Southern Utah Rock Climbing
The vast desert expanse of Southern Utah encompasses a whole lot of nothing- unless you know where to look. A lot of the rock is crumbly sandstone, but a lot of it is bomber too. Don’t plan on climbing at all of these areas in a weekend- there’s a pretty big spread between them (5 hours between Moab and St George).
It get’s really hot in the summer, and you probably won’t want to be in the sun during the heat of the day except in the dead of winter. The best thing about climbing in Southern Utah is the ability to climb during the winter, so it makes for a great escape from the rest of the state in January and February.
Note: Climbing on wet sandstone will permanently damage the rock. Make sure the rock has time to dry out completely after rain or snow.
Best Year-Round Bouldering
I think it’s fair to say that Joe’s Valley is world-famous for its bouldering. There are hundreds of boulders made of better sandstone than a lot of the rest of the state. The most popular problems have really short approaches, but you can also hike in and get lost. You can climb at Joe’s year round, but it can definitely still get hot in the middle of the summer.
Obviously, due to the amount of bouldering here, you can find problems to fit every ability. With this kind of rock though, the majority of routes are above V4. The sandstone is rough enough to provide a lot of purchase, but not so bad that it shreds your hands and shoes.
Most of the landings are clear from debris, which makes them easy to protect with pads. Check out Riverside Boulders up the Left Fork, especially when the river is flowing.
The whole area around Moab is an outdoor adventurer’s playground. Camping, backpacking, hiking, mountain biking, rafting, canyoneering (no, seriously- go try canyoneering), and so on. Moab is a small community that thrives on recreational tourism dollars. There’s not a ton of amenities in the town, but they have everything you really need.
The most iconic thing about Moab climbing is the awe-inspiring desert towers that can, for the most part, be climbed. The vast majority of routes are trad, and pretty much everything is 5.10+. Castleton Tower was one of the first towers climbed in the vicinity, and continues to command respect in the climbing world. The biggest spire in the area is the 900′ Titan. Some of the most popular routes are up Zeus, Moses, and Aphrodite in Taylor Canyon.
If you’re looking for sport routes, your best bet is the Wall Street area of Potash Road in Moab. Try your best not to get run over!
Best Winter Trad Climbing
Vertical crack climbing- and that’s it. There are plenty of cracks for everyone. Tape up your hands, and check your ego at the car door. It’s a pretty remote, fragile environment, so take care of business the right way. It’s been involved in the Bear’s Ears National Monument debate of the last several years, and will probably continue that way.
Some of the most popular areas are Battle of the Bulge Buttress and SuperCrack Buttress since the routes are a bit softer (still 5.10+). Scarface wall is one of the most classic places, which also contributes to the popularity. A lot of the climbing is similar, so it really doesn’t matter which specific area you go to. Enjoy the ‘Mecca of Crack Climbing.’
A lot of beginner and intermediate crack climbers top rope routes in order to practice their technique. The cracks are so uniform that you will likely need a slew of the same sizes of cams, so beg, borrow, and share with others. The abrasive rock will shred your hands, and abuse your body. Embrace it!
See Also: Are Climbing Pants Worth It?
Best Winter Sport Climbing
This area has seen a ton of growth in the past few years, as St George has gone from having a small-town feel to something more like a city. Give it a few more years, and they’ll even start to have some traffic. You can climb all winter long in St George, as it really only threatens snow about once each year. Again, make sure the rock has time to dry out after any rain or snow.
The most popular and most accessible crag right in town is Chuckawalla. The mid-grade routes are just steps from the parking area. It’s nothing special, but is enough to be able to spend a few hours if you’re in St. George for something else. The soft sandstone is pretty polished in some areas, but there are some fun pockets. Just down the trail about a mile is Turtle Wall, which offers a bit more respite from the crowds.
Snow Canyon State Park’s Island in the Sky has a good mix of sport and trad climbing, and the best local bouldering is over at Moe’s Valley. There’s even some big wall climbing in nearby Zion National Park, as well as some of the best canyoneering on the planet. If you’re climbing in St. George during the summer, consider running up by Brian Head Ski Resort to The Overlook.
For More Information
If you’re looking for a guidebook that encompasses all of Utah without weighing too much to pack around with you, the Rock Climbing Utah Falcon Guide (view on Amazon) is a good place to start. If you have specific regions you’re targeting though, go with a guidebook specific to the area. The Falcon Guide is a good overall guide, but doesn’t go into a ton of detail or provide much beta.
Mountain Project is pretty accurate throughout Utah, and you can usually trust the grades and directions. You can find some recommendations for how to find a partner in another post I wrote, Can I go Rock Climbing without a Partner?
I haven’t been to every one of these areas (Utah has too much climbing for that!), but am familiar enough with the areas and routes to provide these recommendations. This also encompasses recommendations from other climbers both online and in person. If I missed your favorite crag, let me know so I can check it out!
Utah Rock Climbing Ethics
Every crag you go to will have slightly differing ethics and best practices so it’s best to ask the locals what is standard. Here are some of the climbing ethics that apply across all of the state:
- Do not use wire brushes to improve hand or footholds. Leave the rock the way it is. If you can’t climb it, then try something else.
- Speak up if you see someone abusing the rules. In order to keep areas clean and open to everyone, we all need to obey the rules. This includes fire restrictions, wildlife restrictions, and private property restrictions.
- Keep your boombox at home. Even if you think you’re all alone, you probably aren’t, so show respect to others.
- It shouldn’t need to be said, but LEAVE NO TRACE! Pick up trash and only use established trails. Many desert areas have extremely fragile ecosystems that depend on the integrity of the soil
- Do not use climbing chalk near petroglyphs or other rock art, and try not to mark up the rock. Nobody wants your beta. Chalk can last a long time in some of the more porous rocks in Utah, so just use what is necessary.
- Whenever possible, camouflage bolts and anchors. For example, use rust-colored spray paint when adding hardware to sandstone.
- Use toilets whenever possible. If there aren’t any where you’re climbing, use wag bags. If you’re an animal, dig at least 6″ deep and 200′ from any water, trails, or climbing routes.
- Only camp where it’s allowed. Many crags are on private property, so access is a privilege.