The rock climbing found in Utah is internationally renowned, and it takes only a quick glance at the geology of the state to see why. From the granite walls and boulders of the Wasatch to the red-rock sandstone of the southern desert, Utah gives climbers variety—traditional routes, sport routes, bouldering—and enough space to find a route all your own. Here are a few places to start.
Little Cottonwood Canyon
The beautiful granite rock in Little Cottonwood Canyon was worked to perfection tens of thousands of years ago as glacial ice advanced and then retreated, sculpting the features of the canyon. Today, climbers benefit from the rocky debris left behind. The canyon is probably best known for its options for bouldering, a sport that in the past 20 years has evolved from a climber’s warm-up to its own legitimate practice. Shothole Arete, a moderately difficult route rated V5, is a classic bouldering problem found in the cluster of rocks called the Secret Garden. Up is the only way to go on Shothole, which follows a series of old dynamite holes up the corner of a standing spire. It’s a route where finger strength means everything. 4323 E. Little Cottonwood Road, Sandy
Moab’s famous red-rock territory, immortalized with the Delicate Arch on Utah license plates, is home to nearly limitless routes, the majority of which are traditional-style, where climbers must set their own gear. Climbing is allowed in Arches National Park, but some climbs require a permit, so check with the visitor center before you go. There’s also plenty to climb outside the park. Just north of town, a popular wall of Wingate sandstone called Wall Street offers both trad routes and fixed “sport” routes, already set with bolts. The routes vary in difficulty from an easy 5.4-rated scramble to much more technical routes rated 5.12. If you haven’t climbed enough to know which ratings you can handle, Moab’s a great place to start; there are at least a dozen outdoor-recreation companies that offer guided climbing trips.
Fall and spring are the best seasons for climbing in Utah; the summer’s hot temperatures can keep even sun lovers inside. But Maple Canyon, a narrow box canyon in Sanpete County shaded by aspen, pines and maples, remains a cool climbing destination even through the heat of summer. The conglomerate rock in this striking dead-end gorge is chock-full of already-bolted sport-climbing routes that range in difficulty from The Great Chasm, rated 5.7, to Loser, rated 5.13a. Fountain Green, Utah, Sanpete.com/pages/climb
You may have seen images of some of the world’s best climbers free-soloing over water (one of the safer ways to climb without ropes) and wished that you could try something similar. Look no further than Lake Powell to give it a shot. Almost any wall can turn into a free-solo or trad route full of big jugs, long cracks and low cave overhangs. Finding a route is as simple as paying the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area fee and renting a boat. Plan a trip for fall or spring when daytime temperatures are cool.NPS.gov/GlCa
City of Rocks
Long before becoming a mecca for climbers, the distinctive City of Rocks formations—made of granite carved by wind, rain and snow—provided a major landmark for westward-moving pioneers, who called them “a city of tall spires” and “the silent city.” A few miles outside of Utah across the border into southern Idaho, City of Rocks National Reserve boasts around 700 different developed routes, ranging from 5.0 to 5.13. The developed campsites, with water and restrooms, require a small fee, but make overnight trips to City of Rocks easy. Almo, Idaho, 208-824-5901, NPS.gov/CiRo