When you think of American rock climbing meccas, places like Yosemite, the Gunks, Moab, and the Red River Gorge probably come to mind. Sure, all of those places clearly have a right to be on any avid climber’s short list, but if you’re looking to send some amazing routes with 1/10th the crowds, look no further than the Valley of the Sun.
If you ask us, we think Phoenix has all the makings to be an epic winter climbing destination for climbers of any level. From the challenging sport routes to the best bouldering hideaways, here are some of the best spots to chalk up in the Valley of the Sun.
Rising up in northeast Scottsdale, this incredible granite formation makes for an amazing winter climbing spot. With sport and trad routes ranging from 5.5 to 5.11c, most climbers will find something worth sending. On some routes, you’ll see old, rusty bolts as a reminder of the steep history (climbing pun?) of this area. Added bonus: the views are insane (in a good way, of course).
This easily noticeable formation from almost anywhere in the Valley is also a piece of prized granite in the northeast Scottsdale area. The standard approach to this classic crag is a bit of a workout — a rolling three-mile hike with plenty of switchbacks, but it’s well worth it. You’ll have your choice of single and multi-pitch trad routes ranging from 5.4 to 5.11, all of which reward you with 360-degree views of the Valley upon topping out. One thing to note: some routes are closed in the spring to protect falcon nesting sites — you’ll clearly see the signs if this is the case. This goes without saying, but make sure you respect the wildlife. If your route is out of reach, there are plenty of other options in the area, such as Gardener’s Wall.
Hey, speaking of that other option, this classic route can be accessed from the Tom’s Thumb trailhead parking lot. You’ll notice a massive slab of granite facing north when you begin your hike — that’s monstrous rock is Gardener’s Wall. There aren’t as many routes, but novice climbers and those looking for a mellow day on the rock will have a few fun routes to pick from, mostly in the 5.5 to 5.7 range.
Praying Monk at Camelback Mountain
The Monk is a classic Phoenix rock formation for climbers and “regular people” alike. Sitting atop the “head” of the camel on the west side of Camelback Mountain (another Phoenix classic in its own right), this central Valley spot has been active since the early 1950s and is packed with a variety of mellow and challenging routes. To get there, park at the Echo Canyon trailhead in Paradise Valley and make your way up The Headwall. Fitt Tip: While this is a good place for beginners, it’s also likely to be the most crowded climbing spot in the city.
If you’re looking for a day off the ropes — we’re not talking about free-soloing — look no further than South Mountain’s Pima Canyon. Get at this amazing array of boulders on the east side of the mountain, just north of Ahwatukee, roughly 20 minutes outside of Phoenix. The best access point is 48th street and Guadalupe. Take the well-marked National Trail up into Pima Canyon; you’ll see the boulders once you hit the entrance wall. Once there, you’ll find problems ranging from V0 to V7, some of which have interesting names like “Hookers Are Fun!” — a solid V2.
The Superstition Mountains are not only littered with lore of a lost gold mine, this rugged landscape in the Tonto National Forest is home to a seemingly endless supply of trad routes. Most notable is Weaver’s Needle, a volcanically-formed monolith that you’re most likely to see as the first photo in any Superstition Wilderness search online. To get to the Needle, hike north on the Peralta Trail from the Peralta Trailhead up and over Fremont Saddle. From there, you’ll find relatively mellow climbing ranging from the 5.0 West Chimney to several routes hitting 5.9. Still, given the stunning beauty of the formation and the scenery around you — not to mention the location’s history — this is a spot you’ll want to put on your short list.
Barks Canyon Wall
If you’re looking for more options in the Supes, consider checking out Barks Canyon Wall. This spot seems pretty remote, but the access to the base of the cliff is pretty easy. To get there, you’ll also park at the Peralta Trailhead, but this time take the Bluff Springs Trail for about 1.5 miles over the ridge and into Barks Canyon. From there, take a left and scramble up the climbers trail. You’ll find solid multi-pitch routes all the way up to 5.10. To no surprise, the Superstition Wilderness is truly a beautiful place (VIEWS!), but those who have been there before know it is also arguably the most challenging, unforgiving geography that the Valley has to offer. So, wherever you choose to roam, be prepared in the Supes!