Surrounded by stunning national parks, Moab is a climber’s paradise, with towers, crags, and walls just waiting for you to gear up. There are routes available for every level of climber, from eager newbies to weathered veterans, but it never hurts to get in a little practice indoors before venturing into the wilderness—especially if you’ve never climbed before and need to learn how to do it safely. Once you feel ready, pack your bags, brush up on the Yosemite Decimal System, and prepare to enjoy some Moab rock climbing!
Arches National Park
Located just north of town, Arches National Park isn’t just for climbers. The sprawling park has over 2,500 stunning natural stone arches to explore. Beginner climbers who may want to spend their time on other activities will have a great time hiking at Arches. Veterans, on the other hand, will probably want nothing more than to scale the imposing towers and sandstone spires—they’re almost as impressive as the views of the La Sal Mountains from the summit. Chalk is not allowed, so leave your bag behind.
Canyonlands National Park
From the stunning sandstone spires of The Needles and the winding rock formations of The Maze to the green, shady serenity by the flowing river, Canyonlands is a diverse natural playground just waiting for you to visit. Just southeast of town, the park’s world-famous Island in the Sky section is beloved by climbers, especially those looking to try the mesa’s impressive selection of tower climbing. The prohibition on chalk might be intimidating to some, but rest assured that a wide selection of routes means that climbers of all skill levels can treat themselves to the reward of stunning views.
Looking Glass Arch
Looking Glass Arch is the perfect way to introduce beginners to Moab climbing. The sporty route is a 5.5 on the Yosemite Decimal System, making it easy enough to climb the towering sandstone formation and enjoy views of the surrounding badlands. This climb has a ton of character you’d be remiss to ignore, however. Try to find the massive hole through the rock that gives Looking Glass Arch its name, or take a moment to marvel at the massive natural amphitheater within the stone. If you’re feeling brave—and you’ve taken all the necessary safety precautions—part of the rock lets you use your rope and harness as a makeshift rope swing, adding a thrilling element to the experience.
Wall Street’s name is surprisingly literal, but one must admit it’s an appropriate moniker for the massive rock wall lining a remote stretch of road near town. Wall Street is one of the best all-around climbing spots in the area, featuring both traditional and sport climbs for all skill levels. Beginners can scramble with ease on 5.5s, while experts can put their mettle to the test with 5.12s. As incredible as climbing is in the area, make sure to take a moment to appreciate the natural beauty around you—gorgeous lake views lie just opposite of the wall, making for stunning vistas after a strenuous climb. Climbing during the rain is usually a bad idea, but you can leave your climbing gear at your vacation rental and still have a fantastic time visiting Wall Street. On rainy days, water cascades down parts of the wall, creating gorgeous makeshift waterfalls.
Stolen Chimney is the among the most famous climbs at the beloved Fisher Towers area northeast of Moab. However, Stolen Chimney deserves special recognition—the towering spire is straightforward enough for most climbers to complete, but between the massive 250-foot length of the climb and the unique corkscrew-shape at the top of the tower, there are a few quirks that make this more than your average climb. The reward for your efforts is well worth the trouble of the climb, however. You’ll never forget the moment when you find a nice spot to sit on the orange rock and gaze out at the wide-open blue skies above you—and the park’s other towers sitting hundreds of feet below.
The impressive, almost archetypal desert towers of Castle Valley are all the more beautiful by their surroundings—flat terrain all around you makes the spires even more distinctive and memorable by comparison. If you’re looking for the perfect spot to introduce an experienced climber to Moab rock climbing, you won’t find a better spot than Castle Valley. Most of the climbs start at 5.9, providing just the right amount of difficulty for intermediates who want to work their way to the top. There are even some 5.11s for those who want to push themselves. Whatever your level of experience, be careful of the white calcite coatings on the rocks. As beautiful as they are, they can provide treacherous grips and footing, so don’t assume every handhold or foothold is secure.
The terrain is rocky, craggy, and bleakly gorgeous, as one would expect of the deserts of eastern Utah, but Kane Creek has more than enough unique opportunities that set it apart from other isolated climbing spots. For starters, the face of the massive canyon that defines the landscape is riddled with crack climbing, ideal for intermediate climbers and experts alike. If you’d like a change of pace, lay out a climbing mat and get bouldering by the massive rocks at the base of the canyon.
Of course, when it comes to crack climbing, you’re not going to find much better than Indian Creek. Widely regarded as one of the best crack climbing sites in the entire country, the plateau’s many climbs definitely aren’t for beginners. The vast majority of climbs are 5.10 and above, providing a vigorous challenge to even experienced climbers. The scenery isn’t bad, either—Supercrack, for example, offers a long, challenging climbing route with an amazing view of a wildflower field just below.
With desert climb after desert climb, one can be forgiven for wishing for a change of pace. Fortunately, Mill Creek provides the same challenging rock climbing as any other location on this list, while dramatically changing up the scenery. Mill Creek is tucked away in the La Sal mountains just southeast of town, and trades in much of the usual desert scenery for a lusher area with swaying green trees and shady spots for taking a breather. Newbies should steer clear of the difficult 5.10 and 5.11 climbs, but if you’re a veteran looking for something a little different, make sure to stop by.
Potash Road has more than just climbs to enjoy. Gorgeous petroglyph art is tucked away in select boulders by the roadside, with dinosaur tracks in massive rock slabs just a little bit further away. Despite the roadside-attraction vibe, Potash Road still boasts significant climbing chops. Splitter cracks, technical slab climbs, and hard mixed-face routes await you, with a few easy climbs for beginners complementing the vast array of challenging climbs for veterans. Conveniently, many of the routes let you belay right from where you park your car—it’s perfect for those days when you just don’t want to bother with a gruelling hike loaded up with your climbing gear.
Sitting at the summit of a hill just east of Moab, Castleton Tower epitomizes the rich and challenging history of Moab Rock Climbing. It was the first major desert tower climbed in Moab and is one of the most well-known desert climbs in the whole world—it’s safe to say that you’ll want to check it out during your trip. After a quick hike to the hilltop, you’re already greeted with amazing views of the surrounding desert area and tower standing above you, with the views becoming even more memorable as you start climbing. Whether you take the 5.9 route or challenge yourself with the 5.11+, this traditional climb is sure to be a highlight of any rock climber’s vacation to Moab.
Featured photo courtesy of Cindy Chen
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