At Southern Utah University, we are not only surrounded by bountiful parks and recreation areas, we are also in the center of a thriving climbing community. Those that find themselves exploring southern Utah are never far away from yet another beautiful climbing spot. Each location with more fun and challenging routes than the last, they range from sandstone to lava rock, from mountain tops to caves.
Before we look at specific locations, let's define a few climbing terminology.
Crag: A climbing wall or spot
Bouldering: Climbing short, challenging routes without a rope on boulders or wall short enough to fall safely.
Sport Climbing: Climbing with the lead climber attaching rope to fixed anchors as they ascend.
Trad Climbing: Short for traditional climbing. Climbers attach the rope using removable anchors that are placed in the crag as they ascend.
Route grading: Grades in this area are ranked using the Yosemite Decimal System which, categorizes terrain by taking into account the techniques and physical difficulties climbers encounter. The grade system runs class 1-5, with 1 being flat ground and 5 being rock climbing in earnest. Class 5 is then broken down further, into 5.1-5.15. This is the range which you will see when researching crags. 5.10-5.15 are also broken down further with a, b, and c. Therefore a 5.13c is a more difficult climb then a 5.13b.
The rankings are loosely as follows, with each crag and route different from the next.
Now that you are more familiar with the route grading and climbing styles, here are 10 of the local’s favorites to get you introduced to the area.
Ability level/route grades: All abilities, 5.7-5.13b
Approach: 5 min, moderate
Best Season: Winter
Located in St. George, Black Rocks is just a short hour drive south from SUU. The area is basalt rocks, the first area of its kind developed around St. George. While it was originally thought to be too short to be a technical climbing area, it now has over 70 routes with a wide range of grades for any level. The area boasts sport and traditional climbing, as well as having a ‘Sunny Side’ and ‘Shady Side’ to fit the weather. While you’re there check out Moses Had a Stick Clip (5.10c) or Flying off the Handle (5.12b), two of the most popular routes.
Getting there: From Cedar City, take the southbound I-15 towards St. George. Take exit 8 to turn right on Bluff Street. Drive north on Bluff Street 2 miles past the Sunset Blvd. intersection. Look for a yellow ‘Falling Rocks’ sign on the right. There will be a dirt road on the left leaving the asphalt and climbing a hill. Take this road and park prior to the paved bike path. Hike to the top of the hill and you will find the trail on the other side of a step-through section of the fence.
Green Valley Gap:
Ability level/route range: Beginner/Intermediate 5.4-5.12
Approach: 2 min, moderate
Best Season: Winter
While Green Valley Gap is well known in southern Utah for its mountain biking, the climbing in the area makes it a favorite local spot. It is a great spot for top-roping, and perfect to introduce new climbers to the sport, as well as for experienced climbers to get some practice. Its most famous route, Sand Stoner Reverse (5.12a), is one of the three climbs located on the North-facing side of the crag. Spring, Fall, and Winter are great times to visit the spot, but if you plan to venture out in the Summer, heading out in the evening will help you avoid the searing heat. This is a sandstone crag, meaning the rock is soft and breakage, especially after recent rain or snow, is likely. Be courteous to other climbers (and yourself!) and never take on a route when the rock is wet.
Getting there: From Cedar City, take the southbound I-15 towards St. George. Take exit 5 for Dixie Drive and keep to the right at the fork. Merge onto Dixie Drive and in 2.2 miles turn left onto W Canyon View Dr. In a mile and a half you can park on the left.
Bouldering Spotlight: Moe’s Valley
Ability level/problem ratings: All levels, V0-V14
Approach: 10 min, easy
Best Seasons: Spring, Fall, and Winter
Just a short drive down a dirt road from Green Valley Gap lies Moe’s Valley. A small bouldering area with a lot to offer. Not to be confused with Joe’s Valley, another bouldering spot in northern Utah. There are almost 50 problems in the area with opportunity to discover more. Visit in Spring, Fall, or Winter for the best weather, and watch for the heat in summer. Also a sandstone area, climbers and boulders should be careful to leave no trace and not to disturb the delicate desert environment. The drive in should not be attempted in a passenger vehicle, as high clearance and 4 wheel drive is necessary.
Getting there: For Moe’s valley, follow the directions for Green Valley Gap. Instead of parking, take the dirt road at the end of W Canyon View Dr. and turn left. Follow this dirt road south until the power lines cross a shallow canyon. There will be parking just to the south of the canyon.
Overlook at Brian Head
Ability level/route range: All abilities, 5.8-5.13
Approach: 15 min, moderate
Best Season: Summer
Located at 11,000 feet, the overlook at Brian Head offers not only an escape from the sweltering heat lower in the valley, but because of its location just under the peak of a mountain,there are stunning views in all directions. Amongst the aspens and marmots is the Overlook, made of welded tuff, creating a smooth pocketed wall perfect for some fun climbing. Hard routes will have one and two finger pockets. Summer is the only suitable season to climb, as it is covered in snow for most of the year. Virtual Ecstasy (5.11a) is one of the most popular climbs, and is worth taking a try at.
Getting there: From Cedar City, take Hwy 14 up Cedar Canyon. In 18 miles, turn left onto Hwy 143 and drive through Cedar Breaks National Monument. Turn right to continue on Hwy 143 toward Panguitch. In 5 miles turn left onto Sidney Valley, a dirt road. Follow this road for 4.5 miles until you reach the Overlook.
Ability level/route range: All abilities, 5.0-5.13
Approach: Varies, multiple crags in one area
Best Season: April 1st- Labor Day
Fifteen different climbing areas in one, each with 3 to 20 plus routes, Crawdad Canyon is a sort of paradise for climbers. While no traditional climbing is allowed, the Canyon offers belay chairs, groomed belay platforms, and did I mention it's absolutely beautiful? Sixty foot basalt cliffs line cottonwood forests with a bubbling stream flowing through the middle. For $9 a day, or $30 a year, climbers have access to this picture perfect canyon along with an outdoor pool. With its wide range of routes, the choices are endless, as are the opportunities for novice and expert climbers alike.
Getting there: From Cedar City, take the I-15 S towards St. George. Take exit 5 for Dixie Dr, and merge onto Hwy 18 N. In 15.5 miles, turn right onto E Veyo Resort Road.
West Cedar Crags
Ability level/route range: Intermediate, 5.0-5.12
Best Season: Year round
Much closer to home lies West Cedar Crags. This climbing area is really a collection of four different crags, Iron Mine, Pocket Rocks, Sprocket Rocks, and the Cone. The Cone has the easiest access, just a short stroll from the parking area. Appropriately named, the Cone is a 30 foot tall cone of crystalline welded tuff, a coarse and grainy rock. The next crag is Pocket Rocks, a moderate 18 minute approach from the parking area. As the name implies, pockets are the main feature to be found here on the 16 different routes here. The similarly named Sprocket Rocket Crag has a longer 30 minute moderate approach, unlike the other crags in the area, pockets are sparse here. Finally, a 15 minute moderate hike takes climbers to the last crag in the area, The Iron Mine. From the climbing area, an old iron mine can be see, one of many that scatter the southern Utah desert. Iron Mine has a few traditional routes, as well as bouldering opportunities in the surrounding area.
Getting there: From Cedar City take Highway 56 (200 N) west. In about 12 miles, you will see a Public Lands sign on the right, and you will see the Cone just a bit farther down the road.
Ability level/route range: Intermediate to Advanced, 5.9-5.12
Approach: 10 min, easy
Best Season: Early Spring to late Fall, dependent on snow
The red desert of St. George and the Juniper hills of Cedar City aren’t the only place to look for your new favorite crag. For those with a little more experience, Cedar Canyon offers a great escape into the alpine. A two-tiered limestone crag surrounded by beautiful aspens, Graveside Wall is located just under 10 miles from Cedar City. Some of the more famous routes include Fallout (5.11c) and The Adventure Route (5.11d).
Getting there: From Cedar City, take Hwy 14 up Cedar Canyon. Just past mile marker nine is a pullout on the left. Follow the trail up to the wall.
Woodbury Road Crags
Ability level/route range: All abilities, 5.6-5.14
Approach: 3 min, easy
Best Season: Spring
This area offers climbers not only an incredibly wide range of routes, but also the scenic beauty and isolation that lies waiting for any who seek it in southern Utah. The quality of the rock is what originally drew climbers down from Salt Lake to develop this area. The Woodbury area is actually composed of three separate crags, Black & Tan, Kelly’s Rock, and Solstice. Black & Tan Wall has a few different caves to offer as well. Spring and Fall are the best seasons to climb, Winter has little sun and Summer temperatures can sail into the triple digits with ease.
Getting there: From Cedar City, take the Southbound I-15 towards St. George. Drive through St. George and the Gorge. Take Exit 8 for Littlefield/ Beaver Dam. Turn right onto Old Highway 91 and turn right at the Woodbury Desert Study area sign. Take your first left to get to Solstice and continue on for Black & Tan and Kelly’s rock. Parking will be on your right.
Ability level/route range: Intermediate-Advanced 5.11d-5.15a
Approach: 10 min, Difficult
Best Season: Spring
Any experienced climbers looking for a fun challenge should check out the Hurricave. A steep ten minute scramble to the base of a cliff leads climbers to this awe inspiring crag. The cave gets its name from the nearest town, Hurricane. A limestone cave that is shaded throughout the day and speckled with long, overhung routes makes it the perfect spot to push yourself and get inspired by the incredible routes in this area. Some great routes to check out are Cliff Dwellers, a 5.13a that is 80 ft long, and Flight of the Concord, a 5.14c that is 110 feet long.
Getting there: From Cedar City, take the Southbound I-15 towards St. George. Take Exit 16 to the town of Hurricane. Turn right onto 700 West and drive west for 2 miles to 2060 South. Turn right and drive 2 miles and then turn left onto Cliffs Drive. Park at the road’s end and hike up the faint hill towards the cave.
Ability level/route range: Intermediate, 5.10-5.12
Approach: 20 min, easy
Best Season: Winter
Among the crags to be found in the Red Cliffs Conservation Area just north of St. George, Turtle Wall is one of the most popular for the locals. Boasting a sandstone face along with a small cave, this is a great crag to introduce climbers to overhanging routes and further develop their skills. Turtle Wall is named for the threatened desert tortoises that resides in the Red Cliffs area. To add on to the 18 established routes, there is also a few open projects that are on the harder side for this area. Because the rock is sedimentary, it weakens considerably when wet. Climbing on this rock while it's wet is a sure way to ruin the holds, so wait for a nice dry day to check this out.
Getting there: From Cedar City, take the Southbound I-15 towards St. George. Take Exit 6 for UT-18 N towards Bluff Street. Keep right to merge onto Bluff St. then just past Snow Canyon Parkway turn left onto Country Rd. Park in the pullout to your left. Follow the dirt trail past Chuckawalla Wall for about a mile and the crag will be on your left.
Now get out there T-Birds and discover why southern Utah is a climber’s dream! Remember to practice Leave no Trace principles and stop by SUU Outdoors to get shoes, harnesses, and helmets for your next adventure.