The West Coast of the United States is known for many things. The states of Washington, Oregon, and California provide some of the most diverse landscapes across the country in one line.
Each state features warm locales along the coastline, California in particular. This state is also well-known for the rugged landscape caused by mountains and the Mojave Desert. Washington and Oregon both feature heavily forested areas complete with snow-capped peaks.
This astonishing biodiversity and the mountainous region also make the West Coast home to some of the country’s best rock climbing. Popular and obscure destinations exist for climbers of all skill levels.
Even those who usually work up a sweat while indoor climbing at the gym will find something to marvel at when gazing at nature's crags, overhangs, and cracks running through sandstone.
The rock climbing destinations below make for excellent day trips for locals in the area. For those who want to travel, rich natural resources and nearby towns make them all road trips worth going on. Olivers believes in fitness and exploration in any context.
What type of climbing do you prefer? Top-roping? Lead climbing? Maybe you love crack climbs or sport routes. Either way, there are plenty of locations to journey to.
Join us as we review the best places for your next rock climbing adventure.
Washington Pass (WA)
We begin our travel guide on the north side of the coast, with a snow-covered area called Washington Pass. This heavy precipitation is caused by the size of the North Cascades. These mountains force weather fronts upwards, breaking them up and causing mass precipitation to fall on the pass. From November to April of each year, the pass is even closed to climbers due to snowfall.
This level of precipitation makes it a popular destination for ice climbing as well as rock climbing. Climbers know the two sports have more differences than similarities and that the former poses greater dangers. Washington Pass is great for experienced climbers who’ve built up some endurance. Some 5.0-5.3 routes exist, but the majority lies within the 5.7-5.11 range.
The pass overlook features the highest point along the North Cascades Highway, with an elevation of 5,500 feet. This is just one example of the mountains and rock faces that dot the area. Washington Pass is fundamentally a place for alpine climbers.
When you reach the summit, take a moment to appreciate all you’ve accomplished. However, even the most extreme sports fans are always wary of their environment here at all times: Washington Pass is prone to avalanches.
Joshua Tree National Park (CA)
Joshua Tree National Park is named for the prevalence of Joshua Trees in this area. These long-limbed trees, barren but for tufts on greenery on ends, are a symbol of the area. The park is split into two areas across the Mojave and the Colorado Desert.
The Mojave Desert is cooler and has more Joshua trees, whereas the Colorado Desert has far less water. Both feature extensive climbing routes. It’s arguably a dream for beginner and moderate climbers, with most routes ranging between 5.3 and 5.12.
The warmth of the desert makes it an accessible climbing destination all year long. Climb all you will during the day, then camp out beneath the stars at night. The view of the stars and diverse wildlife makes Joshua Tree fascinating for climbers, botanists, and astronomers alike. The campsites here are on a first-come-first-served basis.
Malibu Canyon Creek (CA)
Our next destination takes us from the deserts of California to the state at its most lush. This area, nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains, features rich vegetation and even a watering hole to relax by. Types of rocks vary, with even rare basaltic breccia to be found in the area.
This easy-going appearance is contrasted by some impressively challenging routes. Many of these center around Mt. Gorgeous, a nearly 700-foot elevation point that operates as a landmark.
The sun travels across the mountain, making it easy to choose your climb based on the time of day. It's best to start climbing when the light is beating down on the rock and warming it for the best challenge it has to offer.
When arriving at wilderness areas, planning sleeping accommodations is critical. Some parks allow you to camp overnight, but if you plan to explore cities it can be hard to park long-term. The right AirBnb can help fuel your travel and keep your journey remarkable day and night.
Smith Rock State Park (OR)
Rock climbing has many origins, depending on the type of climb you are discussing. One area that has undeniable history is Smith Rock State Park, which has ample opportunities for traditional and multi-pitch routes.
Smith Rock’s biggest claim to fame is its place in the history of sport climbing. In the 1980s, Alan Watts began exploring ways to free climb otherwise unscalable terrain. He would begin by rappelling down the top and working on practicing moves as he went along. This led to the birth and boom of American sport climbing.
The rock around the park is primarily tuff and basalt. This combination of igneous rock and compressed volcanic ash is due to the park’s proximity to the Cascade Mountain Range. Thankfully the area is now safe from volcanic activity.
This classic park is also known for its rich ecosystem. Over half the year, some areas are limited due to nesting raptors. With 1,800 climbs to attempt, losing a few to environmental protection isn’t a terrible loss. Advanced rock climbers may be emboldened to learn that Smith Rock State Park is also home to America’s first 5.14 climb.
Countless guide services exist for those looking for some help on their excursion. Overnight visits are allowed on a permit basis. This is excellent since there is too much of this 640-acre park to see in one day. Smith Rock State Park may be on the more “popular” end of climbing destinations, but it achieved this for a reason.
We go from one of the most well-known climbing spots in the country to a severely underrated gem. Index may seem unassuming, with rock faces jutting out of a heavily forested former quarry-town area. It hides a must-see destination for advanced climbers.
A large number of climbs hover above the 5.9 range, though many lower climbs for all climbers exist. These consist of both simple free climbs and 500-foot wall-scaling endurance feats.
The steep granite of the area makes for excellent climbing. The periodic sound of nearby trains and deep forest adds to the seclusion of this climbing spot. Those that come here keep it a secret afterward. Fellow Index-climbers will appreciate it.
Wolf Rock (OR)
Wolf Rock is the largest monolith in the state of Oregon and a structure foreboding in appearance and history. The stone, which protrudes 900 feet upwards, served as a former volcanic plug before being eroded to its present state. Andesite gives the monolith its distinctive, dusky appearance.
This sense of awe has led to this climbing area to be named after, of all things, fantasy literature. Among the most iconic of these is Barad-Dur. This multi-pitch route is named for the Dark Tower from The Lord of the Rings. The production crew was inspired by its uncanny and imposing appearance.
The weather is mild, making it ideal for traversing this boulder field in all seasons. In summer, it rarely gets hotter than the 80s, and in winter months, it rarely gets cold enough to snow. It’s fortunate that the weather is in your favor. The climbs themselves are primarily 5.9 and 5.10 in intensity.
Yosemite National Park (CA)
We couldn’t go through an article on West Coast rock climbing without discussing arguably the country’s most famous destination. The area features everything from beginner-level courses and classes to 3,000 feet rock walls. The sheer mountain faces and gray granite are both iconic to the nature of Yosemite.
Yosemite provides challenges both in terms of skill and endurance to climbers. El Capitan, better known as El Cap, regularly takes climbers the better part of a week to properly scale this cliff. Many of the most challenging routes on Yosemite are also some of the most famous. This can lead to a glut of climbers around midday.
Thankfully Yosemite has over 200 climbing routes available. For the best odds of tackling a popular route, it’s best to go early to skip the crowds.
Sequoia National Forest (CA)
Astonishing sequoia trees, hazy valleys, and verdant hillsides define Sequoia National Forest. For climbers, the Chimney Rocks define the possibilities of the forest. This set of six granite formations offers challenging traditional routes, mostly from 5.7 to 5.11. Sequoia has had varied popularity over the years, making it a secluded spot compared to some other California locations.
When opportunities aboveground are exhausted, there is plenty to intrigue about the forest belowground. Sequoia is home to the Crystal Cave, an underground marble cave sure to impress anyone with the slightest spelunking interest. Exploration is only available via guided tour but offers opportunities few other climbing destinations can.
The Trips of a Lifetime
You’ve chosen your destination and have all your climbing gear at the ready. What’s next? Just two small items.
First, pack your bags. You’ll want shorts that provide comfort and peak performance, as flexible and formidable as your climbing skills. Second, find your group. A successful rock climb is an intensely personal experience, but one easily shared with others.
The rocks of the West Coast await you.
Joshua Tree National Park Ecology I USGS
El Capitan | Height, History, Yosemite, & Facts | Britannica
A Guide to California's Top Rock Climbing Spots | California.com