Idaho's Best Climbing Crags
It may surprise climbers and non-climbers alike to learn that Idaho is home to many great rock climbing areas. From the Black Cliffs and Swan Falls in western Idaho, and Massacre Rocks and Blackfoot Canyon in eastern Idaho, to the world-class climbing at City of Rocks, Idaho is a Mecca to well-kept-secret climbing. Climbing season is in its prime, so read ahead for your guide to the best crags the state has to offer.
City of Rocks/Castle Rock State Park
City of Rocks and neighboring Castle Rocks State Park are a climber's dream. With over 1,000 routes in the City and over 300 in Castle Rocks, there's enough variety in terrain, type of climbing and difficulty to ensure that everyone—from beginners and families to experts—has something to climb.
The City is truly a sight to behold. Its name is derived from the granite rock spires that resemble tall buildings, creating literally a "city of rocks." Located 2 miles north of the south-central Idaho border with Utah, it's easily accessible from Boise, Salt Lake City or Twin Falls. Even if climbing isn't your game, the City is a great spot for hiking, biking and camping.
For first-timers visiting the City, there are a few tips that will make your trip truly outstanding. A sunset hike (aka scramble with a few rebar rungs at the toughest spot) up the backside of Bath Rock, the most obvious roadside crag at the City, offers beautiful views of the whole park. When you need a break from climbing, head to Rock City, a small shop with supplies, food, drinks and amazing pizza. If your muscles need relaxing, drive a few minutes down the road to Durfee Hot Springs, which features four outdoor pools of varying temperatures supplied by a natural hot springs. It's open until 10 p.m. and closed on Sundays.
Campsites are available for a fee (and can be reserved in advance). Folks looking to dirtbag it can head down the road to BLM land to camp for free.
Black Cliffs, Table Rock (Boise)
Located minutes from downtown Boise, the Black Cliffs are the best outdoor climbing spot for those looking for a day trip or an afternoon climb. Over 240 sport climbs and crack climbs are available, all on basalt. The cliffs are aptly named for their black color meaning it can get pretty darn hot on the south-facing walls. Mid-summer isn't the ideal time to hit this rock (unless you wake up really early) but that same sun means that this spot is generally climbable year-round. A good rule to go by is that the cliffs will be about 10-20 degrees warmer than the rest of the Valley.
There's more easily accessible outdoor bouldering in Boise, and Table Rock is a great area with about 70 fun sandstone/conglomerate rock problems. This sandstone mesa overlooks the city of Boise and sports a giant electric cross making it easy to find. In summer, this spot provides little respite from the sun, so get there early. Expect to see hikers, since this spot offers beautiful views of the Boise River to the south and rolling hills to the north and east.
The guidebook Boise Climbs by Sandy Epeldi is available at REI and can provide you with some guidance to both areas.
Dierkes Lake (Twin Falls)
Twin Falls is home to a hidden gem: Dierkes Lake, located in the 191-acre Shoshone Falls Park. Home to some of the area's best rock climbing, Dierkes boasts over 100 routes of mostly sport climbing and over 200 bouldering routes. When certain parts of the state are still too cold to climb, Dierkes Lake will often be considerably warmer, with temps in the summer often making it too hot to climb unless you get there early or find some shade. But with the lake running alongside many of the climbing areas, a quick dip can revitalize a climber.
Sport routes at Dierkes tend to be fairly steep, particularly in the popular area, The Alcove, which Idaho Underground guidebook author Dave Bingham describes as "certainly one of the ugliest crags anywhere, with a reputation for bird poop and 'gorilla' climbing," but he also describes as "one of the best crags in Idaho for overhung sport climbs." Climbs tend to be in the 5.11 and higher range with some moderates so beginners, take heed.
Bouldering problems at Dierkes run the gamut of difficulty as well as variety of unique basalt holds from pockets, crimps, and slopers to jugs.
Getting into the park costs $3 per vehicle March-September so don't forget to bring some cash with you!
The Fins (Lost River Range)
Located at the southern end of the Lost River Range, the Fins has recently garnered national attention, and was cited in several articles in Climbing, including a recent cover of the magazine shot at the Fins. This high-elevation crag is great for summer climbing when it's too hot to climb anywhere else. The Fins has over 170 sport routes of quality limestone. Historically, most climbs have been in the 5.12 range, meaning the crag is not for beginners, though a significant number of moderate routes have been added in the last few years in the area known as Mortal Earth. Most routes are vertical to slightly overhung, and feature flat faces combined with technical sequences full of pockets and crimps. The area gets morning sun and afternoon shade; most walls are in full shade by 1 p.m.
This wall is truly for those committed to getting on the rock as the road getting to the Fins is only seasonally maintained and generally requires a 4WD vehicle with a true 4-low. Often the road gets washed out and sometimes some hiking will be required to get to the rock. Limited camping is available at the Upper Fins parking lot although there are no facilities or water. Camping is also available at the old corral at the mouth of the canyon on BLM land.
It's not possible to cover all of the amazing climbing that Idaho is home to in one article, so I highly recommend any one of a dozen different guidebooks or the website MountainProject.com. If you've got a number of available weekends this summer you may want to include the Channel, Swan Falls, Reynolds Creek, American Falls, Cedar Creek, and Massacre Rocks on your must-climb list.
This article originally appeared in The Boise Weekly.