If you’ve ever stepped out of the climbing gym to get high in the wild, then you know how fun and rewarding a rock-climbing trip can be. But there’s no need to make the journey to well-known walls in far-flung destinations like Zion or Yosemite. Park City sits within an easy drive of several world-class crags, suitable for everyone from never-evers to lifelong rock jocks, including the following three.
All of the 550 climbing routes at Maple Canyon are sport climbs with some top-roping options. The climbing there is world famous for its peculiar conglomerate rock structure featuring quartzite cobbles or clasts ranging from pebble- to boulder-size. Beginning leaders will appreciate the 130 climbs ranging from 5.5 to 5.8. This area’s claim to fame, however, is its dozens of overhanging routes and climbs rated 5.12a or harder—watching climbers ascend these routes is an experience in itself.
Located in the Manti-La Sal National Forest and operated by the USDA Forest Service, this climbing and camping area is just over a two-hour drive from Park City. Take Interstate 15 south to Nephi (Exit 225). From there, go east on Hwy 132 to Fountain Green and follow the signs to Maple Canyon. With only 16 campsites, reservations are required at least four days in advance (1.877.444.6777 or visit recreation.gov for reservations). The campground is nestled among giant maple trees and towering cliffs soaring up to 300 feet overhead.
The camping at Maple Canyon is basic: there is no water, no trash service (pack it all out), and no electricity or sewer hook-ups. The closest provisions are about 15 miles away in Ephraim, where you’ll find both a Walmart and a state liquor store.
Despite the short drive it takes to get there from Park City, the Uintas represent a genuinely rugged wilderness. From the top of any route on the quartzite climbing wall at Ruth Lake, the views of the lake and surrounding pine-covered forest are breathtaking. And at 10,500 feet above sea level, Ruth Lake is an apt pick for sweltering summer days.
You’ll find nearly 70 routes on the wall there, most of which are sport climbs or routes with rope anchors fixed permanently into the rock. Just eight are trad, or traditional, routes, where climbers place and remove all gear required to prevent falls, making hiking in with trad gear less appealing. While beginners can test their lead skills on 15 of the climbs, rated 5.5 to 8, the bulk of the routes are within the 5.10a to 5.10d range, creating a perfect environment for intermediate leaders.
It takes about an hour to get to the Ruth Lake trailhead from Park City. From mile marker 35 on the Mirror Lake Highway (starting in Kamas), the hike to the crag is a leisurely mile or less, with a small amount of boulder-hopping and elevation gain to reach the cliffs. Be sure to tuck an insulating layer and rain jacket into your pack as most routes remain in the shade all summer and afternoon thunderstorms are common.
Pick up lunch, snacks, and cold drinks at the charming Samak Smoke House (1937 Mirror Lake Hwy, 435.783.4880), located just outside of Kamas as you enter the Uintas. House-made specialties include award-winning jerky, tasty deli sandwiches, and the always-popular house-made granola bars, the Samak Stickies.
City of Rocks
Located just over the state Line in southern Idaho is City of Rocks National Reserve, a granite lover’s dream with features like chicken heads and plates (features climbers use to scale a wall) prevailing on giant boulders. With more than 460 climbs ranging from 5.5 to 5.12b—and an equal amount of sport routes or trad routes—there is literally something for all abilities at City of Rocks. But, boasting 124 routes ranging from 5.5 to 5.8—trad and sport alike—this world-renowned climbing mecca is truly a fabulous destination for beginners.
City of Rocks boasts a spacious campground with more than 60 sites spread throughout large boulders and trees. You can access most of the climbs by walking from your campsite (for reservations and a campground map, visit nps.gov/ciro/planyourvisit/camping.htm). Note: Only four of the sites accommodate trailers, and water is available only at Bath Rock.
With an elevation similar to Park City’s, the weather there is pleasant most of the summer but can also be unpredictable. The best times to climb are late spring to early summer and late summer to early fall. To get there, take Interstate 15 north to Hwy 84 at Tremonton (Exit 5). Continue west along Hwy 42 at Snowville across the Idaho border into Almo. Follow the signs from there to the reserve.
Be sure to make time either coming or going to City of Rocks for lunch, dinner, or a beer at the family-operated Rock City Mercantile (839 E 3049 South, Almo, ID, 208.824.5510). The hand-tossed pizza is a welcome respite after days of camp food, and you’ll be blown away by the huge beer selection, spanning more than 70 varieties.
Not quite ready to head outside on your own? No problem. The following guide services offer everything you need to get on and up the rock.
- Red River Adventures, 877.259.4046, redriveradventures.com
- White Pine Touring, 435.649.8710, whitepinetouring.com
City of Rocks
- EXUM Mountain Guides, 307.733.2297, exumguides.com
- Jackson Hole Mountain Guides 800.239.7642, jhmg.com
- Sawtooth Mountain Guides, 208.774.3324, sawtoothguides.com