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Rock Climbing in Montana Is About Going off the Beaten Track

Montana might be the definition of going off the beaten path, with big forests, bigger mountains, and wild nature. It’s perfect for your next backcountry climbing adventure.

Montana is not known for its world-class rock climbing, or world-class anything, really.

What it is known for, though, is its pristine landscapes, wild mountains, and vast empty spaces. With about a third of its territory designated as protected land, including two national parks in Glacier and Yellowstone, ample national forests, and wildlife refuges, you’re more likely to see a bear than another person if you head out into the backcountry. In fact, Montana may be the closest you can get to the wilderness of Alaska in the lower 48.

Unfortunately, climbing here is still unknown to most travelers (and climbers, for that matter). But, given that the state’s name literally means “mountain” in Spanish, you’d expect to find a lot of rock here. And you will! There are more than a hundred named ranges and plenty of glacially formed features, offering everything from multi-pitch routes at Blodgett Canyon to the reliable ice of Hyalite, the 1,500-foot face of Granite peak to the boulders of Bitterroot Valley, and everything in between.

So maybe I should rephrase it: Montana isn’t known for its world-class rock climbing…yet.

Panorama showing mountains within Glacier National Park.
All across the state you’ll find rock, from the rugged ranges around the Continental Divide to the island mountains and badlands among the prairie lands in the east.

How Does a Sport Climber From Berlin End up in Montana?

Montana has been my premier mountain school. It offers all the disciplines—rock, ice, snow—and almost always in a far-off setting. But I almost didn’t come.

When I first researched the state for my student exchange semester, other climbers advised me to look for a different university—and another state. American climbers that I met in Europe were telling me that there is good climbing outside The Treasure State—within a couple hours’ drive, in fact—but the rock climbing in Montana would be minimal. After doing some research, I did come across some climbing opportunities in the nearby area, but I wasn’t sure if I’d find a climbing community per se.

I made the trip anyway and moved here from Berlin in 2018. I was most excited about the open landscapes, lonely mountains, and empty trailheads. However, as an avid sport climber, I was just hoping for some local crags to play on, not expecting to find much.

Well, I’m still here, so that says a lot!

For me, Montana turned out to be a hot spot for the all-around mountain athlete. I moved into a climber’s house and quickly met plenty of climbing partners. The supposedly non-existent crags around Bozeman and in Western Montana turned out to hide a lifetime of top-notch sport and trad routes. After a few days in the area and with the right partner I started to trad climb and up my game quickly. My highlight that summer was climbing a multi-pitch on Ross Peak—an alpine adventure on a perfect-quality rock right next to town.

High-Level Beta About Rock Climbing in Montana

Tucked between Idaho and the Dacotas and bordered by Canada to the north, Montana is the second biggest state in the lower 48. It is known for its vast fields, mountains, ranches, and lots of horses. While most of the state is made up of high plains and relatively flat landscapes, the West and Southwest encompass sections of the Rocky Mountain range, forming numerous mountains and ecosystems.

This leads to most of the climbs being concentrated in the West, close to major towns like Bozeman, Missoula, Helena, and Billings (Red Lodge). Montana has over 1500 sport routes, 1000 trad routes, and a huge number of undocumented climbs not covered by Mountain Project that only the locals know about.

Montana’s got it all

From local limestone sport crags to the huge rock faces of Glacier National Park and Granite Peak, the highest mountain in the state, everyone finds a crag of their own in Montana.

If you are looking for a proper wilderness climbing experience, including beta research, route finding, bear management, weather assessment, and some truly remote rock, then Montana might be your dream come true. And if you don’t want to do it all by yourself, just hire a guide who will help you make the most of it.

1. Bozeman

The climbing areas are close to town
Wide range of options from single-pitch to alpine sport climbs
Many different rock types
Crags can be distant from each other
Varying rock quality
Gallatin Canyon Rock Climbing
Trad routes are common on the Gallatin Gneiss, but Sport routes can be found just around the corner. Photo courtesy of Akio Joy

The first time I read up on climbing in the Bozeman area I was in my hometown of Berlin. The info I found made it sound like some not-very-good rock climbing—definitely not worth a visit, anyway.

After trying the rock myself, I absolutely disagree. Maybe it takes being a local to appreciate the area, but I’ve found so many different crags and styles that it could easily host a climbing festival. In fact, it does: Bozeman is home to a well-known Ice Climbing Festival that has been running for the last 20 years!

Bozeman is a growing town with ample amenities—not so easy to find in a rural state like Montana. Nestled in the large valley between the Bridger Mountains, Gallatin Range, and Madison Range, this quaint college town is shaped not only by students, but also by many up-and-coming businesses in the service and tech industries.

If you’re looking to try out many different types of climbs, including gneiss trad, limestone sport, and multi-pitch, you’ve got it all here in an hour’s radius from town.

A mountain athlete’s training ground

It comes as no surprise that so many professional climbers, guides, and all-around mountain athletes choose Bozeman as their hometown. Years ago, the town was flying under the radar, and living costs were phenomenally affordable here. After having discovered the amazing close-to-town recreation opportunities, athletes from all over the country, but especially Minnesota and California, have come to settle here over the years.

Compared to Boulder, CO, Bozeman had less of a profile for professional athletes and didn’t provide outdoor industry networking, which deterred working professionals and athletes. This is changing, however, and Bozeman is becoming a more desired place to live in among mountain recreationists.

Besides the ample rock climbing options, the playgrounds around town provide phenomenal skiing and ice climbing. Bozeman has approximately 400 sport and 200 trad routes, which might be an underestimation due to imperfect route recording.

The climbing has seen many developments over the last 30 years, with a growing number of new crags. This has led to many different types of climbs, and I’ll outline what to look for before heading out.

All the different climbing options

When deliberating on what crag to spend the day on, you first need to decide whether you want to climb sport or trad, gneiss or limestone. Whichever you choose, many of the areas offer a wide spectrum of grades, starting as low as 5.6 and up to 5.13c.

The limestone climbing can be crimpy, vertical, and overhanging, with routes that usually go up to 80 ft. Areas like Bear Canyon, Red Cliff, and Neat Canyon offer many options in the lower grades, while Bozeman Pass, the Bridger Mountains, and Madison Limestone are more suited for climbers starting at 5.10.

Gallatin Canyon, Hyalite Canyon, and Revenue Flats feature trad and sport on gneiss and other magmatic rock. Amazing multi-pitch trad routes like Spear Rib (5.8) or Sky Line (5.6) can be found in Gallatin Canyon, where you’ll also find phenomenal sport climbing in the 5.11 – 5.13 range. Crimping on steep gneiss faces is a highly unique experience, often requiring creative movement solutions.

Multi-pitch climbs, whether sport or trad, alpine or not, can be found in the Bridger Range, Beehive Basin, Gallatin Canyon, and Frog Rock.

Alpine multi-pitch climbs and single-pitch crags with 5-minute approaches can all be found within an hour’s drive from Bozeman

– Anju Samuelson

1. Bozeman - Good to Know

Skill level:

Beginner to advanced

Rock type:

Gneiss face and crack climbing to vertical and steep limestone crimps

Style of climbing:

Trad, sport, multi-pitch and single-pitch

Pro tips:

Strolling through downtown Bozeman, soaking in the natural Norris Hot Springs, or visiting Yellowstone National Park for wildlife watching are my recommendations for other things to do here.


From 5 min. to 2-hour approaches


Rock Climbs of Southwest Montana by Kyle Vassilopoulos or Mountain Project

Routes and Grades:

Over 1,000 routes with grades between 5.6 – 5.13

Best time to climb:

You get the most reliable weather in the summer (June – August) but might have to retreat to shady areas or higher elevations when temperatures reach 90 F.

How to get there:

Fly into Yellowstone Airport (Bozeman) or make a road trip out of it.

Where to stay:

There are many Forest Service campgrounds in the area (Hyalite, Gallatin), one campground in town and there is the option to stay at the Fairgrounds. If you like to stay indoors, there is Treasure State Hostel downtown and many motels, hotels, and Airbnbs.

Local bars and restaurants:

Bozeman is a popping town with many restaurants and bars. I highly recommend checking out one of the local breweries (Bridger Brewing, MAP Brewing Company) or stopping for a more fancy dinner at “Little Star”, a climber-run restaurant.

2. Granite Peak

Climb the tallest mountain in the state
A true wilderness experience
High rock quality
Not beginner friendly
Weather can be fickle
Granite Peak’s northeast face in summer, with prominent snow slopes.
The inspiring northeast face of Granite Peak is just 1,500 feet of elevation gain from high camp, but strenuous climbing can make it a full day.

Granite Peak is known as “the roof of Montana”, but it is a lot more than just the state’s highest peak. The tallest 12er of the Beartooth Range in the Northern Rocky Mountains, climbing here requires rock and snow skills, with lengthy approaches and big elevation gain. The payoff? Some truly high-quality stone.

Among Highpointers (those who aim to summit the highest mountain in each state), Granite Peak is considered to be the most difficult climb after Denali. Snow melts slowly, typically covering the rock faces until a sweet window in August when the spires become exposed along the steep ridgeline that leads to the summit.

More rock climbing than “mountaineering”

A rock climber at heart, I prefer Granite over other “Highpoints” like Gannett or Rainier because of the technical climbing involved. However, this makes the summit less accessible for non-climbers. For one, you need mountaineering gear—rope, ice axe, and crampons. In that sense, this is rock climbing, classic mountaineering, and the backcountry experience combined.

During your approach, you will pass by the beautiful Mystic Lake. The fishing is supposedly phenomenal, in case you want to bring your rod.

Wildlife viewings are common, with mountain goats particularly likely to hang out at the campsites. Because of that, make sure to pee on the rocks. The friendly goats are always in need of some extra salt, and they’ll easily prod the entire camp looking for goodies if they can’t easily lick it off the rocks. Forest Service policy.

Montana has the largest grizzly bear population in the lower 48, and they are likely to be wandering around this time of year, especially in the valleys. Hike in groups and bring some bear spray. I recommend watching some youtube videos about bear safety.

Climbing Granite Peak is a serious endeavor

Many parties try to ascend Granite Peak during the summer. Despite the easy grading of max. 5.6 in places, climbers often get forced to turn around, lost on the plateau, or underestimate the weather. To succeed, you need both mountaineering and alpine climbing skills, along with a high level of fitness. Every season sees at least one rescue.

I’m told that one season, a Beartooth Mountain Guide woke up to a stranger who was drenched in water from the storm outside and was looking for shelter in their tent.

If you do want to attempt it, there are three main routes to the summit: via the Froze-to-Death Plateau (standard route), the Huckleberry Creek drainage, and the Southwest ramp from the Aero Lakes area.

The East Ridge (Standard Route), 5.4 – 5.6

Accessed via the Froze-to-Death Plateau, The East Ridge is the most popular route to the summit. It probably has the least amount of snow later in the season, but you’ll still have to cross a “snow bridge”.

Southwest Ramp Class 3

Approached from the south via Cooke City, this is probably the easiest route to the top. Along the way, you’ll cross a landscape laced with many lakes and ascend snow and rock up Granite’s “backside”. Be aware of other climbers in front of you, as they might kick off loose rocks. The high likelihood of rock fall makes this a particularly dangerous route.

The Notch Gully and West Ridge 1500’, AI2+, 5.7

Reserved for experienced mountaineers looking for a challenge. Access this route via the Huckleberry Creek drainage and be prepared for some steeper ice and snow climbing. The high likelihood of rock fall makes this a particularly dangerous route.

Plan at least 2 – 3 days for the standard route, and be prepared for 11 miles one way and almost 8,000 feet of elevation gain to the summit. As a day-tripper without an overnight kit, you might get trapped in a storm or get lost, which leaves you with less room for error.

If you are unsure if your skill level is suited for an attempt on Granite Peak, play it safe and consider hiring a guide from the local guide service Beartooth Mountain Guides.

Granite Peak is not only the highest point of Montana, but also a perfect representation of the climbing in the state: wild, remote, and alpine.

– Anju Samuelson

2. Granite Peak - Good to Know

Skill level:

Intermediate rock climber and experienced mountaineer

Rock type:


Style of climbing:

Trad, snow skills

Pro tips:

Plan a few days for the trip and treat your body.


No permits required


Select Alpine Climbs to Montana by Ron Brunckhorst

Routes and Grades:

A couple of different routes and variations, from 3rd class to 5.7 to steep snow climbing

Best time to climb:

July and August

How to get there:

1.5-hour drive from Billings Logan International Airport to the West Rosebud Trailhead.

Where to stay:

There are two FS Campgrounds in the West Rosebud drainage close to the trailhead. If you prefer a warm bed, the Yodeler Motel in Red Lodge has Bavarian style rooms and even a sauna.

Local bars and restaurants:

Visit the Prerogative Kitchen for dinner and the One Legged Magpie for appetizers and drinks, both in Red Lodge.

3. Missoula

Many multi-pitch routes
Single pitch crags for beginners
Unique gneiss formations
Most multi-pitches are for more advanced climbers
June is tick season
A beautiful fall day in Montana with the Bitterroot Mountains in the background.
The Bitterroot Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountains, are a large range in Montana, with the tallest summit, Trapper Peak, at 10,157 feet.

Missoula is probably the most diverse and open town in Montana. While in some towns you might feel a sense of roughness and reserve, Missoula is known for being friendly, inviting, and welcoming.

The Missoula area houses over 15 crags, the best ones being Bitterroot Mountains, Lolo Pass, Rattler Gulch, and Alberton Rest Stop. All are within 20 min to 1 hour of driving.

Bitterroot Mountains

Bordered by Clark Fork and Salmon River, the Bitterroot Mountains span over 4,000 square miles across Montana and Idaho. Accessed out of Hamilton, the common climbing drainages include Blodgett Canyon and Mill Creek.

Expect 1,000-ft walls of granitic gneiss within an hour from the parking lot. This type of rock almost reminds one of granite, though its metamorphic history gives it a lighter grayish color with plenty of pockets and slopers.

The routes here are 10 – 12 pitches long and mostly suited for the 5.10 – 5.12 climber. Bring some gear, since the cracks are discontinued and most climbs are a mix of sport and trad. Vertical to overhanging terrain with alpine views ensures an intense, cinematic climbing experience.

One of the area’s more accessible climbs is the Shoshone Spire, only 30 minutes away from the parking lot. With its 800 vertical feet, phenomenal spire-like top out, and 5.8-rated South Face, it makes for an unforgettable adventure. For those who don’t know, Shoshone is the name of an Indigenous tribe that is spread over the mid-west and west coast of the US.

Lolo Area

The same rock formation is presented in a single-pitch setting and some more intense glacial imprint. The climbs follow slopers, edges, cracks, and huge pockets. Routes here are 50/50 sport and trad, with grades varying between 5.6 and 5.12, though the majority are in the 5.10 range.

Alberton Rest Stop

Located on the Clark Fork River and a 30-minute drive from downtown Missoula, this area is very beginner friendly. You can access many of the routes from the back and set up a toprope. The sandy beaches along the river provide a relaxed atmosphere and plenty of room to spread out. It can be pretty hot in the summer since the crags are south/southwest-facing, but a cool down in the river is always an option.

Rattler Gulch

Limestone crimping at its finest, with some slab climbing and jugs sprinkled throughout. This crag is a favorite for the sport climbers in town; grades vary from 5.8 – 5.12, with a focus on 5.10 – 5.12. This band of Madison limestone is classic in its uplifted and 180°-rotated layer, which is a very striking feature in the landscape.

Other things to do

On a rest day, make sure to explore the town and visit one of its many cafes, concerts, or even take on Brennan’s Wave, a man-made wave on the Clark Fork River downtown. Glacier National Park is a 2.5-hour drive away and Flathead Lake just 1.5 hours, in case you get an itch for some beach time.

The spot to go to if you’d like to climb 10 pitches on gneiss and return for a bluegrass concert in town

– Anju Samuelson

3. Missoula - Good to Know

Skill level:

Beginner to advanced

Rock type:

Granitic gneiss and limestone

Style of climbing:

Trad, sport, mixed, single-and-multi pitch.

Pro tips:

Be aware of ticks in spring and early summer, and take a soak in Lolo Hot Springs.


Check out Mountain Project for recent closures like Mulkey Gulch.


A Climber’s Guide to Lolo Dirtchoss by Mack Moore and Harrison Schutt is coming out in Summer 2023

Routes and Grades:

5.6 – 5.13

Best time to climb:

Spring, fall and summer

How to get there:

Fly into Missoula airport or make a road trip out of it.

Where to stay:

Stay at a hotel in town, the Shady Spruce Hostel if you want a community, or at Lolo Creek Campground for a natural experience.

Local bars and restaurants:

Zoo Thai and Bridge Pizza are the ultimate classic restaurants to visit—you might even meet some local climbers!

Other Rock Climbing Areas in Montana:

There are more areas to see across the state. Here are a few other noteworthy ones.

Sleepy Whitefish

The town of Whitefish lies north of Flathead Lake, only 30 minutes away from the West Glacier entrance point to Glacier National Park. Single-pitch limestone climbing can be found at “Point of Rocks” a half-hour drive from town. Other notable climbing areas include Stillwater, Bad Rock Canyon, and Kila Crags.

Try Hard Maiden

A 2-hour drive from Missoula and Bozeman, Try Hard Maiden is known for its steep and blank limestone walls. The environment here is more forested and lush, evocative of the climbing destinations you’d find in Central Europe. It hosts dozens of routes in all grades but is absolutely adored by the upper 5.12 and 5.13 sport climbers. The climbing happens on private property, so climbers are asked to be respectful and camp on the surrounding BLM land.

The Rimrocks of Billings

The largest city in Montana lies in the flats at the foot of the Beartooth Mountains. It’s not all flatlands, though; the sandstone climbs of the Rimrocks provide decent options in the colder months. The snow seems to always stay out of Billings; even when it’s hailing, raining, and storming in the mountains, the sun seems to never leave the town.

Helena: The Capital

Helena is surrounded by the Big Belt Mountains, which provide plentiful limestone sport crags and even a magmatic tower. The south aspects of these walls attract winter sport climbers that find perfect sending temps in colder weather. This area is characterized by vertical, crimpy routes that can be up to 300 feet tall.

Since 2021, the Montana Women’s Climbing Festival has been celebrating female and genderfluid climbers at the beginning of June in Canyon Ferry Lake. An event not to be missed, since it is the only one in the Northern midwest.

Paradise Valley

The name is no exaggeration. Tucked between the Gallatin and the Absaroka-Beartooth ranges, this valley provides heavenly views over the Yellowstone River. It is the home of the Mt. Cowen area and one of my personal favorite alpine climbing spots. Nothing beats getting lost on the multi-pitch trad climbs sprawling up one of many magmatic towers. Allenspur is the local spot for limestone sport climbing, and Mill Creek prepares you for trad climbing adventures.

Montana: Come for Climbing and Adventure

Since Montana is still so remote and wild, climbing info can often be difficult to find. Make some friends in the local towns and talk to people. This will be your best bet to get the most information on climbing, and many areas are not covered here. One thing is certain, you’re sure to get away from the crowds!

About the author
Mountain Guide and Co-Owner of Beartooth Mountain Guides and 57hours Guide Education Fund Recipient

Anju is an AMGA Assistant Rock Guide and Apprentice Alpine Guide. She runs with her partner Beartooth Mountain Guides located in Southern Montana. She is passionate about making the outdoors accessible for underrepresented groups in a supportive and empowering way. Originally from Germany, she has lived in Turkey, Chile, and the US and loves to connect her climbing pursuits with traveling.

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