3. Salt Lake City

The Cottonwood Canyons are the big climbing draw

Can Salt Lake City possibly have any more to offer the outdoor oriented? I’m a huge fan of this town and I give it two thumbs up for climbing. The points of interest here are the Cottonwood Canyons. Located southeast of downtown Salt Lake City, in the Wasatch mountain range and running up the canyon from west to east, Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons hold a high spot in climbers minds year-round.  

Close to Salt Lake City, it doesn’t get better than climbing Big Cottonwood Canyon in the fall. Photo by Cody Bradford

Big Cottonwood Canyon is the ideal warm up

If you’re looking for a good introduction to single pitch climbing in Big Cottonwood Canyon, a great spot to start is  Dogwood Crag. Located only a mile up the canyon, this area is top accessible, making set-ups a breeze. Routes here also range from 5.5-5.11, so have fun getting your warm up with slick but bomber quartzite. 

About a mile further up the canyon, you’ll come around the first big bend in the road and look straight up to see the northeast facing crag of Dead Snag staring back at you. Dead Snag is predominantly multi-pitch, although with bolted anchors on some routes, you could descend at your leisure depending on route choice. For a moderate intro to multi-pitching in Big Cottonwood Canyon, I recommend this is an excellent spot with routes such as East Dihedrals (5.6) or Steorts’ Ridge (5.6/7). 

Get your fix with multi-pitch in SLC

For harder climbing, there is also the long route, Forces of Nature (5.11). Farther up the canyon, one can also find harder lines such as at the S Curves. Mostly sport climbing, you’ll know you’re in the right place thanks to the curves in the rock formations that are pronounced and long.  Parking begins around 4.2 miles up the canyon and extends up and beyond the S Curves, so just check your GPS before arriving. Last but not least, Lower S Curve contains the greatest number of climbing lines ranging from 5.9-5.12.  

My favorite area to climb in Salt Lake City: Little Cottonwood Canyon

Looking for a granite splitter? Chances are you will find it in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Located about 7.5 miles south of Big Cottonwood, Little is smaller (go figure) but is stacked from bottom to top with all the variety you could ask for. In fact, my first choice offers approaches from the Park- and-Ride at the mouth of the canyon. One of my favorite lines here can be easily seen from the parking lot. 

Sitting on the hillside and facing south, Bongeater Buttress is easy to see why it’s a crack you really want to climb. Bongeater is a right-facing corner, capped by a steep, wide layback crack as its crux is a riot of a route that is harder than it looks (5.10+). 

Other routes in this area that I would recommend include Gold Finch Crack (5.8) and Burner (5.10). Still approached from the park and ride, Crescent Crack Buttress is full of moderate to hard crack lines. Great warm-ups for the area include Crack in the Woods (5.8) and Hand Jive (5.9), which isn’t much of a hand crack despite the name.

Little Cottonwood Canyon also has great ice in the winter! The author on Great White Icicle.

It’s one incredible route after another

Next up, Mexican Crack (5.10) is the star of the show here with a wicked hard start to some amazing, smeary moves and a surprise traverse at the top! Crescent Crack is a multi-pitch classic featuring a moderate (5.7) line in two or three pitches, depending on how you finish it. In the same lot, you can find harder, more aesthetic lines such as Enter the Dragon (5.11) at Dragon Arch. Containing a mixture of bolts and gear with bolted anchors, this well-protected route has it all! Farther up canyon, across the street from Solitude Resort, you can find excellent limestone climbing at moderate grades on Hellgate Cliffs.  These cliffs also overlook the amazing South Ride of Mt. Superior (5.5) that is commonly done as a lunchtime romp—as long as you can move fast.

The best time of year for rock climbing in Salt Lake City

Prime rock season here is June to early fall, with the best month typically being October. I’m biased to being in SLC in the shoulder seasons. Early season, you may still have snow fields to contend with on north facing aspects, so I like to come prepared with a pair of micro-spikes. In October, you can expect snow to be in the forecast, and beyond making things wet and cold, it typically just adds ambiance to the day. Given that many crags rise up like spines out of the canyon floor, you can typically find sun or shade any time of day.   

Where to camp for climbing near Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is fairly friendly to camping in your vehicle, so you can typically stay in parking lots. The Front Climbing Club and Momentum in Mill Creek typically allow vans to stay overnight, but please don’t abuse this privilege. Many park-and-rides (not in or at the mouth of the canyons) allow overnight parking as well. Of course, you may also seek out paid Forest Service camping opportunities at campgrounds like Dogwood which can be reserved in advance. Unfortunately, for many seeking tent camping, you must venture south or north of SLC for any legal mountain camping. That said, Big Cottonwood Canyon often has overnight lots where you can venture into the Wasatch backcountry for some solitude.  

Looking for a quick coffee or bite?  Well thankfully, it’s a big city, so you have plenty to choose from. I, however, choose Alpha Coffee. Located right at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, you can’t beat their coffee or service..  

About the author

Cody Bradford

Cody Bradford

AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours Ambassador

Cody began his guiding career with the North Carolina Outward Bound School in 2012 where he received his AMGA Single Pitch Instructor certification in November 2012. Cody gained his AMGA Rock Guide Certification in April 2018. Follow him on Instagram @thecodybradford to see #TechTipTuesday where each week he demonstrates a skill or technique to make your climbing more efficient and fun.

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