Rock Climbing in Arizona: The Best Gyms and Crags (2023)
Published on: 05/03/2022
Arizona is full of some of the most unique rock varieties of any state in the US. Much of this rock is exposed and climbable year-round. Combined with Arizona’s constant supply of sunshine, the climbing possibilities are essentially endless.
Arizona’s indoor and outdoor climbing destinations attract athletes from all over the country. This state holds a large variety of climates, terrain, and big walls. While some locations easily attract crowds, there is no shortage of serene backcountry climbing. So let’s take a look at some of the best places for rock climbing in the wonderful state of Arizona.
Rock Climbing Arizona
Arizona climbing is genuinely one of a kind. With a combination of nearly 12,000 trad, sport climbs, and bouldering problems, you won’t be short of finding a unique rock climbing experience no matter where you decide to go.
What to Expect
Climbing in Arizona has grown in popularity recently. It is an amazing place to explore. You will find some of the best crags in the country with locations that allow you to travel and climb all year long.
Many of the popular climbing areas are crowded during evenings and weekends. If you follow the crowds, it’s best to get to the crag early. Always pack plenty of food and water, and prepare for any weather. Most of these areas have running water and a bathroom facility nearby, but some are more remote.
Environment and Climate
Arizona’s extreme heat makes it challenging to climb in some areas during the summers. An average summer day hits about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Thankfully, locations at higher elevations are naturally cooler. There you can easily evade a bad sunburn or prolonged heat exposure.
If you’re climbing in the warmer months, get to the crag early, pack plenty of water, and find a shady spot to dwell. Plan to leave before the sun sits high in the sky or climb during the evening hours when the sunlight isn’t as intense. Many local climbers choose to have a climbing gym membership during the warmer season to stay out of the heat.
During the cooler months, climbing temps are incredibly comfortable and average around 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. If you’re planning to camp overnight, bring warm layers because temperatures can quickly drop to the 20s or 30s. At higher elevations, expect even cooler weather during days and nights. You may also be surprised to experience snow which is always a possibility in winter.
Why Climb in Arizona?
With Arizona’s mild climate and warmer winters, climbing is possible all year round. Not many other states can claim this amenity. This makes Arizona a great winter destination for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds.
Temperatures in cities like Phoenix or Tucson get extremely warm from May to October but are pleasant between November and April. Flagstaff sits around 7,000 feet, and this town and other higher elevation areas are the perfect places to climb during the warmer season. While Flagstaff is usually covered in snow during the winter, crags near Phoenix, Tucson, and other lower elevation cities have the perfect climbing weather for the colder portions of the year.
The Best Arizona Climbing Gyms
Although the outdoor desert climate and warm winters are highly sought after in its many regions, Arizona also holds an incredible array of indoor climbing gyms. Whether you’re looking for top rope routes, bouldering, yoga, or even Olympic speed climbing, you can find it all at one of these great climbing gyms listed below.
Roped Climbing Gyms
AZ on the Rocks
AZ on the Rocks is a top-rope climbing gym with a large bouldering area that offers 14,000 square feet of climbing for all ages. Located in Scottsdale, AZ, this gym has climbing and fitness options for experienced and beginner climbers.
AZ on the Rocks offers classes for kids and adults, team-building activities, leagues, and climbing meet-ups. This gym also features a yoga studio and several daily yoga class options to choose from.
Located in Gilbert, Alta Climbing is a 30,000-square-foot climbing gym. It has over two hundred 55-foot top ropes, a 15-meter Olympic speed wall, and a large bouldering area. Also, this climbing gym holds a generous fitness center equipped with training tools, free weights, cardio machines, and yoga and cycling classes. Alta also facilitates a variety of summer camp programs for kids.
Choose from a day pass with access to both the fitness and climbing areas or a 10-visit punch pass to use at any convenient interval. Alta Climbing also offers gear rentals and free gym orientation. If you’re interested in a bouldering-only facility, check out Alta Boulders, its sister facility.
Alta Boulders is the sister gym to Alta Climbing. This gym features 20,000 square feet of bouldering on 17-foot walls. The fitness area within this facility is similar to Alta Climbing. They hold group classes and have a yoga studio, cardio machines, free weights, cycling, and group events. A membership grants you access to both gyms with monthly or yearly payment options. Alta Boulders is the perfect, fitness-friendly environment for adults, kids, and families alike.
Beta Bouldering Gym
Built on River Run Road in Flagstaff, AZ, Beta Bouldering Gym is the largest climbing gym in northern Arizona. Beta Bouldering features 9,000 square feet of bouldering for all levels. It provides training tools for climbers, like a campus board, power rack, and wood training rings. You’ll also find a yoga and fitness area with a few top ropes for birthday parties or events and a gear shop. The gym also offers classes, programs, camps, and climbing teams for kids of all ages.
Best Outdoor Climbing Spots
Arizona’s incredible year-round weather makes outdoor rock climbing a must. Sorted by location and type of climbing, you won’t want to miss out on any of these stunning areas listed below.
The Grand Canyon
A large majority of this natural landmark consists of the soft, chossy rock that isn’t meant for climbing. You can find a few established sport and trad routes in the areas where climbing is possible. Most of these climbing spots are located on the South Rim or in the inner Grand Canyon.
Jack’s Canyon has some of the best sport crags in Arizona. With 225 total routes, you can expect to find a wide range of climbing grades, from 5.6 to 5.13b. The limestone rock features plenty of pockets and a diverse set of routes. Near Jack, East Clear Creek is an excellent spot for deep water soloing in the summer months.
Jack’s Canyon is an hour and a half drive outside Flagstaff and sits in a remote area. Most vehicles can maneuver the dirt backroads, but it’s best to use a high clearance vehicle. Please be careful while driving through any rain. Puddles in Northern AZ easily turn to quicksand, causing vehicles to get stuck. If you’re interested in staying overnight, there are campgrounds nearby.
With 90+ routes, The Pit attracts visitors year-round, especially in the summer season, as a reprieve from the heat. This area is often bustling with locals during the afternoons and weekends. Be aware that July and August are monsoon season, and the canyon often floods.
The Pit is excellent for beginners, with routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.13. You only need a standard 60-meter rope for most of the routes here. This crag sits 15 minutes outside of Flagstaff, and most of the rock in this area is natural white limestone.
Queen Creek Canyon
Queen Creek Canyon sits in the Superstition Mountains. It’s east of the Phoenix metro area, located near Superior, AZ, and gets busy on weekends. This location is known for its volcanic rock and features a high volume of sport climbing. It also features bouldering, trad, and multipitch routes.
The steep canyons cast shadows on the crags, making it a great place to climb during scorching weather. If you’re interested in camping, stay at Oak Flat Campground off of Magma Mine Road near Devil’s Canyon.
The Pond and Atlantis are popular climbing spots in Queen Creek. Atlantis is 150 meters from the road, and The Pond is found right off the highway but has a bit of a steep approach. If you visit when the water is flowing, you will be lucky enough to see the 70-foot waterfall.
Oak Flat stands within Queen Creek and is one of the best bouldering areas in AZ, with over 200 bouldering problems. Here, you’ll find unique holds, slabs, and great bouldering. The problems range from a V0 to V9.
About an hour and a half south of Phoenix, Mount Lemmon sits on the Northeast side of Tucson, AZ. Access the road up the mountain via Catalina Highway off of Tanque Verde Rd on the city’s east side. The mountain road is 27 miles long and is marked by the mile. It leads you up to alpine forests, which are called sky islands. Sport and trad climbing is just off the main highway or within a short hiking distance from most parking spots.
The Butterfly Wall, Orifices, and Crags Against Humanity are popular walls that attract both visitors and locals to the mountain.
The lower elevation areas sit at around 2,000 feet and are the best to climb during the spring, fall, or winter months. The higher elevation areas sit at approximately 9,000 feet and are best to climb during the spring, summer, and fall months. During the winter, the upper elevation areas experience snow, causing the main road to close down partially. Most parking is free and a mix of first come, first serve, and reservation. You can only find campgrounds along the highway for overnight camping.
Oak Creek Canyon
In Sedona’s beautiful, picturesque town, you won’t want to miss out on climbing Oak Creek Canyon. Carved out of Coconino Sandstone, the rock here is a paradise of endless opportunities for crack climbing. Oak Creek caters to trad climbers, with routes ranging from 5.10 to 5.13d, although sport climbing and bouldering exist here.
Oak Creek Canyon Overlook has a concentration of trad lines. For good sport climbing, check out Doctor’s Office or Anvil Boulders, just a walk across the creek. I advise you to bring along 70-meter ropes for these tall sandstone walls.
Phoenix Metro Area
The Phoenix Metro Area is central to several trad climbing areas. The McDowell Mountains sit about an hour from Phoenix, in north Scottsdale. The famous Tom’s Thumb route stands high above the mountains, giving you a great view of the city and surrounding land.
This area has trad and sport climbing walls of differing heights that are good for all climbing levels. Route grades here range from 5.2 to 5.12. The rock is primarily desert granite and is more difficult to climb than sandstone or limestone. Some fantastic routes are Girlie Man, Sven Slab, and Gardener’s Wall.
Camelback Mountain is in the city’s center and has both trad and sport walls. The granite and sedimentary rock make climbing slightly dangerous, so be cautious. The one rule of Camelback Mountain climbing is to “climb like a cat.” This means that you need to be agile, light on your feet and take your safety seriously. Always wear a helmet and do not disturb or climb near bees if you encounter them.
The Dragoon Mountains are found in southern Arizona, just an hour and a half west of Tucson. Cochise Stronghold is full of backcountry climbing, hiking, and camping with two distinct climbing areas: the east and west sides. The east side contains the bulk of the routes, and you can access both areas via a dirt road.
Cochise Stronghold is well known for its multipitch trad climbs on granite domes. The towering walls are some of the longest in this region, and the crack climbing is superior to any other area in Arizona. I suggest climbing here in the spring or fall as winter can get very cold.
Although Cochise Stronghold is mostly trad climbing, there are plenty of sport climbs and boulder problems. Bouldering routes range in grade from V2 to V10. Sport and trad routes range in difficulty from 5.5 to 5.12R.
Keep in mind that this is true backcountry climbing. There are no modern facilities around.
Arizona climbing is extraordinarily unique compared to any other place within the US. Arizona contains a large volume of exposed rock, divergent terrain, and diverse climates. From backcountry crags to developed sport climbing and camping, Arizona has it all. So grab your closest climber friends and come see what rock climbing in Arizona is all about.