If your idea of fun is pulling on limestone pockets or jamming up granite cracks then winter can be a sad time for you. Most dedicated Canadian rock climbers either turn to ice tools or indoor climbing walls, relegated to a whole season of exclusively pulling on plastic.
But if you have some vacation time saved up, you can be climbing in the sun again. Skip the resort and head to one of these prime climbing destinations.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Not the first place that comes to most people’s mind when you think about rock climbing but Sin City is bordered by mountains on the west side that boast over 3,500 climbs. Cheap flights, easy access and great winter weather make this a prime spot to get away from winter. There is climbing for everyone from desert boulders to multi-pitch trad routes up to 2,000 feet high. If sport climbing is your thing then you are in luck, as there are plenty of bolted routes. And unlike more remote locations, there is plenty to do at night.
Getting There: Fly into Las Vegas. Rent a car or Uber to the climbing 30 minutes away.
It’s not unusual for Canadians to head south to Mexico in the peak of winter. Rather than Cancun, consider the climbing mecca of Potrero Chico. Hundreds of bolted routes with short approaches beckon you to make the trip. Front single pitch cragging to 2,300 feet epics, you can cover miles of stone just clipping bolts. If the idea of multi-pitch adventures are alluring but you don’t want to carry a bunch of protection, Potrero is a unique locale. Cheap flights and inexpensive accommodations combined with the warm weather in winter make this a worthwhile destination.
Getting There: Fly into Monterrey, Mexico. Taxi or shuttle from the Airport to Hildalgo. You can walk to the climbs from your accommodations.
If the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas isn’t your thing but you still want some desert climbing then head north an hour and a half to St. George, Utah. It’s off-season so camp sites are easy to come by and there are the usual offerings of hotels and Air BnB. Aside from the roughly 1,200 climbs in the immediate area you will have easy access to the big walls of Zion National Park and the overhanging sport routes of the Virgin River Gorge. With sandstone and limestone in the area you have a ton of climbing options. Just buy some SPF 100 sunscreen as the sun is unrelenting.
Getting There: Fly into Las Vegas, 1.5-hour drive to St. George.
If you want to mix skiing with your climbing then consider heading to Flagstaff. With snow in the San Francisco Mountains north of town you can alternate your days skiing the bowl and climbing south facing walls in your t-shirt. With mountains and canyons in all directions you will have a hard time deciding what you want to climb first. With a short drive you can be on the granite walls near Prescott, AZ or the red sandstone of Sedona just to the south of Flagstaff. Being a high altitude town (7,000 feet.), plan for a slower pace, drink more and use a stronger sunscreen. Like most of the Southwest there are plenty of free camping spots as well as nice accommodations in town. From luxury to dirt cheap, all budgets are covered.
Getting There: Fly into Flagstaff Airport, 15-minute drive to downtown.
The Southeast is not a place that first comes to mind for rock climbing but between river gorges and mountain slabs there is a lot of quality climbing. For us northerners snowed in by winter, the best climbing destination this side of the Mississippi is Chattanooga, Tennessee. Being far enough south, their winter is our fall temperatures. There is a very high concentration of climbing within an hour drive. Trad and sport routes abound on the beautiful, hard sandstone. Accommodations can be as simple as legal free camping or a stay at the Crash Pad, an outdoor oriented hostel with both inexpensive bunks or private rooms. A bonus is during your down time there are great restaurants and attractions in town. Go for a paddle down the Tennessee River or enjoy the nightlife.
Getting There: Fly into Chattanooga Airport. 20-minute drive to downtown. If you want to make it a road trip it’s a 13-hour drive from Toronto.
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