Rock climbers know that Moab is one of the top climbing destinations in the country and flock here from all over the world to climb the infamous red sandstone. Aspiring climbers often don’t know how to start, though, or where to go to practice scaling the sandstone routes that everyone talks so much about. For the novice climber, there are routes and areas surrounding Moab for beginners, as well as people who are willing to share their knowledge and experiences in rock climbing.
Safety and conscientious climbing practice are the name of the game throughout the climbing community, applied by climbers of all skill levels to ensure a safe and fun climbing experiences. Before learning to climb, it is important to familiarize yourself with the gear, basic knots used for climbing (figure eight, Münter hitch, clove hitch, double overhand, Yosemite finish, to name a few), safe belaying technique, and communicating with your belayer or climber.
Once a foundation of the basic, working knowledge of climbing safety and technique is established, climbers are ready to hit the crags.
Ask anyone for a good spot for a beginning climber to check out, and they will most likely point to Wall Street (Potash Road) or the Ice Cream Parlor. Both are good options for rock climbers, but also consider the Dakota Crags, The Cinema, and Arches National Park.
Head up into the La Sal Mountains, a 30-minute drive from Moab, to find several climbing areas, including Mill Creek, where Moab locals go to climb the higher grades and overhung Dakota sandstone and the Lower and Upper Dakota Crags. The latter are an ideal climbing spot for anyone from beginners to experienced climbers to escape the oppressive heat of the valley.
“They’re definitely summer season crags, whereas down here in the desert your window of opportunity to climb is pretty short,” Cliffs and Canyons owner Brett Sutteer said. “It’s quiet and it’s not roadside. There’s some easy stuff, and there are a lot of anchors for top-roping, so you can climb without having to lead.”
Requiring a short descending hike to the long stretch of climbs at the Dakota crags, keep in mind you’ll have to hike back out of the area up-hill.
Another popular area that lends itself to learning how to climb is The Cinema, located across State Route 128 from Takeout Beach. A small amphitheater overlooking the river, this area is slightly hidden and takes some directional knowledge or exploring to find access to the climbing area. Once you’ve made your way up onto the sandstone shelf you’ll find a variety of easier climbs. Many of the climbs offer a unique rock face made of sandstone with white calcite deposits fused to the surface.
“The rock is pretty unique for the area and to get such a high concentration of fun sport climbs is pretty rare, especially in the Moab area,” Fuchise said. “There are a variety of grades, and it’s great because you’re next to the river and you can go swimming when you’re done.”
A popular area for climbers of all levels, this crag is best visited in the morning before the sun rises over the canyon walls.
Arches National Park, an area that is often dismissed due to the heavy traffic and visitation, holds some of the most unique climbing opportunities in the immediate Moab area for climbers of all levels. Bullwinkle Tower, Owl Rock, and The Great Wall offer easy entry-level climbing.
“Climbing in a national park is something that’s always going to be cool. When I saw Owl Rock and realized that not only was it a tower, but is also rated 5.8 I was super stoked,” Anna Luz Fisher, a rock climber who now frequents the area, said. “It was actually my very first lead and my very first desert tower. Even though it’s easier than other towers around, you should still be very careful and be prepared. I think checking out Owl Rock is something that everybody who’s getting into the climbing should try to go do because it gives you the opportunity to feel what it’s like to top out on something, and will inspire you to climb more so that you get on multi-pitch towers.”
Many climbers’ first introduction to desert tower climbing is on Owl Rock, like Fisher, or climber Jacque Garcia.
“The first tower I climbed was Owl Rock in Arches National Park. It only takes one pitch because it isn’t too tall, so it was less intimidating than a lot of towers around Moab,” Garcia said. “The climb provided a good mix of crack and face climbing, and it has a big enough ledge to belay comfortably from the top. Plus the view from up there is fantastic!”
Sunshine Wall is another good option for a variety of climbing grades in both sport and trad. Easily accessible, this slab (less than vertical) wall is a great go to for a couple of quick climbs. One obvious consideration for any climbs Arches National Park is sun exposure, and the permit requirement is also not unimportant. Permits can be obtained at the visitor center for a small fee on the day of climbing.
These three areas are some less obvious and more unique climbing areas for those individuals who might be trying to get into climbing or advance their skills. Considering these less-visited areas when looking for places to climb can offer some special climbing experiences and allow the expansion of climbing skills on a variety of terrain.
To read the rules and regulations on rock climbing activity in Arches National Park, visit
https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/rockclimbing.htm, and for more information about these climbing areas, mountainproject.com or download the Mountain Project app for information about climbs.
Visit the Dakota Crags, The Cinema, and Arches National Park
“I think checking out Owl Rock (at Arches National Park) is something that everybody who’s getting into the climbing should try to go do because it gives you the opportunity to feel what it’s like to top out on something and will inspire you to climb more so that you get on multi-pitch towers.”
When: Any time
Where: Arches National Park, La Sal Mountains, River Road (State Route 128)
Cost: Access to land; cost of equipment and guiding varies
Info: To learn about rock climbing rules and regulations in Arches National Park, visit
https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/rockclimbing.htm, and for more information about the climbing areas, visit mountainproject.com.