Shoulder Season


Climbing in St. George

Ahhh, the season’s first dusting of snow! Most ski bums along the Wasatch Front get giddy at the prospect of deep powder. Hold on partner; don’t break out the rock skis just yet. Climbing and flip flop season can be extended by heading south to the Utah desert for autumn’s final weeks. Not feeling the crowds of Moab or tough cracks of Indian Creek? Look to St. George for warm temps for climbing before winter begins.

Situated on the Utah-Arizona border rests this retirement community meets Mormon enclave. What St. G lacks in bars, good food (Painted Pony being the notable exception), and culture, it makes up for in great weather, excellent biking, and some very diverse rock.

Camping can be a bit of a challenge close to the city, but drive 15 minutes in any direction and you’ll find ample places to pitch a tent. I recommend Red Cliffs, a gorgeous recreation area north of town that you’ll pass on the drive from Salt Lake City. Another option is to motel it at one of many cheap dirtbag places, or stay at a swanky hotel with those fancy free breakfast buffets.

I like to crash in town Friday night for convenience’ sake, climbing the areas close to the city Saturday morning. Then I climb further out spots Saturday afternoon, camp, hitting other zones Sunday into Monday. Temps drop significantly at night, so bring your puffy and beanie.

Ok, back to climbing options, the real reason you came here. First, the low hanging fruit super close to town, as in you can still see town, is Chuckawalla Wall. Most of the routes are on the difficult side—think 5.10 and up—due to its vertical to overhanging profile. However, the holds are juggy, big, and since white chalk stands out on red rock, it’s obvious where to grab on. A great spot in a light rain as the rock stays fairly dry and these pumpy routes are on the short side. Run some laps ‘til you wear out or get rained out.

Green Valley Gap is another option within shouting distance of suburbia. The routes here are just as short as Chuckawalla, but have a few easier 5.7s and 5.8s to choose from. Black Canyon is made of basalt rock: a solid choice if it’s been wet and the sandstone areas are still moist. Great toproping, lightning quick approach, and multiple exposures make finding (or chasing) the sun a breeze.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Snow Canyon State Park. Routes up to five pitches, some of the longest this side of Zion, can be found in this technicolor valley. There are plenty of moderates to choose from, or test your mettle on one of the many difficult project sport routes. If it’s good weather and you aren’t concerned about the early setting sun, you can’t go wrong on some of the multi-pitch routes to the top of the Island in the Sky. Classic routes, such as Pygym Alien (5.7) and Roar of the Greasepaint (5.10a) can be found at Snow Canyon. Limited pay camping sites are here if you can get them.

You’re more likely to find beer bottles and truck tires at Cougar Cliffs than a real-life cougar. Putting the urban environment aside, there are some decent routes, such as Petting the Pussycat (5.10b) and Forsaken (5.11a), where you can ponder the irony in some of the names on longer routes than the crags right in town offer.

Roughly a 30-minute drive away is Prophesy Wall. Come here for afternoon climbing since the sun tends to hit it later in the day. There are a fair amount of 5.9s, but most routes are in the 10s and the majority are a single pitch. There’s some dispersed camping in the area, which adds to the allure post-cragging. Don’t miss Sticky Revelations (5.10a)—it’s the most bang for the buck on much easier climbing than the rating suggests over three long pitches. You can climb the lower pitches at a 5.7 or 5.8 grade and bail. Point being, don’t let the 10a grade scare you off.

Even further from civilization is a relatively new area, Woodbury Road Crags, notably different for the limestone rock and proliferation of Joshua trees. Take a roundabout route on the old highway to Vegas through Gunlock or backtrack a bit from Littlefield, Arizona. There are three walls here, each with a dozen or so routes. Great on a cool, autumn day, mostly for the reason of wearing long pants and sleeves. Falls on limestone are cheesegraters; protective clothing helps.

Two other areas that bear mentioning are Crawdad Canyon and Virgin River Gorge. Crawdad is best explained as a climbing amusement park. There is a fee to get in, as it’s private property, with each of the short routes sporting placards with the name and grade. You can’t get lost here! If you’re directionally challenged, Crawdad’s your spot, but call ahead to make sure you can gain

St. George Hot Spots

  • Best Shop

  • Desert Rat
  • 468 W. St George Boulevard, St. George, UT 84770
  • 435-628-7277
  • Best Guidebook

  • Rock Climbs Of Southwest Utah by Todd Goss
  • Use their app to download route info on the drive down.
  • Best Bar

  • Aptly named, The One & Only
  • 64 N. 800 East # 2, St. George, UT 84770
  • 435-673-9191
  • Best Food

  • It’s chain heaven down here. Meh. At least Chili’s stays open ‘til 11:00 p.m.

About Author

Nick Como escaped the skyscrapers of NYC for the tall peaks of the Wasatch. Climber, skier, canyoneer, mountain biker, and lover of food. Just don’t think of offering him pizza with pineapple on it.

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