With over 36,280 routes outdoors, there are plenty of rock climbing locations in California. Even if a climber dedicated their entire life to climbing five routes a day, it would take them nearly 20 years to complete (not including travel time).
California is truly a mecca for climbers who want to experience a range of rock types and route styles. This guide breaks down the climbing available in various regions of California, as described by the Guide of the US.
Redwood Coast features limestone and year long friendly climbing. The weather and direction of the sun angle promotes mostly dry walls throughout the year. About half of the routes here are trad, but there is also plenty of bouldering on the beach.
Northeast CA is made up of the Shasta Cascade. Composed of limestone and rhyolite sport climbing, climbers can enjoy camping and trying a variety of challenging routes. There is also plenty of traditional adventure climbing available.
Lake Tahoe Basin offers granite climbing at high elevations between 6,000’ to 9,000’. This is perfect training for those who are looking to start climbing the highest mountains in the world. Since most of the mountains are covered in snow, climbing is best during the late springs to early fall.
Bay Area Region
The Bay Area is where some of America’s first Big Wall climbing took place. The original dirt bags and today’s newest climbers have fallen in love with the tall routes available in the Bay Area.
Climbs in Mount Diablo State Park, Castle Rock Area, and the Santa Cruz Mountains are popular with locals. However, it’s important to note that it is common to hear tech talk in the crags. Those who want to escape from the world while they climb may not find the same peace they desire.
Yosemite National Park is known throughout the world by those in and outside of the climbing community. The staggering 900 meter and higher walls challenge the best in the world with multi-day, multi pitch climbs.
Climbers often stay at Camp 4 before starting El Capitan, Half Dome, and other popular climbing routes. The camp was developed by the original dirt bags of Yosemite.
The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is so large that it is divided into Eastern Sierra and Western Sierra. Sport, bouldering, and alpine climbing are the pillars of this area. Climbers can enjoy a range of challenges and even natural hot springs after a long day of climbing.
Central Coast Region
Central Coast is located between Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay. The entire area spans over 300 miles from the Santa Monica Mountains to the Monterey Peninsula.
Climbers can expect to encounter sandstone, blue schist, andesite, and conglomerate rock throughout the region. Each type of rock has its own challenges, which allows climbers to exchange their skills.
Throughout the climbing community, it is well known that the Central Coast is far from world class climbing. However, it does produce a wonderful day spent with friends and other climbers who appreciate what this sport can provide.
Los Angeles Basin is mostly for bouldering and sport climbing. However, it does provide climbers with unique challenges.
The soft sandstone walls allow climbers to learn patience. Sandstone can forever be altered if climbers attempt a route less than 48 hours after rainfall. This lesson in patience truly helps every climber embody the idea of “leave no trace”.
Aside from sandstone, climbers can also expect to encounter plenty of volcanic junk. This creates odd features that aren’t available in other crags.
San Diego County provides climbers a wide range of climbing varieties. However, the area is most well known for its granite bouldering routes.
For many climbers, this is a year round climbing destination. The temperate weather creators favorable climbing conditions nearly 365 days a year.
Joshua Tree National Park is another world renowned mecca for climbing. While the area is famous for its boulder, it also has several trad routes available.
Those interested in pursuing classic high ball routes will love Joshua Tree. The highest bouldering routes in the country can be found right here.
Despite the popularity of Joshua Tree, only a few overnight campsites are available. For the thousands of visitors each month, it can be difficult to find a spot to call home for the night.
San Bernardino Mountains is primarily made of granite and offers the same secure holds and footings as Joshua Tree. This area is fairly new in the climbing world, which means there isn’t much traffic or long waits for climbs. For those looking to set up first ascents on bouldering routes, this is one area in California that this can still be achieved.
San Jacinto Mountains is another granite climbing area that creates a wide range of climbing. Climbers will have smooth rock and tear-your-skin-apart rock on the wall.
Many of the mountains are at least 6,000’ with the highest being over 10,000’. This means some of the upper portion on multi-pitch routes are snow covered. Climbers will experience the best climbs between spring and fall.
High Desert is truly for those who want a remote climbing experience. Due to the environment, climbers must be fully prepared to handle extreme heat and cold nights. Climbers must also pack plenty of provisions.
For the most part, sport climbing dominates the High Desert. The routes are widely spread out, which means climbers may not hit as many routes as they would like each day.
Climbing Gyms Throughout The State
Not everyone is prepared to start outdoor climbing or enjoys outdoor routes. It’s important that outdoor climbing is not the only rock climbing option! Climbing indoors is still incredibly fun and satisfying.
Over 110 climbing gyms exist in California. Most of the gyms are clustered in San Jose, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego. These gyms primarily offer top rope, lead climbing, and bouldering.