You know that cliff you’ve driven by countless times, scanning it for features, eyeballing the approach, and wondering if it’s climbable? Other climbers have probably seen it, too. And at some point, someone will bushwhack up and tug on some lichen-covered holds. That’s how development starts. Climbers pull out brushes and drills, scrub handholds, and put up a handful of routes. Then a handful more get developed, and soon approach trails begin to form. Before you know it, a new crag or boulderfield is born.
From backcountry walls to roadside boulders, climbing’s heroes tirelessly mine for new routes, building the latest crags across the country. We talked to developers, guidebook authors, and locals to determine the best areas in the U.S. that have taken shape in the past several years; there, you can expect unconfirmed grades, scrappy approaches, and, best of all, hardly any crowds. Here’s the lowdown.
Staunton State Park, Denver, Colorado
Formerly off-limits granite soon to be wide open
Denverites live the good life. Even with nearly 10,000 established routes within a couple of hours of the city, there’s still virgin rock. In 2010, Colorado State Parks announced a master plan for a new park an hour’s drive from downtown Denver, bringing together almost 4,000 acres of formerly-private ranch land that’s littered with a halfdozen granite domes and slabs. You’ll find everything from single-pitch climbs to 600-foot-tall routes. Before the park’s public opening, slated for spring 2013, officials granted access to a small group of local climbers to establish dozens of sport, trad, and mixed routes typical of Colorado’s South Platte area, which lies just to the south of Staunton. Diverse climbing on granite cracks, slabs, chickenheads, jugs, and flakes will lift you out of thin pine forests and yield views of high plains all the way to Colorado Springs’ prominent 14er, Pikes Peak.
Eight crags in the main area, Staunton Rocks, have produced more than 60 lines from 5.3 to 5.12c, with the majority at 5.10 and under. More potential exists throughout the park—route developer and South Platte guidebook author Jason Haas estimates there’s potential for around 100 more new routes, including on the 600-foot southeast face of Lion’s Head, a cliff a mile southwest of Staunton Rocks.
- Locals’ favorites: Hey Ranger! (5.5), Maybe the Marmot Ate Your Baby (5.5), Reef On It (5.10-), Valkyrie (5.11), Welcome to Staunton (5.12)
- Get there: Staunton State Park is just north of Pine Junction, Colorado, 40 miles from downtown Denver off U.S. 285; day fee is $8. The approach to the main climbing area, Staunton Rocks, is an easy walk about two miles along a narrow dirt road to the base of the cliff. The park will initially be open as a day-use only park.
- Stay there: Campgrounds will be built in later phases of the park’s development; check parks.state.co.us/parks/staunton or call 303-816-0912 for updates. Camping is available in the South Platte; fs.usda.gov/activity/psicc/recreation/campingcabins.
- Season: Year-round; south-facing routes will be hot in the summer, but climbable on sunny winter days.
- More beta: A free PDF guidebook is available at fixedpin.com.
East and West Shore Bouldering, Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California
Stock up on chalk for the area’s 1,400 new problems
Bishop may have to surrender its reign as California’s premier bouldering destination: The Zephyr Boulders, on Lake Tahoe’s east shore in Nevada, have seen a flurry of development in the last four years, resulting in more than 300 new problems, with potential for probably 200 more. Tahoe local Jay Sell had eyed this area for about 20 years before finally investigating in 2008. Mostly moderate in grade, the problems climb arêtes and pillars, with lots of crimps and compression moves. The biggest group of boulders, called Mecca, has about 80 problems, delivering problems for every skill level. Multiple sun exposures keep the boulders warm in the winter, and the crisp zephyr winds in the summer keep the temperatures about 10 to 12 degrees cooler than down in town, about 10 minutes away. Sells says you can climb in every month with good weather.
Across the shore in California lay the Sugar Pine boulders, which host a staggering 1,100 problems, also established in the last several years. While Sell was exploring the Zephyr Boulders, another Tahoe climber, Dave Hatchett, began developing problems along General Creek, finding more clean granite, but with seams, cracks, and diorite knobs. Hatchett, who’s currently producing a guidebook to the entire area, believes there’s potential for at least 500 more boulder problems.
- Locals’ favorites: Zephyr Boulders: Dawn Special (V2), Taj (V5), Line Brain (V6), Kung Fu Panda (V10/11). Sugar Pine: Showtime (V4), High Priority (V8), Event Horizon (V6), Shampoo Squeeze Sit (V9)
- Get there: Mecca is just north of Zephyr Cove, Nevada, reached by hiking north and east from a fire road across U.S. 50 from Tahoe Drive. The fire road is 5.3 miles north of the California-Nevada border on U.S. 50. Hike 35 minutes trending north and west uphill to a saddle, where a trail forks; take the left fork to Mecca. Access the Sugar Pine Boulders via the General Creek Trail in Sugar Pine Point State Park, 20 miles north of South Lake Tahoe on CA 89.
- Stay there: There are numerous campgrounds along the shores of Lake Tahoe, but some close for the winter season. Nevada Beach Campground is closest to the Zephyr Boulders; for Sugar Pine, stay at Sugar Pine Point State Park. Find these and more at reserveamerica.com.
- Season: Spring through fall, although sunny winter days can offer good conditions. At Sugar Pine, the snow doesn’t usually melt until early June.
- More beta: Bouldering Lake Tahoe, by Dave Hatchett, will be published in spring 2013 (laketahoebouldering.com). Until then, visit Tahoe Sports Ltd. in South Lake Tahoe for beta; tahoesportsltd.com, 530-542-4000.
Land’s End Crags, Grand Mesa, Grand Junction, Colorado
Try out dozens of brand-new routes in western Colorado
The Grand Mesa is a 500-square-mile mesa rising behind Grand Junction, capped by bands of volcanic basalt, the majority of which is crumbly and unclimbable. Climbers have searched for decent rock along the cliffs, but no one found anything until summer 2012, when local Alex Garhart discovered the goods along the western edge of the mesa. He and friends put up 36 routes over the summer and fall; the routes, ranging from 5.8 to 5.12, are about 35 to 60 feet tall on blocky, wavy basalt that Garhart describes as “shockingly bomber.”
The three crags in the Land’s End area—the Land’s End Wall, Beyond Civilization Wall, and Misspent Youth Wall—lay at 10,000 feet, staying cool in the summer. “There’s everything—mellow hand cracks, offwidth, steep delicate sport, and roof cracks,” Garhart says. “The sport and mixed routes have some slab and crimps, but typically you find yourself making big moves between good holds.” On any given climb, turn around for wide-open views of the valley below and Grand Junction.
- Locals’ favorites: Rapa Nui (5.8), Topographic Reversal (5.10), New Vision (5.10+), Another Story (5.11), Death Metal Camel (5.11), Soul Reaver (5.12-)
- Get there: From Grand Junction, drive south 14.5 miles on U.S. 50 and turn east on Kannah Creek Road/Land’s End Road. Follow the signs approximately 20 miles to the Land’s End Observatory. Approaches to each crag vary, but all are under 15 minutes.
- Stay there: Jumbo Campground is open from May to late September, and is 15 miles east on CO 65. Fees range from $18–$22 and include water and toilets; recreation.gov.
- Season: Late spring through early fall.
- More beta: mountainproject.com
Grayson Highlands State Park, Damascus, Virginia
One climber’s vision opened hundreds of previously unscaled boulders
When boulderer Aaron Parlier moved from North Carolina to southwest Virginia in 2009 for college, he saw a void: There were no climbing gyms in the area, and not much of a climbing community. So he began to explore, clean, and develop boulder problems at Grayson Highlands State Park, a 4,800- acre area near Damascus, and meticulously listed all of them on mountainproject.com. “Up until maybe three years ago, I never saw another crash pad,” he says. “At the 300th boulder problem I posted on Mountain Project, I saw another climber, and from then on, it has grown steadily by word of mouth, photos, and a few videos.” Parlier, who began climbing during a four-year stint in the Army, estimates he has about 400 first ascents of the park’s more than 700 problems scattered throughout the hills. Problems range from Veasy to V10 on rhyolite to metamorphic sandstone, with the majority between V1 and V6, and the climbing style is similar to that of Hound Ears near Boone, North Carolina: steep, powerful and crimpy.
The climate in southwest Virginia is fairly mild year-round, and GHSP sits at around 5,000 feet, ensuring send-friendly temperatures even in the summer. Weaving his way though the hardwood forests and mountain creeks, Parlier is now an official climbing ambassador for the park.
“I would recommend going to Grayson even if you don’t climb,” Parlier says. “It’s breathtaking. The Appalachian Trail meanders through the Highlands Area with endless views [and] exposed boulders.”
- Locals’ favorites: Highland Highball (V2), Bad Moon Rising (V4), Front Man (V5), Horizon Line (V6), Pastafarian (V9)
- Get there: Grayson Highlands is 30 miles east of Damascus on U.S. 58. Main bouldering areas are off the Listening Rock Loop Trail; the Boneyard area, which is located a mile west outside the park entrance; and the Highlands, the most well known area in the park. Parking fee is $2–$3.
- Stay there: Camping inside the park is $15–$20 per night; amenities include picnic tables, water, and bathhouses; dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks, 800-933-7275.
- Season: Spring through fall; high altitude keeps it cool in the summer. The park is closed December through March.
- More beta: mountainproject.com; Parlier and Dan Brayack will publish a guidebook to the area in winter 2012/spring 2013; brayackmedia.com.
Devil’s Lake Bouldering Madison, Wisconsin
Bouldering finds roots at famed Devil’s Lake
New climbing at Devil’s Lake, the Midwest’s most famous/popular/sandbagged climbing area? No one believed it could happen until 2009. This regional hotspot has challenged climbers since the early 1900s with its stout traditional routes. Local developer Steve Schultz says everyone thought its potential for new routing was tapped out. “In the mid- 2000s, I had someone tell me that the chances of finding a truly new boulder problem, let alone an entire boulder, are so slim it doesn’t warrant thinking about,” he says. But in 2009, Schultz and a small group of climbers started exploring the park beyond the established cliffs, cleaning boulders and posting their findings on Mountain Project—adding 300 to 350 new problems throughout the area.
Most problems hover around V0 to V5, with a few dozen in the V6 to V11 range. The climbing features slabs, cracks, highballs, and arêtes—basically everything but friction: “The rock itself is absolutely bulletproof quartzite, but extremely slick,” Schultz says. “It’s got a lot of features similar to granite, but with none of the texture.” The boulders are spread throughout the park, many not far from established trails.
- Locals’ favorites: Big Bud Arête (V2), Slope of Dadaism (V3), The Little Flatiron (V4 and the only problem John Gill ever chipped); Jenga (V6), Tunder Tighs (V7)
- Get there: Devil’s Lake State Park is an hour north of Madison. The highest concentrations of problems are along the East Bluff and West Bluff, the two main climbing areas at Devil’s Lake. Mountainproject.com has detailed information for each sector.
- Stay there: There are three campgrounds in the park: Quartzite, Northern Lights, and Ice Age campgrounds. Sites fill up months in advance, and you can reserve up to 11 months ahead of time; $15–$17, reserveamerica.com, 888-947-2757.
- Season: Spring through fall
- More beta: Find information on the main bouldering areas, plus topo maps, on mountainproject.com.
Black Arches Wall, Crane Mountain Adirondacks, New York
Plug gear at the newest crag in the ’Dacks
The Adirondacks’ Crane Mountain holds more than 200 routes scattered among more than a dozen crags, all less than two miles from the trailhead. The Black Arches Wall is the biggest and newest—when the first edition of Adirondack Rock was published in 2008, there were only two routes there. Now there are more than 30 lines on the gneiss cliffs, up to 140 feet in length, mostly trad with a few bolts. (Bring a full rack—there’s no true sport climbing here.) Routes feature a combination of crack and face climbing on featured, slightly-less-than-vertical rock, with a few tiered roofs. The Black Arches cliff is divided into two main sections—the Amphitheater and the Main Face—and is the last crag you’ll encounter on the climbers’ trail; along the way you’ll pass by several other areas, like the TeePee Wall, Land of Overhangs, and Long Play Wall. “I generally don’t go to one crag all day long,” local developer Jay Harrison says. “I bop from one to the other as the temperature and light permits.”
Crane Mountain is farther off the beaten path than other Adirondacks spots; Harrison says the cliffs don’t look that impressive from afar, but upon closer inspection, they revealed huge potential for single-pitch routes. “The predominant character in route development first arrived in 1990, but he was a hard-nosed, ground-up, anti-bolting idiot—that being me,” he says. This kept the cliffs from seeing much traffic through the mid-2000s. But in 2007, a younger, visionary climber, Jamie McNeill of Burlington, Vermont, convinced Harrison to take a second look, and the duo has established more than 150 routes at the Black Arches and surrounding cliffs since then.
- Locals’ Favorites: Full Recovery (5.6), Sleepy Hollow (5.8), Critical Crimps (5.10a), Black Arch Arête (5.10b), Plumb Line (5.11a)
- Get there: Crane Mountain is closest to Johnsburg, New York. Three trails leave the Crane Mountain parking area at the end of Sky High Road; the unsigned climbers’ trail heads east out of the parking lot, winds around Crane Mountain, and gains about 400 vertical feet to the base of the Black Arches Wall. Expect a strenous, 40-minute approach.
- Stay there: Free, non-designated camping is allowed on all forest preserve land as long as it’s 150 feet from trails, roads, and water; there are also scattered designated sites labeled with a yellow “Camp Here” disc. Camping for more than three days requires a permit; dec.ny.gov, 518-623-1200. Find more camping options, including maps and prices, at visitadirondacks.com.
- Season: Spring through fall—early August through mid-October has the best conditions. Warning: bugs and humidity spike in May and early August.
- More beta: adirondackrock.com/newroutes.htm; mountainproject.com.