New York City doesn’t have a lot of outdoor climbing available, and what it does have is… small. Don’t expect to find great top roping in Queens.
What Makes It Great
There are two well-established boulders in Central Park. The first one, the ‘Rat’ is located near the first playground you’ll run into as you enter the park off of Columbus Circle. Behind the playground and in front of the Heckscher Ballfields is a massive section of rock in the ground. Follow it about halfway around and look for chalk on the wall, or bouldering pads on the ground, and climbers scampering around the rock.
The Rat is the easier of the two in some ways—softer ground to fall own, for one thing, though bouldering pads are highly recommended, and a fairly short but tough route to the top. It’s this rock that is suggested for beginners because it’s in plain sight, there are often other people to climb with, and if you fall, you can tuck and roll onto the soft grass below.
Other options include some traversing, great if you’re just stopping in for a quick climb on a run or ride circuit, and there are hundreds of routes on the rock itself. The main route is the one to the top, the 5.11 Direct, which is ranked as a V4. The slight mantle overhang may prove challenging, but it’s a great rock to practice on, and if you’re there enough, you’ll run into fellow climbers who can provide great beta on the routes.
If you’re done with the Rat climb, head over to the ice skating rink. Face Columbus Circle with the rink in front of you, and then turn 180 degrees. You’ll see a big rock surrounded by dense foliage, but on closer inspection, you’ll see a few small trails snaking up towards the rock face. Follow them, and you’re there. The rock is only about 15 feet high, but you’ll definitely want a bouldering pad here, since the ground is rough and often glass-covered. There are seven routes to the top, ranked from V0+ up to a V8, and all go straight from the bottom up.
There are several other bouldering sites in the park including the Ramble, Worthless Boulder, and a set of rocks practically designed for boulder practice at the north end of the park.
When you finish bouldering, head to one of the vendors for a well-deserved hot dog or ice cream, or hang out with some of the other climbers using the rocks—every time I’ve climbed there, I’ve met friendly people willing to offer advice on routes, and even some who’ve helpfully (or not so helpfully) shouted out tips while I climbed.
Who is Going to Love It
If you are an avid climber and need more practice than the occasional trip to northern New York State to visit The Gunks, get your climbing fix right in Central Park, where two well-established bouldering routes are often populated by a climber or two. Rat Rock is the best for beginners.