Not much beats breaking a sweat in the great outdoors after a hard day at work. Climbing, in particular, is an excellent stress-buster, as there’s no room for anything but focus as you run through your checklist and plan your moves: Knots correct? Draws clipped in the right direction? Harness rigged correctly? Is your top rope setup solid? Is your partner paying as close attention as you are?
The drawback: Climbing many of Utah’s best routes is just enough of an undertaking to be tough to cram in on a normal workday. But the good news is there are several tried-and-true climbing areas so close to town that they aren't much more difficult to arrange than a trip to the gym. Most of these routes aren’t exactly little-known, which makes them ideal to squeeze in at odd hours (early-morning climb, anyone?). Whenever you go, however, trust us that they’re worth the effort.
As always, keep safety a priority: Bring your guidebook for detailed route info, bring proper gear (and get to a class if you don’t know what’s proper), and choose a partner who gets it. With that, check out these go-to spots for climbing in Salt Lake City the next time you have a couple of hours and some extra energy to burn.
Mouth of Parley’s: Iron Curtain and Riptide Wall
The Iron Curtain area boasts absurdly close proximity to town—it’s a five-minute walk from the north end of Wasatch Boulevard—that offers the highly convenient yet somewhat odd and unnerving experience of climbing almost directly above the I-80 freeway.
But the terrain makes up for the din of trucks roaring below (which are a great opportunity to practice your ability to tune out). These two adjacent north-facing walls stay shaded pretty much all day, the routes are interesting and varied, and most things are well bolted or top rope-able. To get there, park at the northern end of Wasatch Boulevard, start hiking up the Grandeur trailhead, and veer to the left after five minutes, just before you reach the cell tower station. Within a few moments, you’ll arrive at the top of the Iron Curtain wall and you can assess your options from there. Keep walking eastward on the trail to shimmy down to the bottom of the cliff, or rappel off one of the obvious sets of chains. (At least one rappel option is long enough to require a double-rope, so either bring two ropes or hike down.)
Once safely at the base of the wall, you have a total of about 20 routes to choose from, ranging from interesting 5.8s to a mind-bending 5.11d unsurprisingly named Astroprojection.
Don’t fall prey to the temptation to try hiking back “the short way” to the right. To avoid angst and rattlesnake encounters in the grass, send a partner up the wall and have them belay you from the top so you can both hike down from there.
Mouth of Big Cottonwood: Dogwood Crag
Poor Dogwood Crag sometimes gets a bad rap for being slightly greasy and having shared itself with so many other people. But if you’ve ever excused these qualities in a significant other, you should overlook them in Dogwood, too.
This delightfully convenient wall is located one mile up Big Cottonwood Canyon. Many a first-timer has stepped onto their first top rope here, but that isn’t the wall’s fault, and it’s no reason to eschew it. Granted, it fills up on a Saturday afternoon, but that’s what you get for not going out early.
You’ll find routes ranging from easy-peasy 5.6 to a couple of very challenging 5.11s and one 5.13. Nearly everything is top rope-able, although you may want to bring a few slings if you want to make use of a tree anchor.
In addition to being easy to access, Dogwood rises from the Big Cottonwood stream, which is a positive delight to stand in after you peel off your climbing shoes. This wall also scores big points for its proximity to Lone Star Taquería, a prestigious honor.
Between Big and Little: Ferguson Canyon
Perched near the mouth of Big Cottonwood, Ferguson requires a short jaunt through the neighborhood above Wasatch and a brisk 15-minute hike to the start of the climbing walls. This little side canyon boasts an impressive array of dozens of climbs, both bolted and trad, top-rope-able and lead-only. The rock is granite but its formation is somewhat more juggy than Little cottonwood and more smeary than Big.
To access Ferguson, park on Timberline Drive in the clearly marked parking area.Hike up the obvious dirt road past the water tank and onward for another 10 minutes until you arrive at a perfect grotto of rock walls on all sides. You have arrived: Watchtower Wall awaits on your immediate right, with Cathedral, Goldenfingers, and more above you.
Routes range from easy to absurdly hard and everything in between; you may try a 5.7 trad route and then jump on to something seemingly impossible next. Some routes are top rope-able, and others must be earned.
This entire canyon is cooled by the stream running down its center, and its rocky grottos stay shaded all day. It’s the perfect getaway when temps are warm, and cold beers await at the Porcupine Grill immediately afterward.