Seattle is lucky to have several quality climbing gyms that offer a fun, convenient means to stay in shape year-round. But now that it’s so nice out, who really wants to train on plastic when you could get outdoors?
Plus, the solstice just around the corner means long summer days that provide enough hours of sunlight to bolt out of town in order to get in a session on real rock, even after the end of a day at work. From bouldering to sport climbing to trad, here are some of the most accessible spots for outdoor climbing near Seattle.
The one possible downside? Seattle's notorious rush-hour traffic, of course. If the roads are clear, each of these locations is only about 30 to 40 minutes away (plus a 10 to 30 minute approach hike). But to maximize your time climbing rather than sitting in an I-90 or I-5 standstill, try to head out there on a day when you can get out of the office an hour or two early.
1. Exit 38
Named after the exit off I-90 that you take to get there, Exit 38 is one of the most popular crags in western Washington. With its proximity to Seattle, killer views, and huge selection of beginner-to- advanced sport climbs, it’s not hard to see why. Of the three main areas at Exit 38 (Far Side, Deception Crags, and Mt. Washington), Deception Crags is the best guarantee for a good late afternoon weekday session, in part because the approach from the parking lot is the most straightforward (who wants to waste time getting lost in the woods when there’s climbing to do?). There are several walls at Deception Crags: We Did Rock offers the most beginner routes (5.5-5.9), Deception Wall has a good selection of intermediate climbs (5.10-5.11), and Nevermind has several advanced ones (5.11-5.12).
2. Little Si (or Exit 32)
For more experienced sport climbers looking for their next big project or a place to train to get strong, Little Si (also commonly referred to as Exit 32, again for the exit off I-90 you take to get there) will provide everything you need in order to go home feeling truly pumped. The routes are long and overhanging, showcasing pretty much every kind of hold you could wish for. The climbs range in difficulty from 5.8 to 5.14c, but the area will be much more fun for those who can climb at least 5.10 or 5.11. These crags of slick, igneous rock are also home to Washington’s highest concentration of 5.13 and 5.14 sport climbs.
3. Gold Bar
If you prefer stacking pads to clipping bolts, Gold Bar provides easy access to fun problems on excellent granite. The boulders are grouped into several areas; the biggest one is The Clearcut, which has the best views in the area and offers a spread of problems from V0 to V10. But if you are looking for a reprieve from the summer sun, head to the Forest and The Sanctuary. With several problems in the V0 to V3 range, The Sanctuary is also a great spot for beginners.
Just a bit past Gold Bar on Highway 2, Index is ideal for the trad climber who likes to play on granite. The "Lower Town Wall" area is a mere five- to ten-minute walk from the parking lot, and boasts a whole host of classic lines on fine-grained, bullet-hard rock. If you can climb efficiently and know which routes you want to tackle, it is entirely possible to head to Index after work and still get in several pitches before sunset.
Be forewarned, however, that the grades are notoriously stout, and you will get much more out of Index if you can climb at least 5.10 or 5.11. A good circuit might be to warm up on Godzilla or Princely Ambitions (5.9), then head to Tatoosh (5.10b) and Thin Fingers (5.11a), then Japanese Gardens (5.11+) and Stern Farmer (5.12b).