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Rock Climbing in Arches National Park, Utah

Rock Climbing in Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah: home to over 2,000 arches, hundreds of spires, fins, and balanced rocks. This desert landscape is certainly one of a kind. The park lies over 76,000 acres, and you easily feel how expansive it is as soon as you leave the gate.

Rock climbing in Arches feels ancient and epic as you climb rock that has been shaped by millennia of wind and rain. To read more on the unique geological history of the park, don’t miss the Visitor’s Center near the entrance of the park.

Getting There: From I-70 W

  • From the Interstate, take Exit 182 toward US 191 for South Crescent Junction/Moab.
  • After exiting, turn left onto US 191 and follow this for 27 miles.
  • The entrance to Arches is just North of Moab. Turn left onto Arches Entrance Road. You will see the sign easily from US 191.

From Moab:

  • Get onto US 191 heading North.
  • Follow this until reaching Arches Entrance Road, the park entrance will be on your right.

The park is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. However, the kiosks are not operating 24 hours a day. So, one way you can avoid paying the $30 entrance/parking fee per vehicle is by going into the park before 7:30 AM if you can. This tidbit is not listed on any published information from the park, for obvious reasons.  This is also a great way to avoid waiting in the line at the entrance that begins to form later in the morning.

If you are going to camp in the park, unless you are insanely lucky, you will need to make reservations to camp at one of the campgrounds during the summer months. You can camp in the park only through October, any winter camping will have to be done outside of the park.

Things to Consider When Climbing in Arches:

  • If there are no bathroom facilities in the area, come prepared to pack it out. “Wag Bags” are the best for this. As harsh as the desert can be to us, it is an extremely fragile landscape, and feces takes way longer to break down here than in the mountains and forests. If you are unfamiliar with Leave No Trace principles (desert specific), you can find more information here.
  • Bring way more water than you think you would ever need. You can fill up water jugs for free at Gearheads in Moab, or at the City Market in Grand Junction right off I-70 if you are coming from Colorado.
  • DO NOT CLIMB WET SANDSTONE. Sandstone is a porous rock and becomes very fragile when wet. This is how rock fall and injuries can happen. Sandstone usually takes 24-48 hours to dry completely.

    Cryptobiotic Soil Crust.

  • Learn what Cryptobiotic Soil is, and don’t ever step on it. This stuff is what keeps the desert soil together and allows plant life to continue growing.
  • White chalk is prohibited in Arches National Park. You will be fined if caught with white climbing chalk. The use of use red colored or non-marking chalk is permitted.
  • In the Park Proper, climbing groups are limited to five people.
  • There are raptor closures year-round here. Each closure is listed with timelines HERE, about halfway down the document.
  • As with all National Park land, dogs are allowed in the park, but only on leash. They can also only be on paved walkways, parking lots, and campgrounds.

The Sunshine Wall:

Car camping with a group at the Sunshine Wall.

There is a part of the park that you can access via dirt road, further north of the main park entrance. There are no fees to enter or camp here and is a great spot for group camping. To make this spot even greater, there is a climbing area here called “Sunshine Wall.”

Getting There:

  • From US 191 heading South, look for a dirt road on your left between mile markers 152 and 153, just North of the Canyonlands airport.
  • After a small bridge, turn right and follow the road. After a while, the road becomes less maintained in spots, so a 4WD vehicle is best.
  • Take another right at a T-junction. This is the last turn before reaching the Sunshine wall. There are campsite pull-offs to the left along the base of the slabby wall.
  • There’s a boulder with graffiti of a naked woman near the base of some of the best camp spots, and close to the single-pitch wall. You can start your scramble up to the base of the climbs here. This boulder is near one of the best campsites in the area as well.

The roads can get pretty nasty after rains, but still doable with a 4WD vehicle. This is BLM land that is often used for moving cattle, so be aware of cows on the road. The Sunshine Wall is quite a ways from the highway, and about 45-60 minutes away from town. Make sure you are well prepared before going out there. Bring more water than you expect to need! This area is OUT THERE.

Even when you leave the campsite and scramble up to the slab wall, bring as much water as you can every session, as the approach isn’t one you want to do any more than you have to. Staying hydrated is vital here. It never hurts to learn and be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of dehydration or heat exhaustion.

The Sunshine Wall consists of all single-pitch slab routes. Slab climbing can be different for climbers who are not used to it. Slab climbing involves minimal hand placements and relies on footwork and friction. The routes here are mostly bolted; there are some routes where a crack system appears, and the expectation is to place gear or run these spots out.

So, bring gear up to a #1 Camelot. This wall is a lot of fun, as there are a bunch of moderate routes on this wall.

The Sunshine slab Wall.

A neat wide crack we found on top of Sunshine Wall.

The Sunshine Wall area has a couple of obscure towers. One of them is called “Tezcatlipoca.” This is a 40’ silly looking tower rated at a 5.7 on trad. There is a trailhead up to this area near the base of Sunshine Wall. It is a 2-mile hike to a plateau above the main tier of rock that is the Sunshine Wall.

Above the main tier of rock, you will find some other fun looking towers, and another, steeper cliff face with bolts and climbing anchors. I have never been able to identify or find any information on these upper routes, but they are fun to explore if you are comfortable “adventure climbing.”

Bouldering In Arches National Park:

To be all inclusive, there is an area of boulders with established routes down by the campsites at the Sunshine Wall. These boulders are in a cluster near the road; the boulder with the naked woman on it is to the most South. Bouldering here from camp is super simple; the only gear you’ll need is your climbing shoes and some crash pads. The boulder routes here are also moderate, there is one of each from V0-V3.

There are some boulder clusters with established routes on them in the main park area, but these also don’t get any harder than V3. If you are looking to boulder in Arches, I recommend Double O Arch Boulders. There are 4 boulder problems here from V0-V3.

Double O Arch.

Bouldering here is probably more fun to do if you are already planning on hiking the Devil’s Garden trail to the Double O Arch. The boulders are about 2 miles from the trailhead. They’re gathered in a tight cluster near the trail. It’s very hard to miss them. The landings are flat and decent due to the sand, so depending on your skill you’d be fine without lugging in a crash pad.

Owl Rock:

Owl Rock is a classic in the Park Proper. It is a single pitch tower, very close to the road, and easier than a lot of other summits in the park. The route up the tower follows a crack seem that goes up what looks like a mud pile. The climbing on this tower is unexpected as it feels like a gym route.

Getting There:          

  • Once through the park entrance, drive 9.3 miles and turn right at the Windows turnoff.
  • Drive just over 1 more mile and park in the Garden of Eden lot. Owl rock is just to the Southeast of the lot.
  • There is an obvious approach trail that goes right up a ramp to the base of the West side of the rock, to climb the 5.8 “West Crack.”

The route is fun and unique climbing; the whole route follows this crack, but you barely find yourself crack climbing. Gear placements can be wonky but feel bomber. Bring gear up to a #4 Camalot, and a couple of extra small pieces. There is a 3-bolt anchor just below the summit, belay from here. You will need to bring an extra rope up to the top to make the long rappel.

Once your party is up to this anchor, scramble up to the summit and enjoy the view! There’s a piton on a ledge as you move up, and another one on the summit for some protection on this scramble.

The “West Crack” up Owl Rock.

From the summit of Owl Rock. This tower looks upon a garden of crazy looking bulbous spires and fins, rightfully named the Garden of Eden.

View of Balanced Rock from the Garden of Eden.

The Best Guidebooks For Climbing in Arches National Park:

My favorite guidebook is Eric Bjornstad’s Desert Rock I: Rock Climbs in the National Parks. This book can be tricky to find, but if you can get your hands on this classic copy of the Desert Rock series you will find yourself in the desert more times than not. Bjornstad was one of the original “desert rats” that pioneered rock climbing in the Southwestern desert.

This guidebook has so much information on climbing in this area and what to expect. This information is what makes this guidebook one of the best resources for climbing or camping in these parks.

For a more updated guidebook, I also love Stewart Green’s Rock Climbing Utah guidebook. It is a good resource that covers all climbing areas in Utah. Since each section is limited due to there being so much climbing in Utah, the list of climbs per area usually focuses on just the classics or unique climbs. It has always proven to be a great starting point for finding things, though.

Luckily, we have the internet to continue our research.


Related content:

Rock Climbing in Garden of the Gods (Colorado)

Rock Climbing at Lumpy Ridge – Estes Park Valley (Colorado)

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