Professional and Talented Rock Climber Genevive Walker talks about her experience at the City of Rocks and Castle Rocks in Southern Idaho.
Home to more than 1000 climbing routes, City of Rocks, ID is a world-class climbing destination with awe-inspiring granite domes that rise above the valley floor. The sometimes otherworldly featured rocks have been developed into amazing sport and traditional climbs. As well as fun bouldering scattered below the rock walls. Don’t worry if climbing is not your thing! There’s plenty of rich history to explore throughout the National Reserve along with beautifully designated camping areas tucked between many of the rock structures that provide ample space to spread out and to enjoy the scenery.
The Shoshone and Bannock tribes lived in the current day City of Rocks before white immigrants seeking gold in California began passing through in the mid-1800s on the California Trail. You can still find old engraved signatures from the ones who made the trek on rocks throughout the reserve. With so much history and adventure to explore, City of Rocks is a place for everyone.
Rock Climbing Routes
As an avid rock climber, the world-class routes are what brought me to the Reserve in the first place. Mostly known for its classic trad routes, City of Rocks also provides a plethora of quality sport climbs as well. “Bloody Fingers” is the classic 5.10a 100ft crack climb that has everything from a bouldery start to a thin finger crack to the chains. This is a must-do when visiting the City.
If you’re feeling a little bold or want to try something more overhung, “Interceptor” is a deceptively steep crack that goes from small fingers to #4s as you pull the lip. The overhang might look short but packs a punch with every move. When it comes to clipping bolts, there’s a unique crag called “The Dungeon” that’s full of steep sport routes. “Ball and Chain” is a fun 5.11c with beautiful granite scoops and huecos throughout that keep your blood pumping. Whether you come to City of Rocks to plug gear or clip bolts, there’s something fun and challenging for everyone.
Castle Rocks Climbing/Hiking
Castle Rocks State Park is right next door and hosts an abundance of sport and trad lines. The approaches are longer than what you’d find at City of Rocks but the routes are worthwhile. On a much-needed rest day from climbing, I hiked around the beautiful and unique rock spires of the park. Hidden amongst the large monoliths of rock, there are pictographs that the indigenous people used to preserve their history that date back to 900AD. It’s fascinating to see the remnants of the people that interacted with the land thousands of years ago. That alone was worth the hike.
City of Rocks
Whether you decide to stay in a tent, car camp, or find accommodations with four walls, City of Rocks has many options to choose from. The campgrounds nestled inside the reserve make it easy to stay anywhere from a single night to a couple of weeks, and with so many sites to choose from, there’s always a crag nearby. If you prefer a more comfortable sleeping situation, the Almo Inn, which is conveniently located a few minutes out of the park, offers unique rooms with a rustic theme. I had the chance to stay there on my last visit and felt right at home in their comfortable rooms.
It’s easy to pass through the town of Almo without even noticing it if you happen to blink at the right time. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for a few gems worth checking out while visiting the area. Tracy’s General Store has everything you need from homemade breakfast burritos and ice cream to the climbing guidebook. There’s a small grocery section that provides both refrigerated and dry goods. In case you need to mail something out, the local post office is located in the back of the store. If you’re in the mood for something other than snacks or dessert, the cafeteria of the old schoolhouse across the street serves lunch and has a pretty good salad bar.
After a long day of climbing, stop into Rock City for some great tasting pizza and beer. With a variety of ingredients and an extensive selection of craft beer, this place knows how to leave a good impression. Although there are some options for dining, I recommend coming to City of Rocks prepared with the food for your trip since the closest grocery store is an hour away.
How-To get to the City of Rocks
City of Rocks might feel like your far from the real world, but it’s only a few hours drive from several major cities. If you decide to fly, the closest airport is only two hours away in Salt Lake City or three hours from Boise. This makes travel not only convenient but inexpensive, especially when you want to visit for a holiday or long weekend. I can usually find deals on flights into Salt Lake City which makes a quick last minute trip even more doable. *Twin Falls, Idaho also has a small airport that has direct flights to Salt Lake City, this would be the closest location to the City of rocks.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how Idaho would compare to the other climbing areas I’ve visited around the world, but the unique beauty that City of Rocks offers is unlike any other. Experiencing the history amongst the rocks, through the pictographs and signatures, and the quality of the climbing routes sets this place apart and will keep bringing me back for more. With every visit, I seem to leave with a bigger list of routes to tick off on my next trip. It’s hard to believe I could ever get bored of this place. With so much climbing to explore, City of Rocks is a climbing destination worth adding to your bucket list.