A man trying out rock climbing in California

15 Best California Rock Climbing Spots in 2023 (By a Local)

👉 Jump to: Best California Rock Climbing Spots | Tips | Gear | FAQ

California rock climbing definitely qualifies as some of the best in the world. Professionals flock to the granite climbing citadel known as Yosemite National Park from around the globe, but that’s just scratching the surface of all the great rock climbing spots in the state.

In this article, I’m going to cover some of the top destinations in California to rock climb, whether your forte is top rope, traditional (“trad”) climbing, or bouldering. As an avid California climber myself, I know all the secret climbing spots and can’t wait to fill you in on where to go rock climbing in California.

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15 Best California Rock Climbing Spots

Joshua Tree National Park

Choose from thousands of desert climbing routes in Joshua Tree National Park, a true climber’s paradise.

View of a climber at the Double Cross route in Joshua Tree National Park
A climber in the crack on the Double Cross route in Joshua Tree
A climber at the top of of Bird of Fire in Joshua Tree National Park
A sport climber pops out on Bird of Fire

🧗 Grading: 5.4-5.14 | Google Maps | Joshua Tree National Park Website | Guide to Staying in Joshua Tree | Hotels in Joshua Tree | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 2 ½ hours | Cost: $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle

Arguably one of the most famous climbing destinations in California, Joshua Tree National Park offers thousands of climbing routes ranging in difficulty from easy to expert. 

As one of the most popular California national parks, climbing among the Joshua Trees is quite a scenic experience. Joshua Tree grades tend to be harder than the average climbing grade, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t send a route you normally would in your hometown.

Joshua Tree is the ideal climbing spot for all styles of climbers, rappel enthusiasts, and innocent rock-hoppers. There are endless fun Joshua Tree activities, but climbers must put their skills to the test in front of parkgoers in this Southern California desert dreamland.

Point Dume, Malibu

Climb right above the crashing waves of the ocean at this Southern California beach climbing destination.

The author climbing the rock at the Point Dume State Beach
Me, climbing a 5.7 top rope right next to the Pacific Ocean

🧗 Grading: 5.6-5.11c | Google Maps | Point Dume Website | Hotels in Malibu | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 1 hour | Cost: free street parking

Climb right on the Pacific Ocean shore at Point Dume State Beach in Malibu, a highly coveted top rope destination. The huge beachfront slabs at Point Dume are one of the most scenic places to climb in California for a quintessential California beach experience.

As one of the best things to do in Malibu, you certainly don’t want to miss your chance to climb one of SoCal’s most popular routes. Get to Point Dume before the weekend crowds for a chance to scale the igneous rock, as this destination draws many California climbers.

Yosemite National Park

California’s most famous national park summons international climbers and professional locals to show off their skills on the hard-grade Yosemite decimal system.

View of people trying to climb the Midnight Lightning Boulder
Midnight Lightning Boulder, Camp 4
View of people rock climbing in Yosemite National Park
Sport climbing in the national park

🧗 Grading: 5.5-5.13a, V1-V8 | Google Maps | Hotels in Yosemite | Yosemite National Park Website | Drive Time from Fresno: 1 hour | Cost: $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle

Internationally known as a rock climbing mecca for climbers around the world, Yosemite National Park is one of the best places for advanced climbers to venture to. While Yosemite is the place to go for “trad” climbing in California, there are also a few bouldering routes in the park as well.

You really can’t beat the dense forest scenery and alpine crags you’ll be climbing in Yosemite Valley. Besides the top-rated El Capitan and Half Dome routes, Central Pillar of Frenzy, Steck-Salathe, and Sons of Yesterday are routes that are worth checking out.

📚 Related Reading: Yosemite Hiking Guide


One of the coolest forest California climbing areas can be found nestled in the remote San Jacinto Mountains.

View at the top of the Fingertip Traverse
The top of the Finger Tip multi-pitch in Tahquitz

🧗 Grading: 5.4-5.13a | 1.7 miles | Google Maps | Idyllwild Website | Drive Time from San Bernardino: 1 hour, 15 minutes | Cost: free

Suicide Rock and Taquitz Peak shouldn’t be missed on a rock climbing tour in Idyllwild, a San Jacinto Mountain forest sanctuary that’s one of the coolest mountain towns in California. Although the approach to these top climbing routes is longer than other climbing trails, the isolation makes the disappearance worth the physical strain.

These traditional SoCal crags are multi-pitch routes that are really only accessible during the non-winter months due to heavy Idyllwild snowfall. Even during the summer, the Tahquitz rock is known to be on the weaker side, so exercise extra caution when climbing in Idyllwild.

📚 Related Reading: Best Things to Do in Idyllwild

Stoney Point Park

Run into Los Angeles locals on these popular bouldering and trad climbing pitches.

Clear blue sky under the Stoney Point Park
Can you spot the climber?

🧗 Grading: 5.4-5.12, V0-V7 | Google Maps | Website | Guide to Staying in Los Angeles | Drive Time from Downtown Los Angeles: 35 minutes | Cost: free

One of the most popular places to climb in Los Angeles, Stoney Point Park is where you can find all the local LA climbers. Sport climbers will have to look elsewhere for beta because Stoney Point is a great place for bouldering and top rope only.

The notoriously malleable rock easily breaks off, especially after a rare, but not impossible, SoCal rainstorm. For the most successful climbing ascents, attempt Stoney Point climbs at least one week after recent rain and never attempt to boulder without a crash pad.


Choose from many popular climbs in this Eastern Sierra mountain haven.

Clear blue sky over the Bishop rock climbing routes
Climbable rocks can be found all throughout Bishop

🧗 Grading: 5.8-5.12b/c,V0-V9 | Google Maps | Website | Hotels in Bishop | Drive Time from Victorville: 3 hours, 25 minutes | Cost: free

Where to start? Bishop is a climber’s paradise, as the routes in the Eastern Sierra Mountains are more abundant than most other places in California. You’ll find most sport routes along the Owens River Gorge and bouldering routes at the Buttermilk and Happy recreational areas.

Classic Bishop rock climbing routes include the Jedi Mind Tricks and High Plains Drifter bouldering routes as well as the Pratt’s Crack and West Face trad routes. Bishop is a must stop on an ultimate climbing California road trip.

Lake Tahoe

Experience some great climbs in the dense Northern California Sierra Nevada forest of Lake Tahoe.

View at the Tahoe’s Donner Summit
Tahoe’s Donner Summit right off the historic Route 40

🧗 Grading: 5.5-5.12c, V6 | Google Maps | Website | Guide to Staying in Lake Tahoe | Drive Time from Sacramento: 2 hours | Cost: free

The northern Sierra Nevada Mountains house a delicious array of perfect granite crags to choose from. Trad rock climbing is the more popular style of climbing here and one of the all-time top things to do in Lake Tahoe.

Donner Summit, Calaveras Dome, and Lover’s Leap are some popular rock climbing areas in Lake Tahoe. There are a few sport climbing segments but bouldering is the name of the game in the alpine Tahoe area. Boulderers rejoice, as there are appetizing outcroppings around seemingly every corner in Lake Tahoe.

Temple Crag, Sierra Nevada

One of the most scenic outdoor adventures climbers can have is scaling this dominating crag above turquoise alpine lakes.

View of the Temple Crag behind the Second Lake
Temple Crag stands proud behind Second Lake
View of a route at the Temple Crag
More rock climbing and alpinism routes wait just around Temple Crag’s corner

🧗 Grading: 5.7-5.10c | 6 miles | Google Maps | Website | Drive Time from Mammoth Lakes: 1 hour, 25 minutes | Cost: free

Temple Crag is hands-down one of the most scenic places you can rock climb or hike in California. A Switzerland of CA, the huge Temple Crag looms over Big Pine’s turquoise Second Lake. 

Only a few other places in California offer high-altitude approaches. Start your High Sierra climb above 10,000 feet and take your pick between ten different ascent trad routes with a view of spooling California lakes and one of the lower U.S. glaciers.

Mount Woodson, San Diego

Put your bouldering skills to the test at this Southern California beach or try your luck with sport climbing.

View at the Mount Woodson during sunset
The granitic landscape at Mount Woodson during dusk

🧗 Grading: 5.7-5.13a, V0-V7 | Google Maps | Guide to Staying in San Diego | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 2 hours, 40 minutes | Cost: $10 non-resident parking

A San Diego staple, Mount Woodson has hundreds of short bouldering climbs and a few less abundant top rope and trad climbs. You can find experienced climbers on Big Horn, a 5.8+ boulder, or Rockwork Orange, a 5.10a trad climb.

Sweeping canyon views accompany climbers on every route at Mount Woodson, which even offers a split crack or two. Climbing in this hilly valley is one of the top activities to do in San Diego.

Vasquez Rocks

A great place to start climbing in Los Angeles for novice climbers and eager tenderfeet.

View at the Vasquez Rocks during sunset
A few of the Vasquez Rocks during golden hour

🧗 Grading: 5.5-5.9,V0-V3| Google Maps | Website | Drive Time from Downtown Los Angeles: 50 minutes | Cost: free

Climbing in the Los Angeles Basin is one of the best ways to switch up an otherwise metropolitan experience. Climb coarse sandstone in an area where an old outlaw bandit, Tiburcio Vasquez, used to hide out to escape the law.

This rock climbing area is best suited for beginners, as there are many beginner bouldering routes available at the Vasquez Rocks.

Holcomb Valley, Big Bear

Hundreds of forest-covered sport climbing routes are waiting to be discovered in this SoCal mountain town.

A climber at the Powder Keg route
The Powder Keg route
View at the Holcomb Valley approaching the Powder Keg
The view along the climbing approach

🧗 Grading: 5.6-5.12d, V2 | Google Maps | Where to Stay in the Inland Empire | Drive Time from San Bernardino: 1 hour, 40 minutes | Cost: free

Climbing the Holcomb Valley Pinnacles in Big Bear is the ideal spot for climbers who like versatility, as there are 500+ routes here. This forest climbing spot is usually not packed, leaving climbers in peace to perfect their craft.

Beginner boulderers can try the V2 Yoga Traverse while more experienced sport climbers can have wild fun on routes like the 5.10b Fawnskin or the 5.11a Pistol Whipped routes.

New Jack City, Lucerne Valley 

Start climbing early to beat the heat and skip the crowds at this climbing oasis in the high desert.

A climber climbing the Boy Scout Wall
My friend scaling up Boy Scout Wall

🧗 Grading: 5.7-5.13a, V5-V6 | Google Maps | New Jack City Website | Lucerne Valley Hotels | Drive Time from San Bernardino: 1 hour, 25 minutes | Cost: free

Climbing in Southern California’s high desert is the best way to beat the crowds. Also known as Sawtooth Canyon, New Jack City is one of the best rock climbing locations in middle California for sport climbing.

The volcanic rock at New Jack City makes the routes a bit tricky and more apt for intermediate climbers, but with 450+ routes every level of climber can find their ideal pitch. I recommend pitching camp at the first-come, first-serve sites at Sawtooth Canyon Campground to beat the summer heat.

The 5.9 Reaching Rayane and the 5.11c Little Stiffy climbs are must-tries in Lucerne Valley.

Pirates Cove

Who needs climbing gyms when you can climb right on the beach at this Corona Del Mar site?

Blue sky over the Pirates Cove

🧗 Grading: V0-V7 | Google Maps | Website | Orange County Hotels | Drive Time from Downtown Los Angeles: 1 hour | Cost: free street parking

Boulder right on the beach at Pirates Cove, a spot known by locals as “The Beach” and Corona Del Mar. There’s no need for a crash pad in many spots at Pirates Cove, as you’ll land in the soft sand after an unfortunate fall from the sandstone boulder.

Try out popular climbing routes like Iron Man, Shark’s Tooth, Diamond Man Extension, or Paper Boy next time you’re aching for a beachy climbing getaway. Combined with dinner after a long day of climbing, Corona Del Mar can be one of the most romantic destinations in California and one of the best things to do in Orange County.

Mammoth Lakes

Climbers of all expertise can find new favorite routes at this Eastern Sierra fortress.

View of a woman near the Mammoth Lakes

🧗 Grading: 5.5-5.12b, V0-V7 | Google Maps | Website | Top Places to Stay in Mammoth Lakes | Mammoth Lakes Hotels | Drive Time from Downtown Los Angeles: 5 hours | Cost: free

Mammoth Lakes is one of the more scenic places to rock climb in California. Just north of Bishop and the famous Mount Whitney, one of the top hikes in California, Mammoth Lakes offers all kinds of climbing on volcanic tuff and granite routes.

Because Mammoth experiences severe winter storms, this is a summer and fall destination although some more southern boulder areas are accessible year-round. There are tons of things to do in Mammoth Lakes, but popular routes include Boi-oi-oi-ing!, Wages of Skin, and Pull My Finger.

As a mountain tourist destination, Mammoth Lakes experiences a high volume of visitors in the summer months. Make sure to start your approach early to climb without crowds. 

Alabama Hills

Jagged alpine peaks set the stage for climbing at this bouldering paradise site.

Scenic view at the Alabama Hills
A sweeping view of the many climbable rocks at the Alabama Hills

🧗 Grading: 5.5-5.12a | Google Maps | Website | Lone Pine Hotels | Drive Time from Mammoth Lakes: 1 hour, 40 minutes | Cost: free

Also known as the Joshua Tree of the Sierras, the Alabama Hills is one of the most scenic climbing spots in Central California. Desert boulders collide with a high-altitude ecosystem, producing surreal views of cacti backdropped by snow-capped fourteeners while you climb.

Desert granite and quartz monzonite climbs are accessible right from the car, requiring little to no effort on the approach. With over 500 climbs to choose from, it’s easy to get stuck in the Alabama Hills for a few days, good thing there’s free BLM camping in the area.

Classic climbs to go for include the 5.7 sport Shark’s Fin Arete, the 5.9 sport Mon Cherie, and the 5.10c sport route Blockade Runner.

Tips for Rock Climbing in California

Get There Early for First Pick

View at the Point Dume State Park in California

The view when climbing in Malibu’s Point Dume State Park

Popular climbing routes in California tend to fill up fast, especially on the weekends. A good rule of thumb is to get to your climbing destination by 8 am for the first pick on top routes in the area. Also, know what time of year to visit California for the best conditions.

Do Route Research Beforehand

Be sure to check out route conditions before you embark on your climbing adventure. Some weaker rocks like granite can break off mid-climb, lessening the route grade or destroying the route altogether. 

Checking route conditions is especially important after a recent rainstorm, as the rocks may be slippery and weaker.

Don’t Skimp on Sun Protection

Climbing is such an addictive sport, you’re likely to spend all day in the California desert sun scaling giant rock walls. Be sure to bring sunscreen, polarized sunglasses, and a hat to avoid sun stroke or dehydration.

Triple Check Your Gear

The author's gear at the Point Dume State Park
My sprawled-out gear on the beach

Not packing the right gear can totally ruin the climbing trip. Make sure you triple-check that you have the right climbing essentials before your big trip.

It’s also absolutely necessary to triple-check your gear before you start climbing, this includes checking that your carabiners are locked, your knots are secure, and your rope is ready to go.

Go With Experienced Climbers

Go rock climbing with an experienced climber if you’re a novice rock climber yourself. Whether you’re trying out top rope, bouldering, or traditional climbing, going with an experienced climber can save you from making serious mistakes. 

Essential Gear For Rock Climbing in California

Climbing Shoes

Our Pick
La Sportiva TC Pro Climbing Shoes

Advance your climbing skills with these pro-rated climbing shoes without skimping out on comfortability.

When it comes down to it, the right climbing shoes can make all the difference on the wall. Climb like the pros with the La Sportiva TC Pro Climbing Shoes, a shoe that was improved with input from Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold. 

Also available in a Men’s style, the La Sportiva TC Pros are designed so the toes can fit into the thinnest cracks.


Our Pick
Black Diamond Momentum 3S Harness

A versatile harness like this one allows climbers to reach for the hardest, most spread-out holds on the wall.

An essential top rope and traditional climbing piece of equipment, a comfortable harness like the Black Diamond Momentum 3S Harness is a must. Because you’ll be wearing your harness the whole day, a breathable harness makes all the difference.

This flexible harness also allows for complete mobility so climbers can extend every which way to get to the next hold. It also comes in a men’s style.

Climbing Chalk & Bag

Our Pick
Cotopaxi Halcon Chalk Bag

This chalk bag is a Travel Lemming favorite. The added pocket feature allows climbers to bring their phones with them to new heights. 

Climbing chalk is one thing you don’t want to forget while rock climbing, no matter the style. Make sure you stick to the rock by applying generous amounts of Metolius Super Chalk, secured in your Cotopaxi Halcon Chalk Bag.

This unisex chalk bag has an added pocket feature, an essential for storing your phone when climbing outside all day.

Locking Carabiners

Our Pick
Black Diamond HotForge Screwgate Carabiners

Trustee carabiners like these add an extra level of security for climbing the riskiest rock climbing routes.

Unless you’re bouldering, it’s impossible to rock climb without locking carabiners. The locking feature adds security to your extreme sport and ensures your carabiner never slips open unwarranted.

The pack of Black Diamond HotForge Screwgate Carabiners is my go-to option. You really get a bang for your buck with this pack without spending all your money on the little gear. 

Climbing Rope

Our Pick
Black Diamond 9.9mm Non-dry Rope

This versatile climbing rope can be used year-round and its entry-level price makes it a top contender on my list.

Take your climbing skills to the next level with your very own climbing rope. An essential gear item for top rope and traditional climbing, the versatile Black Diamond 9.9mm Non-dry Rope can be used year-round and is an ideal starter rope.

Belay Device

Our Pick
Petzl GRIGRI Belay Device

This GRIGRI belay device is the perfect descent accompaniment, complete with assisted braking and a lightweight ideal for clipping onto your harness. 

A small gear item, belay devices are easy to forget on the rock climbing packing list. Don’t get stuck on the wall without your Petzl GRIGRI Belay Device, one of my go-to climbing gear essentials.

The lightweight feature of this GRIGRI makes it easy to snap onto my harness on the ascent and still be able to move effortlessly on the wall.

Crash Pads

Our Pick
Black Diamond Circuit Crash Pad

This affordable crash pad doesn’t break the bank and comes with premium foam to comfort even the hardest falls. 

Boulderers need minimal gear but definitely don’t want to forget a crash pad. The Black Diamond Circuit Crash Pad is one of the best on the market and is guaranteed to last for years.

This crash pad also has shoulder straps, a hip belt, and two side grab handles for a comfortable carry to the climb.

Climbing Cams

Our Pick
Trango FlexCam Cams

The perfect set of trustworthy cams like these is a must if “trad” climbing. 

When you’re ready to take your top rope skills to the next level, trad climbing is your next stop. This style of climbing requires more gear like the Trango FlexCam Cams, more concentration, and more skill.

These cams come in a handy pack of four, saving you money without compromising function.


Our Pick
Petzl Meteor Climbing Helmet

This lightweight, unisex helmet is perfect for both climbing and mountaineering and offers ideal ventilation.

The unisex Petzl Meteor Climbing Helmet is the perfect helmet to grab in a pinch. It’s handy to keep this Petzl protective gear as a backup in case a climbing partner forgets theirs.

The ventilation feature is handy during a hot California summer or when breaking a sweat up a steep gully when winter mountaineering.

FAQs About Rock Climbing Spots in California 

What is the most difficult rock climb in California?

Yosemite’s El Capitan wall is the most difficult rock climb in California. This famous Yosemite climbing wall is attempted by professional climbers and experts alike.

What is the most famous rock climbing wall in California?

Yosemite has some of the most famous rock climbing walls in California like El Capitan and Half Dome. Joshua Tree National Park is another ideal climbing destination in California.

What should you not do when you rock climb in California?

Don’t attempt a hard route like El Capitan or hard-rated routes in Joshua Tree National Park without an experienced climber if you’re a novice climber.


Thanks for reading my ultimate guide on California rock climbing. For more California outdoor fun, check out our list of the best destinations to visit in California.

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