Outdoor Adventure

Rock Climbing in Arizona

Featuring traditional and sport climbs statewide, Arizona is a legit destination for elite rock climbers. The state’s diverse typography and climate also make rock climbing a fun and safe activity year-round for adventurers new to the sport.

The state features some 10,000 named climbing routes, from physical sport climbs that follow pre-bolted routes that power up rock faces to traditional climbs that require mindful progression to reach the top. We talked to local climbing pros to get their advice for adventurers eager to visit Arizona’s astonishing climbing destinations.

Meet Our Experts

Mac McCaleb

“I often explain the Comfort Zone/Growth Zone/Freakout Zone concept to new climbers,” McCaleb explains. “We don’t improve in either the comfort zone or freakout zone, only in between those two. That’s why I encourage new climbers to go at a pace that works for them—it’s the best way to grow in the sport by overcoming innate fears and finding the flow state, that meditative quality achieved in other sports such as running, cycling and rowing.”

Granite Mountain Guides owner Mac McCaleb has been climbing for more than 15 years, and since 2016, he’s been leading climbs throughout the state, including at Prescott’s Granite Dells, an otherworldly landscape of slabs and boulders overlooking Watson Lake. Other popular outings feature crack climbing in the McDowell Mountains in the Phoenix area and reaching the pinnacles of Mount Lemmon in Southern Arizona. McCaleb is certified through the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA).

Rock Climbing in Arizona
Photo courtesy of Granite Mountain Guides

Lauren Lichtenberger

“I take my kids out climbing with me,” Lichtenberger says. “I just had baby #4 and can’t wait to bring him along, too! It’s powerful to provide your kids with opportunities to show what they can do and overcome their own fears, promoting strong character and building resiliency to deal with challenges they will face later in life.”

Lauren Lichtenberger and her husband Caleb opened Stoneman Climbing Company in Phoenix in 2013. An avid climber since 2005, Lichtenberger climbs nationwide and leads guided excursions throughout Arizona. She counts Hanging Gardens in the McDowell Mountains as her favorite local climb, and the granite sport climbs in the Santa Catalina Mountains and traditional crack climbs at Cochise Stronghold among her favorite routes in the state. Lichtenberger is certified through the Professional Climbing Guides Institute (PCGI).

Rock Climbing in Arizona
Photo by Tim Chow

Joel Unema

“Flagstaff offers a style of climbing called roof bouldering. It is not located on a hilltop or rooftop, rather underneath overhangs formed in the Kaibab Limestone. These overhangs are called roofs by climbers who grip holds on the underside of rock formations. The handholds allow climbing at wildly steep angles, something you don’t find in many other places.”

Joel Unema is an all-around climber based in Flagstaff who has climbed national and international destinations for 15 years. He has devoted his time in Northern Arizona to exploring and establishing new routes on multiple surfaces, including white limestone roof boulders in Flagstaff and sandstone walls in Sedona. He is a certified Performance Climbing Coach for Climb Strong and an ambassador for Mad Rock Climbing.

Rock Climbing in Arizona
Phot by Carrie Albrecht

Where to Climb: Our Experts’ Recommendations

Favorite Arizona climb that leads to epic views?

Lauren: Peacemaker reaches the summit of Sheepshead Dome in Cochise Stronghold, providing gorgeous 360-degree views. It is a tall multi-pitch with fantastic climbing movements.
Joel: I have established several climbs that ascend the faces of Wilson Mountain near Sedona. The views of the Mogollon Rim and Sedona are stunning.

Great area for beginners to climb?

Mac: Climbers in each region of Arizona are crushing it! Flagstaff-based climbing guide Lor Sabourin put up some very demanding routes in Sedona. Several groups in Tucson are putting up technical routes in Mount Lemmon and adventure routes in Cochise Stronghold.
Lauren: One aspect that makes climbs challenging is the climbing protection, or “pro,” that is already in place on a route. Abracadaver in Southern Arizona is one of the more challenging climbs in the Cochise Stronghold area because the pro is spaced far apart.
Joel: Surviving the Times, a 200-foot route up the basalt columns of Volunteer Canyon just west of Flagstaff, presents difficulties from the physical strain of small hand and foot holds to the technical demands of placing sparse protection, plus the mental game of staying calm through a long ascent.

Great area for beginners to climb?

Mac: The Granite Dells in Prescott are easily accessible. Pavilion Wall is a great intro to the sport.
Lauren: Zappa Dome, Waterfall Dome, Lebowski Wall and Vineyard Cove in Cochise Stronghold are great for novice climbers, climbers who have been in the climbing gym but never outside, and climbers who have climbed all over Arizona and want some variety.
Jacks Canyon near Winslow and West Elden on Mount Elden near Flagstaff are some of the best areas in Northern Arizona for beginners to try rock climbing. Best of all, they are in beautiful settings unique to Arizona.

Best hidden gem climbs?

Mac: From the northern part of the state to the southern: Chieu Hoi or The Classic on Granite Mountain in Prescott, The Totem Pole at Lower Devils Canyon east of Phoenix, Void of Form on Mount Lemmon and What’s My Line in Cochise Stronghold.
Joel: Homestead, east of Phoenix near Globe, offers gymnastic climbing on limestone tuff features, which are most often found in Spain, Italy and France. The Homestead offers a little taste of European climbing in the Arizona desert.

Favorite post-climb hangouts?

Mac: The best places in Prescott to hang out post-climb are Park Plaza Liquor & Deli and The Raven Café. If you need some new gear after a day out in Prescott, stop by The Hike Shack.
Lauren: Cochise is remote, so one of the best post-climb hangouts is around the campfire sharing beers and stories of the epic day. The best coffee in the area is at Talking Irons Coffee Saloon in Pearce, and a great new brewery at Tirrito Farm in Willcox has excellent craft beer and the best homemade ice cream I’ve had.
Joel: Climbers love pizza. Alpine Pizza is the classic Flagstaff spot where climbers have gathered for decades. Mother Road Brewing Co. and Pizzicletta have become new favorites for the climbing scene in recent years.

What sets Arizona apart as a climbing destination?

Mac: From granite and volcanic tuff to limestone and sandstone, each rock type in Arizona requires different movement skills. It is great to have access to this variety within a three-hour drive of Phoenix.
Lauren: You can find climbing year-round in Arizona. Cochise Stronghold and Mount Lemmon offer varying elevations so you can always find a wall to climb, even in the summer.
Joel: In Arizona, there is always somewhere to find solitude on a climb.

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About the Author

Jeff Atwell

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