Rock Climbing in Big Cottonwood Canyon For Beginners

Rock climbing in Big Cottonwood Canyon is some of the best in the world! The high canyon walls, grippy quartzite, and history of climbing in the canyon combine for unbeatable conditions for climbers of any ability. Throughout the canyon you can have your pick of thousands of different bouldering, trad, and sport climbing routes ranging from easy 5.4’s to extremely difficult 5.13d’s. There are also plenty of multi pitch routes if you’re looking for an added adventure. If you’ve gotten this far in the article and don’t know what any of what you’ve just read means, don’t worry, because we are going to go through what some of those terms mean, and some of the best beginner climbing routes in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Rock Climbing Safety

Before we get into the most exciting parts of climbing, we’re going to start with the most important, safety. Rock climbing is an extremely safe sport when the proper precautions are taken. Millions of people participate in this activity every year with few injuries and deaths. Like any sport, rock climbing involves risks. However, these risks can be reduced or eliminated with proper training and attention to detail

If you are attempting to climb for the first time, be sure to find an experienced climber you can trust to keep you safe. They will show you the proper knots, climbing techniques, and safety precautions you should follow in each area. Each type of rock comes with different risks so it’s important to be aware before you go. An experienced climber will also provide you with a belay. That means that they will have control over the ropes so that you can be safe on your ascent and descent during the climb.

Rock climbing safety

Following all of the instructions you are given and paying close attention while you or your group member is on the wall is key to having a fun and safe experience! Before you go, be sure to check weather conditions, route information from reliable sources, and verify all of your equipment is in good shape. 

After your climb, check that you have all of your equipment stowed carefully. With all of these steps in place, you can make sure you’re able to come back and enjoy this amazing sport time after time.

What Are The Different Types of Rock Climbing?

Climbing in The Cottonwoods

Top Rope

Top roping is the most common place for brand new beginners to start climbing. Top roping is done by running a climbing rope through a set of anchors or chains at the top of a climb as a safety system. With both ends of the rope on the ground, the belayer stays on one end of the rope and the climber will tie into the other end. As the climber ascends, the belayer takes the slack from the rope and in case of a fall, the rope catches them immediately

This is a great way to learn about the sport with minimal risk. There are two common ways to set up a top rope. With some routes you can access the anchors with a hike to the top, this is the easiest to do if you don’t have any confident lead climbers in your group. The other method is by lead climbing to the anchors and then setting up a top rope.

Sport Climbing

Sport climbing is one of the most common types of climbing. This is done on what are called bolted routes. This means that someone has placed bolts along the climb to help climbers protect themselves along the climb. With the rope below them, the climber begins the climb without the assistance of the top rope

As they climb, they use a set of carabiners on a sling to attach the rope to the bolts along the route. With the rope clipped into the bolts, the climber can be caught on the wall in case of a fall. When the climber reaches the top of the route, they can pull the rope through the anchors at the top and they can then be lowered down by the belayer.

This system can then be used as a top rope for other climbers, or the rope can be pulled through for the next climber to lead. The top rope method is extremely safe, and is generally the next step climbers take as they improve their abilities.

Sport climbing in Red Rock
While doing this type of climbing, you can have two routes: single-pitch or multi-pitch. If you choose to do the single-pitch, it will allow you to be lowered to the ground because you climb without intermediate stances; on the other hand, if you do a  multi-pitch  you’ll ascent with one or more stops at a belay station, allowing the second climber to protective the gear.
Trad Climbing Moab Utah

Trad Climbing

The last type of roped climbing we will be discussing here is traditional climbing or trad climbing as it is most commonly known. This type of climbing has had a lot of significant technological advances in recent years, but the idea has remained the same for many years. Predating sport climbing, it continues to retain the attention of millions of climbers worldwide.

Trad climbing does not require a bolted route, climbers use a variety of different camming or chock devices to “protect the climb”. These devices are usually different sized metal nuts that can be jammed in a crevice or a spring loaded cam that opens up inside a crack to prevent it from pulling out. Protective devices are placed along the route and act as a similar system to that of the bolts in a sport route.

This type of climbing requires a higher level of confidence and concentration, so it is crucial that climbers are confident with their knowledge and skill with climbing equipment and procedures.


Bouldering is a type of climbing that is different from all of the other types of climbing discussed previously because it does not require ropes. It involves climbing small boulders and rock formations generally no higher than 20 feet tall.

There are no safety devices used in this discipline other than a pad placed at the bottom of a climb to soften a fall. The climber is left solely with climbing shoes, chalk, and their skills to complete the climb. This is a great way for climbers to improve their climbing skills and practice without the time constraints of a longer rope climb.

Bouldering in Utah

How Are Climbs Rated?

Sport Climb Ratings

For top rope, sport, and trad climbs, there are two scales commonly used by climbers throughout the world. The Yosemite Decimal System is the most commonly used in the United States, and that is what we will discuss here. This system is divided into 6 classes. Classes 1-4 are levels of inclination that can all be hiked or crossed without the use of a safety or belay system. Class 5 is where real rock climbing occurs, and it is divided into subcategories. These subcategories are numbers that determine the level of difficulty within the class. In the higher grades, a-d lettering divides the subgrades again to give a better estimate (ex. 5.10b). Grades can also include a +/- to better describe the difficulty within the rating. Class 6 is a route that is impossible to be free climbed.

Beginner climbers generally stick to grades between 5.0 and 5.6. An intermediate climber will generally climb anywhere from 5.7 to 5.9. An advanced climber can usually climb 5.10 to 5.12, and extremely high level experts can climb grades from 5.13 and up. The highest rated climb to date is 5.15d. These expert routes are often extensive roofs with little to no hand and footholds to support you throughout the climb.

Boulder Ratings

Bouldering uses a different grading system known as the Hueco grading system or the V Scale. This scale goes from V0 to V16 currently; however, this could increase as more difficult bouldering routes are climbed. Like the Yosemite Decimal System , a +/- can be added to the rating to denote a slightly more difficult or easier climb.

All of these systems are subjective and will vary depending on the area. It is generally a good idea to start with a climb 2 grades lower than your comfort level to judge the grades before you move up. Some areas have a much steeper grading system than others. When a route is harder than the grade it is known as a sandbagged route. Big Cottonwood Canyon is generally on the more difficult side compared to some of the other popular areas in Utah.

Where Can I Climb in Big Cottonwood Canyon?

There is a lot of rock climbing in Big Cottonwood Canyon for beginners. Many of the walls in the canyon have at least a few beginner routes that anyone can climb. Starting from the base of the canyon, we are going to go through some of our favorite areas, and some tips for how to get the most out of each one.

Dogwood Crag

This area is full of shorter climbs that are almost all in the beginner to intermediate grade range. It is an extremely short drive from the base of the canyon. There is parking available for $8 at the adjoining picnic area or for free in certain pull offs along the road. One of our favorite things about this area is that some of the routes can be belayed from the creek!
Climbing in Big Cottonwood Canyon
The Slips Big Cottonwood Canyon

Salt Lake Slips

The Salt Lake Slips is one of our absolute favorite areas to climb in the Wasatch Front. It is full of fun and easy routes ranging from 5.4 to 5.8 on the face and 5.5 to 5.10 around the corner. We love this area because it is such a great place to practice leading taller routes and attempting multiple pitches

This area features opportunities for top roping, sport climbing, and trad climbing. There is parking for this area just below the Storm Mountain picnic area right off the road. From there you will hike down a steep trail and cross the river to arrive at the base of the wall.

Narcolepsy Area

This area is a bit more secluded, so be ready for a bit of a hike. It is a great area full of easy climbs, the majority of which can be top roped. If you are just moving into sport climbing, this is the area for you. There are some great routes with a lot of protection that will help build your confidence and provide you with some amazing memories. To get here, park at the Stairs Gulch, and then scramble up the bank and follow the trail to the base of the wall.

Reservoir Ridge

Last on our list, but definitely not least, Reservoir Ridge has some of the best rock climbing in Big Cottonwood Canyon for beginners. To access this area, park at the Storm Mountain picnic area for $8 (or across the street for free). From there you can follow the trail until you reach a large field. Crossing the field you will come to the base of the ridge. You can choose to climb this portion, or turn the corner and enjoy any of the amazing climbs on the side

This area has a lot of easy routes to practice leading sport and trad climbs. The one downside, is that it is extremely popular, so it’s important to get there early to save your spot! A great way to avoid this is to stay in the canyon to save some time. For all of your Big Cottonwood Canyon lodging needs, Brighton Vacation Rentals has a variety of rental options.

Reservoir Ridge Big Cottonwood Climbing

These are just some of our favorite beginner climbing areas in Big Cottonwood Canyon. With so many unique features, the possibilities for climbing here are truly endless. Whether you’re a beginner climber or just looking for a place to hone in your skills, you won’t find the variety and beauty found here anywhere else.

For more activities or information about the canyon, check out our blog!