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Climbing City of Rocks

Climbing City of Rocks National Reserve is a must-visit for any rock climber.  But even if you don’t rock climb, City of Rocks is a great destination for anyone who loves camping and hiking.

Once home to the Shoshone and Bannock tribes, it later became part of the California Trail and was visited by 240,000 people who made their way west during the gold rush.

Then, climbers and recreational users began flocking here in the 1960s, and by 1988 it came under the management of the National Park Services. It now preserves 22 rocks varieties of rock within the California Trail corridor and you can stop by the visitor center in Almo to learn more.

How to get to the City of Rocks

City of Rocks is located in the southern part of Idaho near the small town of Almo. While you can get to City of Rocks from both the east and the west, I learned the hard way that coming from the west is not the best idea, especially when driving a motorhome! It’s a 7-mile dirt road that is quite bumpy!

City of Rocks National Reserve
City of Rocks Main Parking Lot

You are better off driving in and out of City of Rocks National Reserve from the east. You still have to drive a dirt road but it is only for a few miles and seems to be better maintained.

For driving directions, click here. Note that Google Maps will take you down a dirt road so it’s better to use the directions from Malta.

City of Rocks National Reserve
Views of the City of Rocks

Cost to Visit City of Rocks?

It is free to enter the City of Rocks National Reserve, but it does cost if you choose to camp.

When is the City of Rocks open?

City of Rocks is open 24/7 year round. The visitor center is open daily 8:00 am – 4:30 pm during the peak season, and Tuesdays through Saturdays, except holidays, 8:00 am – 4:30 pm during the off season.

When is the best time to visit the City of Rocks?

City of Rocks is climbable from April through October but is best in the shoulder season of May/June and September offering the most ideal weather.

From November through March, it gets cold and there is quite a bit of snow which is great for snowshoeing, skiing, snowmobiling, and ice climbing. I’ve never been there that time of year but I’m sure it is gorgeous. Just be prepared and check the weather ahead of time!

We’ve visited before in the summer and while it makes for incredible evenings, the temperatures are usually in the high 80’s so you’ll want to be sure to bring a lot of water and chase the shade. Watch for afternoon thunderstorms in the summer months (June – August).

Related Blog: Best Campgrounds Idaho

Camping City of Rocks

Camping at City of Rocks

As I mentioned, even if you don’t climb, the City of Rocks is an amazing place to camp. It’s like Joshua Tree NP without the crowds!

I love that there are campsites that can accommodate my 28 ft RV! There aren’t a lot of campsites and they are very strict about which sites allow RV’s. It’s a good idea to reserve your site ahead of time here.

Note that there are no hookups of any kind and generators are not allowed, but campsites are only $14 so how could anyone complain, right?!

There is a free dump and drinking water station for RV’s on the east side. City of Rocks does not have any trash cans either so please pack everything out and #leavenotrace.

The pay station is smack dab in the middle of the park at Area 4.  You want to first find an empty campsite, go to the pay station, and pay for it. Then stick your ticket on your campsite post before heading out to climb.

You can’t walk to all the climbing from your campsite–well, you can, but a lot of them are really far apart. The campsites are spread out throughout the park so if you know the area you want to climb it can save your legs a lot of walking.

I think all the campsites in City of Rocks are great, but if you want to minimize your walking, camp in Area 4 which accesses most of the climbing trails.  Area 3 is good if you have kids because there are boulders to play on and a top rope area next to campsite 11.

There are fire pits and picnic tables in each campsite so don’t forget your firewood, hatchet, and matches! Seriously, you don’t want to miss out on a night under these stars–IT’S INCREDIBLE! There is a store in Almo if you forget anything.

If you have an RV longer than 28′, you could camp at Castle Rock or there is an RV resort just outside City of Rocks that can accommodate large RV’s. But tbh it’s not nearly as nice as camping in the City of Rocks.

Related Blog: 51 Things To Pack For Car Camping

Bath Rock, City of Rocks, Rock Climbing
View of Bath Rock from the Main Parking Area

Is There Water at City of Rocks?

There is water in the City of Rocks but I recommend you bring your drinking water.  The first time we visited the water was brown even when boiled (supposedly it was safe though).

Tips for Hiking at City of Rocks

One of the things I love most about City of Rocks is that you have to hike to get to all the various rocks that you want to climb which means, you get to see most of the trails at City of Rocks along the way.

It’s also fun that all the hikers stop in awe to watch you climb!

Hiking & Rock Climbing, City of Rocks National Reserve
Trails are Marked at the City of Rocks

Hike the Interpretive Trail

The Geological Interpretive Trail will guide you through many types of unique rock features and formations and explain the forces that created them. There are 12 interpretive stations along the 0.6-mile trail. The trail rises 160 feet in elevation, makes a loop, and then retraces much of the same route back for a total of 1.2 miles.

Short Hikes at City of Rocks

  • Window Arch Trail, 300 feet, one way
  • Bath Rock Trail, 1,800 feet loop
  • Creekside Towers Trail, 0.6 miles one way

Long Hikes at City of Rocks

  • Geological Interpretive Trail, 1.2-mile loop
  • Flaming Rock Trail, 0.76 miles, strenuous loop
  • North Fork Circle Creek, 6.3 miles between trailheads
Hiking in City of Rocks, Idaho
Hiking trail to Tahitian Rock in City of Rocks National Reserve

Tips for Rock Climbing City of Rocks

City of Rocks has over 600 routes, both traditional and sport, on granite. Climbs vary from 30-600 feet, rating from the relatively easy 5.6 to the extremely difficult 5.14. I highly recommend getting a guidebook since the rocks are spread out and it’s easy to get confused. You can purchase a guidebook at the Visitor Center.

Of course, we didn’t stop to buy one and so, we had our work cut out for us. For the most part, if you are a 5.10 lead climber or higher, there are plenty of routes for you to do.

On our first climbing trip to the City of Rocks. we were only leading 5.8 and it was challenging to find routes in our range plus, the routes were spread out.

On our last visit to City of Rocks, we were much more advanced climbers, however, in our opinion, a lot of the routes are either run-out or sandbagged so I’d recommend starting on a lower grade to feel the style out here first.

Mushroom Rock, city of Rocks
Mushroom Rock at City of Rocks

Climbing City of Rocks: Favorite 5.6 to 5.9’s

Breadloaves: Muffin Top (5.8). This is great for a new 5.8 leader. Love Handles was good too but I found the muffin top much easier.

The rock here is very sticky and trustworthy, although the exposure and height can get in your head a bit if you are more of a beginner leader. Around the corner to the right, head through the canyon just a little and you’ll see a wide overlapping rock face that has a nice 5.6 and 5.7.   These climbs are next to campsite areas 5 & 6.

Flaming Rock: Raindance (5.7). This crag is fairly close to the climbing near Bumblie. The route gets full sun in the morning. 

Parking Lot: Delay of Game (5.8). Bring your bravery and confidence. If we had more time we would’ve given this a go even though some fellow campers were commenting on how high the first bolt was. Not that getting to the first bolt was hard, it’s just really high. After that though, the climb sounded fantastic! This climb is in campsite areas 5 & 6.

Safety First: Ensure proper gear and readiness before attempting more challenging routes. Confidence is crucial, but safety remains the priority.

Bath Rock West: Rollercoaster (5.8). this is one of the best routes for new lead climbers! And the best part is that there is no approach! Just park at the main parking lot near the restrooms and pay station.

Bumblie Rock: Too Much Fun (5.8). The name says it all. This is such a great route and while a few spots seem a little runout, you always have a solid hand or foot to hold onto. The hardest move I thought was from bolt 1 to 2 but I just went far left and was fine.

Tahitian Rock: Bikini Candy (5.9). It’s worth the hike! Seriously, it required an hour and a half hike each way from our campsite near Parking Lot Rock but it was one of the most fun 5.8 routes we’ve ever done. 

On the way it’s worth climbing Lady J if you have a stick clip or are braver than us!  
Learn to climb: How to Start Rock Climbing
Climbing Tahitian Rocks in Idaho’s City of Rocks

Site 18: Looker (5.8). Site 18 is only a few-minute hike from Tahitian Rock.  While not quite as fun as Tahitian Rocks, it is worth climbing, especially after investing time to hike out there.

I did like how beautiful the canyon floor is below this wall and it’s a great spot to find shade. The first bolt was a bit high and a stick clip would’ve been nice, but it was doable without. The holds and moves on this wall were so fun that we used it as a chance to practice down climbing.

Steinfell’s Dome: Sinocranium (5.8). An epic 7-pitch, 700-foot climb is Sinocranium. It’s been a classic of City of Rocks for decades. We did not get the chance to climb this but, oh, we wanted to. The hike from the southern section of the City was just too far. However, if you approach from the east and you have a 4WD car then I hear it’s a shorter walk. 

Related Blog: Best Beginner Climbing Shoes

Climbing City of Rocks: Favorite 5.10’s

Bumblie Rock: New York is Not in the City (5.10a). I thought this was easier than some of the 5.9s if you like jug hauls. The top has an interesting slab move and the beginning is a 30′ run out with an easy scramble.

Bumblie Rock: Return of the Bumblie (5.10a/b). This is a fun jug haul on a slightly overhanging pillar. It’s only slightly harder than New York is Not in the City.

Tahitian Rock: The Good Stuff (5.10a). It climbs like a dance with a few big power moves and a lot of tip-toeing. The traverse could make you nervous though.

Bath Rock: Coffee and Cornflakes (5.10a). This is challenging for a 5.10a. It goes from slab to a scramble to a steep crimpy power move.

Bath Rock: Colossus (5.10c) This is probably the best 5.10 in the City of Rocks. It’s challenging but well-bolted and will test your endurance.

Flaming Rock: Tribal Boundaries (5.10b). This is one of the most popular routes in City but it’s harder than you’d expect. Still a must-do imo but be ready for very thin balance moves. If you love vertical, crimpy edging, this one is for you.

Flaming Rock: City Girls (5.10c). A gnarly first bolt leads to an awkward stem, then easier climbing to a run-out section, finishing with a sharp jug haul. A more adventurous route due to the bolting but if you are solid at this grade then definitely a must-do.

Flaming Rock: Tail Feather (5.10a). Slab. Slab. Slab. But well bolted. Many mistake this one for Rain Dance.

Tips For Climbing City of Rocks

  • Bring a stick clip. A lot of routes have a high first bolt.
  • It’s nice to have an 80-meter rope so you don’t have to do double rope rappels on the fun, long routes.
Milky Way and RV in City of Rocks
Photo courtesy of Sammy Spindel

Visiting nearby Castle Rocks

While I haven’t made it over to Castle Rocks yet, it sounds like a fabulous area to explore. There’s a 5-mile loop, Castle Rocks Trail, that sounds fun and I like that the campground there has showers and sites with 30 amp electrical service and water! Note that it does cost $7 to enter Castle Rocks but is free with an Idaho State Parks Passport or Annual Pass 

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Climbers guide to city of rocks


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