11 Great Lake Tahoe Rock Climbing Crags
From beginner traverses to expert overhangs the Lake Tahoe area is a climber’s dream. Whether you seek sport climbs, trad climbs or bouldering, check out local climber Mark Bartley’s list of crags and slabs just waiting to be scaled. Belay on!
For some of the best sport climbing on the North shore, head to Big Chief. The largest formation in the Truckee River Canyon, Big Chief’s prominent wall is more than 250 feet high and features solid, steep rock with positive holds. You’ll find many lines protected by bolts. With more than 91 routes, there’s something for everyone here; good, long beginner climbs will help newbies gain confidence, but there are many advanced routes as well.
Getting there: Head south Hwy 267 out of Truckee and turn right on Ponderosa Palisades Road. Then turn right on Silver Fir and left on Thelin St. From here turn right onto a small forest service road about 500 yards up Thelin. Follow this road for 5.2 miles, turn right into a large logged parking area. Pick up a trail leading northwest out of the parking area. Follow for one mile. Your approach will take about 20 minutes.
Another spot in the Truckee River Canyon, Twin Crags is often a less-crowded option that still boasts great routes and beautiful lake views. Twin basalt columns offer some interesting intermediate climbs, and in winter months this spot will likely still be open when a lot of other options are snowed in. If you’re leading, be prepared for widely spaced bolts.
Getting there: Take Hwy 89 about a mile west of Tahoe City and follow the trail behind the Twin Crag Summer Home Tract parking lot – it’s about a 10 minute approach.
If you’re the type to head right for the biggest and best, you’ll want to climb at Donner Summit. There’s something for everyone at this renowned spot – trad and sport climbers alike of every ability will find a variety of challenging and scenic climbs along many granite formations. Donner Summit has more than 330 recorded routes and is also home to some of Tahoe’s best bouldering. You might find a wait at the base of some of the more popular routes, but branching out can lead to some less popular discoveries. The higher elevation keeps this spot cool in the summer.
Getting there: Head west out of Truckee on Donner Pass Road (Old Hwy 40). Most climbs are accessible from the road.
Unlike many of the granite features that populate the Tahoe landscape, Trippy Rock is an andesite (volcanic) plug reaching about 75 feet high. “There aren’t a ton of routes here,” Bartley explains, “but there’s still a nice and straightforward variety that range from a 5.6 that your mother could do to a far more challenging 5.11c.” There are bolt anchors on top for toproping and these can be reached via the backside as opposed to the imposing, overhanging face.
Getting there: Take Mt. Rose Hwy (431) about three miles north of Incline Village and turn left on a dirt road just before the lookout point.
For easily accessible climbing on Tahoe’s east shore, try an afternoon at Spooner Crag. This small formation of volcanic rock has some good edges and solid intermediate climbs, from a 5.10d to a 5.12b. The relatively low elevation makes this another great year-round spot.
Getting there: Take the frontage road that lies just west of the junction of Hwy 28 and Hwy 50.
This area is part of Eagle Creek Canyon, just above Emerald Bay. Eagle Creek Canyon is filled with craggy peaks and stunning lake views, making any climb a breathtaking one. Ninety Foot Wall actually measures closer to 70 feet, but offers a lot of great climbs on solid rock. Most of the lines are toproped and the wall features crack systems and many square-cut holds. There are quite a few moderate (5.7 – 5.11) level climbs here, and the wall’s southern exposure makes it a warm and well-visited spot throughout the entire season.
Getting there: From the Eagle Lake trailhead on Rt. 89 on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe walk the trail for a quarter mile and take a right before the bridge, following the creek upstream towards the cliff on your right.
Mayhem Cove is another section of Eagle Creek Canyon and it’s become one of the top spots for sport climbing in the Tahoe Basin. Bartley says that Mayhem Cove’s “junky face offers crags you can fit your whole hand in, but the climbs are anything but easy… mostly 11.13 routes scale up steep, steep faces.” You’ll be catching your breath.
Getting there: Mayhem Cove is a few hundred yards northwest of the Eagle Lake parking area trailhead. (see above).
A favorite spot just southwest of Lake Tahoe, Lover’s Leap’s sheer walls are made less formidable by a large number of horizontal dikes that criss-cross many of the 350-600 ft. faces. There are trad climbs for all levels here, and when the popular lines get crowded, you won’t be disappointed by checking out some of the lesser traveled routes. Fun climbs for all levels, camping and close proximity to the American River and Desolation Wilderness make Lover’s Leap an extremely popular destination.
Getting there: Travel south on Hwy 50 from South Lake Tahoe, exiting at Strawberry Lodge and following the small road left to the campground.
This South Shore spot is named for a pastry shop that used to sit near its base, but it’s a climbing treat in its own right. Pie Shop’s dome-like formation can be coarse, but is still home to good rock, some nice cracks and tasty route names like Short Cake and Fluted Crust. Pie Shop has a southern exposure that makes it climbable in winter and also boasts one of the best bouldering areas in Tahoe.
Getting there: Take Hwy 50 past the Y, towards Sacramento. Take a right on Sawmill Rd., just past the airport. Park in the turnouts across from the houses and hike up the trail to the right.
The closest thing to Yosemite without the drive is Sugarloaf, located just above the small town of Kyburz. You’ll spot Sugarloaf’s 400 foot-high granite spire on your approach, which will be about a 20 minute hike. You’ll be rewarded, however, with a wide variety of climbs on high-quality granite, lots of cracks at all levels and some good face climbing as well. The low elevation and sunny exposure of the area make it a great winter climbing spot.
Getting there: Take Hwy 50 about one mile from Kyburz. Park along the south shoulder of the road and follow the trail up to the rock.
Bring your sunscreen to Phantom Spires, a beautiful group of rock formations on the north side of the American River Canyon. The spires are fairly exposed to the elements, which make them climbable in the winter and quite toasty in the summer. You’ll find excellent rock, knobby cracks and a variety of routes that vary in difficulty. Getting there: Take Hwy 50 almost 5 miles east of Kyburz and head north on Wrights Lake Road. You’ll see the spires; take the dirt logging road left towards the Middle Spire.
*Additional information in this article provided by Mike Carville’s Rock Climbing Lake Tahoe.