Rock Climbing Day Trips in California

by Allison Horky
Joshua Tree National Park offers thousands of day climbing routes.

Joshua Tree National Park offers thousands of day climbing routes.

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Both Northern and Southern California offer breathtaking, challenging, scenic and easily accessible rock climbing day trips. While there are hundreds of places you could climb, these locations are among the most popular with climbers in the state. All of these areas have routes designed to be climbed within one day, if not multiple times. All of the parks that offer rock climbing are also near campgrounds where you can pitch your tent at night.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is located in Southern California, about 170 miles west of Los Angeles. The park is accessed via Interstate 10 and state Highway 62. The park boasts around 400 climbing formations and about 8,000 climbing routes, many featuring cracks, slabs and steep faces. A climber at any ability level can find a route at Joshua Tree. This is a large park, so plot out which rock formations you want to climb ahead of time and become familiar with the park's trails.


Pinnacles National Monument is located in Central California, accessed via Highway 146, about 74 miles west of Monterey Bay. Climbing in Pinnacles offers top roping and multi-pitch climbs along Machete Ridge. The rock at Pinnacles is volcanic breccia, which can be weaker than traditional granite routes. Take caution if this is your first time climbing volcanic rock.

Castle Rock State Park

Castle Rock State Park is located along the Santa Cruz Mountains, about 60 miles south of San Francisco along Highway 35. The area is rich with redwood trees, steep canyons and unique rock formations popular with climbers. The highest point in the park is a 3,214-foot sandstone formation. Climbers also enjoy ascending Goat Rock, close to the Saratoga Gap Trail.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular areas for climbers. It has many challenging and fun day climbs as well as a few multi-day climbs, such as Half Dome. Yosemite boasts "sustained crack climbs" in Merced River Canyon and "pinching crystals" at Tuolumne Meadows. The area sees heavy traffic from climbers, so be considerate of others, and take proper precautions while climbing.

Bishop/Mammoth Lakes Area

The Bishop area is about 260 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The most popular bouldering area is called the Buttermilks, about 10 miles outside of Bishop. The Gorge offers the premier spot for sport climbing, with numerous difficult routes that are well-protected. Bring a variety of quickdraws -- hardware placed into the rock to hold your belay device -- as the size of the cracks changes drastically from bottom to top. Bear Creek Spire is a solid piece of granite that provides strong hand- and footholds. The Mammoth Lakes area is north of Bishop. It also has popular areas to boulder and climb, such as Deadman's Bouldering Area, Horseshoe Slabs and Clark Canyon for sport climbing, and Rock Creek for pristine crack climbing.

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