• Pathloom Guest Blogger

Top Climbing Areas for Beginners in the San Francisco Bay Area

Our Picks for the Best Places to Learn the Ropes in Northern California


a woman climbs up a steep cliffside alongside a blue rope at Castle Rock State Park in California

Indian Rock: Castle Rock State Park, CA - Photo Credit: James Witkin


 

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Going climbing for the first time outdoors with friends, or ready to transition from the climbing gym to climbing outdoors? Check out our list of top climbing spots for beginners in the Bay Area to get your stoke on! This is not an exhaustive guide, but rather it is based on our extensive experience climbing with a diverse group of friends of various skill levels.


But first, let’s go over some basic climbing terms:

  1. Crag - an outdoor climbing area.

  2. Bouldering - climbing at lower heights, usually no more than 20 feet. Ropes and climbing harnesses aren’t generally used for safety, but “crash pads” are placed on the ground to buffer falls.

  3. Rope climbing - climbing at higher heights, at least 20 feet. Ropes and climbing harnesses are used for safety. This Is further categorized into:

  4. Toprope climbing - where an anchor is set on the top of the route prior to climbing and ropes are dropped down for both belayer & climber. Toproping is easier & safer for beginners because if the climber falls, they basically just hang in position.

  5. Lead climbing - where the climber brings up their end of the rope (the anchor hasn’t been set yet, they will set up the anchor themselves once they get to the top of the route). This is more advanced because if the climber lets go, they will actually fall!


Note that if you have an experienced lead climber in your group, they can climb first, and then set up the anchor for others to toprope off of (depending on the length of the route and other factors, the crags we’ve linked to in this guide will indicate specifically if routes can be toproped or not). Or, at some crags, it’s possible to simply walk around and up to the top of the crag to set up a toprope without any leading (though knowledge of how to set up an anchor is required).


A group of climbers of a variety of ages prepare to go bouldering in Indian Rock Park in Berkeley California

Indian Rock Park: Berkeley, CA - Photo Credit: James Dong



Climbing is numerically assigned a difficulty grade, and most of the crags outlined below have a good number of climbing routes that would be considered beginner-friendly - at or less than 5.10 or V2. For detailed information on the routes, we have linked their profiles on Mountain Project, which is an online guide to climbing that is especially great because it’s crowdsourced!


In keeping with the Mountain Project layout guide, headers for each area within this guide will reference their primary location, and then get narrower into specific crags, as needed.


For those in the Bay without a vehicle, Cragmont & Remillard Parks in the East Bay, Ring Mountain in the North Bay, and Pacifica in the South Bay are even accessible via public transit!


For safety, we would always recommend following proper climbing practices, such as using a crash pad for bouldering, or knowing how to properly set up anchors for rope climbing. You can take a course on these at climbing gyms or local guiding companies - and we’d certainly recommend beginners going with more experienced climbers as well.


 

Looking for the right gear for your climbing adventures? Check out Pathloom’s Beginner’s Gear Guide Checklist here!

 

A lone climber nears the top of Table Scraps Pinnacle, surrounded by the forests of northern California

Table Scraps Pinnacle, CA - Photo Credit: Cruz Ramirez



Mt St Helena > Table Scraps Pinnacle


All 6 of the routes here are sport, but with grades starting at 5.7 and an abundance of holds on the easier routes, it's a great place for beginners to get their feet wet with sport climbing and anchor building.


Mountain Project profile here

 

Lake Tahoe Area > Emigrant Gap > The Emeralds > The Benches


A series of walls with tons of easier problems. For example, at The Dollar Store crag, even leading can feel approachable, because on several routes you'll be able to fully stand on rock to set up anchors!


A little bonus - parking for The Emerald Pools is next to the South Yuba River bridge, and many folks will hike down to the river for easy swimming, strolling or picnicking. If you explore the backcountry around the area, you also might just find a secluded lake perfect for deep water soloing - which is bouldering over water - so instead of falling on crash pads, you’ll fall directly into the water itself! (And this spot is not even in most guide books!).


Mountain Project profile here

 

A climber in a blue shirt has just a little farther to go to reach the top of the rock at The Emeralds near Lake Tahoe, California

The Emeralds, CA - Photo by James Dong



Lake Tahoe Area > South Lake > Eagle Creek Canyon > 90 Foot Wall


What makes this area especially great for beginners is that you can walk up to the top to set anchors for toproping, which means it's also a great place for folks just learning leading skills to practice by mock leading (where they’re tied into a toprope for safety but are carrying up a secondary rope to pretend or “mock” lead). There are also a good quantity of routes to practice on. And hello, you’re steps away from the beautiful Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe!


Mountain Project profile here

 

Pacifica


Right between San Pedro Beach & Rockaway Beach, off-trail on the small peninsula (Aramai Point) that juts into the ocean, there are a few crags that are very well-featured, therefore leading to a handful of beginner-friendly routes! And what could be more beginner-friendly than not one but two beaches, on either side, for some downtime whenever you want?


Mountain Project profile here

 

Ring Mountain


Bouldering and more bouldering, with plenty of problems rated at or less than V2. Not to mention, the wide expanse of Ring Mountain is the perfect place for a post-climb picnic with views over the entire Bay Area!


Mountain project profile here

 

An extensive rope and pulley system supports a climber as they ascend to the top of Castle Rock State Park in California

Castle Rock State Park, CA - Photo Credit: Jini Chatterjee



Castle Rock State Park


Probably the largest climbing region in the immediate Bay Area, with lots of toprope, sport, trad and bouldering problems for all different levels of expertise! There are multiple routes here in the 5.6-5.9 range, so there’s plenty for beginners to explore.


We recommend bringing a guide book or doing your research on routes before you head over here. The cell service is limited in this area, and some of the routes require a 20-30 min hike from any parking areas.


If you visit this park, check out Indian Rock at Sanborn County Park a few minutes up the road, which also has beginner-friendly bouldering, toprope and sport problems - all just a short 5-minute walk from parking.


The rock at Castle Rock is sandstone, which is super fun to climb on but extremely delicate, so do not climb here during or immediately after it rains!


Mountain project profile here

 

A woman handles a steep climb like an absolute champion at Cragmont Rock Park in Berkeley, California

Cragmont Park: Berkeley, CA - Photo Credit: James Witkin



Berkeley > Cragmont Rock Park and Remillard Park


Good news: some of the Bay Area’s most fun crags also happen to be the most accessible! If you don’t have a car or don’t want to drive too far, you can climb outdoors in the Berkeley Hills.


Cragmont Rock Park is a particularly popular spot for beginner climbers. The cliffs are easily accessible from the road, and you can walk directly up to them to set up anchors. It gets busy here on the weekends, so arrive early to snag parking and get ready to make some new friends!


Pro tip: If Cragmont is overcrowded, walk a few minutes up the road to Remillard Park, which has less routes but also tends to attract fewer crowds.


Mountain Project profiles for Cragmont here and Remillard here

 

Berkeley > Indian Rock and Mortar Rock


Literally just ​​a few blocks away from Cragmont and Remillard are another pair of parks with some great bouldering! While there are definitely some “highball problems” (routes that go higher than 20 feet and are much riskier with respect to falling & safety), there are plenty of standard height problems as well. (Note: there are some anchors that could be used to turn some highball problems into rope climbs, and never forget you never have to go higher than you’re comfortable with). Indian Rock Park also has steps carved into the rock directly to get to the top, where you’ll find a fantastic view of San Francisco & the Bay Bridge. It’s a popular place to hang out with friends to watch the sunset!


Mountain Project profiles for Indian Rock here and Mortar Rock here

 

A woman carefully watches a man and supports his bottom rope as he ascends a cliffside at Cosumnes River Gorge in CAlifornia

Consumnes River Gorge, CA - Photo Credit: Jini Chatterjee



Lake Tahoe Area > Cosumnes River Gorge (CRG)


The views and climbing at CRG make the roughly 3 hour drive here from SF well worth your time! Primarily known for crack climbing (where you climb up by jamming your hands and feet into a crack on the rock), this area has a good number of beginner-friendly routes in the 5.6-5.8 range. As an added bonus, the granite cliffs here overlook the picturesque Cosumnes River and Gutenberger Wall, so bring your camera for pictures and pick a nice viewing spot on the Gorge for lunch.


Mountain Project profile here

 

Mount Diablo


Most people know you can hike Diablo, but did you know you can climb here as well? Mount Diablo has a few different climbing areas, all located near each other and fairly easy to access from the parking area. Beginners should check out Boy Scout Rocks and Pine Canyon, which have lower-grade problems that can be toproped. You’ll be rewarded with lush views of the park and the Bay Area when you reach the top! Warning: it gets very hot here in the summer, so make sure to bring water and stay hydrated!

Mountain Project profile here

 

El Capitan in Yosemite National Park looking extremely steep and absolutely terrifying, definitely not something to be attempted by beginner climbers

Beginners may want to avoid El Capitan in Yosemite - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue



There are a few places we would NOT recommend for beginners...


None of the 3 crags within the City of San Francisco are particularly good for beginners. The bouldering areas at Glen Canyon and Cliff House are pretty loaded with “highball problems”, and the top-rope routes at Beaver Street are all in the 5.10s - not to mention the “slickenside” rock (a cool geological formation, read more here) can be frustrating for beginners trying to get a foothold.


Mickey's Beach, just south of Stinson Beach, only has 1 climb where you can set up a toprope anchor prior to climbing, and it’s an intermediate 5.10. Other problems that are rated easier must be lead climbed, but even these have sketchy first moves. The bouldering is similarly difficult, with only a handful of routes below 5.4.


Yosemite has a huge variety of climbs, but generally they tend to be quite difficult (specifically, many people think the routes are sandbagged, which means they feel harder than their assigned difficulty grade). With respect to rope climbing there are few toprope routes. (FYI for the beginners: when buying a guidebook, be sure it specifies! Most guidebooks with Yosemite in the title and no other descriptors only cover the Valley specifically, and do not include areas in Tuolumne),


 

Guest Blogger Bios


James is the owner of Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where folks can buy, rent, or borrow gear. They are the only place in the Bay Area that rents a wide selection of crash pads, climbing shoes (from neutral to aggressive), guide books, chalk, and brushes, in addition to ultralight backpacking or high end ski gear. Per industry standard, note that weight-bearing equipment (e.g., harnesses, rope, belay devices, carabiners) is only available to buy.

Jini is the founder of Headlamp, a platform for female+ adventurers to discover classes, content and instructors that build outdoor skills. She is based out of the Bay Area and loves to backpack, ski and climb.

 

Find a dispersed campsite near National Park land. Learn a new camping recipe, or get tips to enhance your thruhiking. Be among the first to get exclusive stories, trail reports and more from our growing team of experienced campers, backpackers, thru hikers, and fellow adventure lovers.



 

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Rock Climbing: Beginner's Gear Guide Checklist

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Life Lessons From Climbing Dragontail Peak

The Glory of Yosemite

Very Superstitious: Phoenix In The Fall

The Resilience of the Redwoods: Big Basin’s Rise from the Ashes

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