Rock Climbing in Alaska
Photo Credit: Alaska Guide Co.

An Intro to Rock Climbing Alaska

An Intro to Rock Climbing Alaska

Set against a backdrop of rugged terrain, remote wilderness, and diverse landscapes, rock climbing in Alaska is a unique, challenging, and rewarding experience. The state is home to over 322 million acres of public lands and seemingly endless swaths of wild topography, so there is no shortage of climbing destinations during Alaska’s long summer days. 

Most of the larger cities have climbing walls where you can connect with like-minded enthusiasts or warm up your muscles for an upcoming trip. If you can’t find an official wall, note that many gyms also have their own facilities, so it’s worth it to call ahead and check. 

The climbing season generally runs from late spring to early fall, or May through September, though this season gets shorter the farther north you are. And even with the summer sun far above the horizon for nearly 24 hours in most parts of the state, climbers should be prepared for all weather conditions; Alaska’s climate is known for being unpredictable. 

Following are some of Alaska’s regional climbing highlights, where you can find opportunities for sport and trad climbing, as well as guided climbs that offer expert service. 

Rock Climbing in Interior Alaska

The Interior region of Alaska beckons climbers with its granite and limestone rock formations. In particular, the Grapefruit Rocks area, just over an hour north of Fairbanks in the White Mountains National Recreation Area, offers a variety of trad, sport, and toprope routes. Granite Tors in the Chena River State Recreation Area caters to both single and multi-pitch climbs. The area is easily reached by car from Fairbanks, and a soak in nearby Chena Hot Springs is a relaxing reward after a long Alaska day on the crags. 

Farther south in the dramatic and massive Alaska Range, famous for North America’s tallest peak, Denali, runs Ruth Gorge. Lined with the namesake Ruth Glacier that extends 35 miles long, the 10-mile-long gorge features imposing granite walls and spires. As such, this remote and technical terrain attracts climbers who seek challenges and dazzling views. Alpine climbing is at its prime here as well, though the terrain is not for the faint of heart. Swiftly changing weather, unforgiving rock, and a remote location accessed by bush plane from Talkeetna mean that only the most determined will reap the rewards of this stunning  Alaska locale. This is one area where you might consider a rock climbing guide; Talkeetna is home to several. 

If you have to wait out some weather in the Interior region, Fairbanks’ Ascension Rock Gym is the best place to do it. 

Ruth Gorge in Denali
The imposing granite walls of the Ruth Gorge in Denali. Photo Credit:, andyKRAKOVSKI

Rock Climbing in Southcentral Alaska 

Southcentral Alaska offers the ideal balance of world-class and easily-accessible rock climbing. With a good road network enveloped by large swaths of wilderness, you can top a crag in the afternoon and sit down to a fine salmon dinner in the state’s largest city later that evening. 

The ethereal Hatcher Pass has long been a popular sport and trad climbing scene for locals and is now one of the best spots in Alaska for bouldering, as well. An hour’s drive north Anchorage, Hatcher Pass sits in the Talkeetna Range and holds many valleys ripe for climbing, particularly Archangel Valley. Nearby Chickaloon is another locals’ favorite for bouldering along the banks of the mighty Matanuska River. 

In the other direction, south of Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula is also known to locals as a celebrated climbing area. You’ll even see climbers perched right above the Seward Highway, often in the same view as Dall sheep and beluga whales. You’ll find dozens of sport and trad routes here as well as in Portage Valley and around Resurrection Bay outside Seward.

The town of Valdez, located east of Anchorage on the shores of Prince William Sound, is well known for its ice climbing in winter, but it also beckons as a rock climbing destination in summer. A variety of trad and sport routes can be found near town, along the Richardson Highway, and in Thompson Pass outside of town - with over 200 bolted routes in the area. Alaska Guide Company leads guided rock climbing trips from Valdez.

The Alaska Rock Gym is the largest rock gym in Alaska and is the place to go for practicing your skills in Anchorage

Guided climbing in Valdez
Guided climbing in Valdez. Photo Credit: Alaska Guide Co.

Rock Climbing in Alaska's Inside Passage

The northern Coast Range mountains stretch to Alaska’s panhandle, where granite mixes with volcanic choss amidst the misty rainforests of the region. Consider basing yourself in the state’s capital, Juneau, for a few days. The majority of climbs here are sport, but there’s still plenty of trad or bouldering. You can also explore the Juneau Ice Field for some steep granite spires. This is rainforest territory, so do yourself a favor and avail yourself to The Rock Dump, Juneau’s rock gym; you’re likely to have a rainy day or two. 

Farther north up Southeast’s maze of fjords and islands sits Skagway. Once the base of frenzied gold seekers hoping to strike it rich, the small town now hosts tourists and outdoor enthusiasts hoping to find the motherlode of crags. Not only are there several routes to choose from, but there’s many tour operators who can outfit and guide you. 

Interested in learning more? Check out the following books to start diving into specific locations and routes:

  • Hatcher Pass Bouldering Guide by David Funatake & Kelsey Gray
  • Alaska Rock Climbing Guide by Kelsey Gray
  • Dghelaya: A Hatcher Pass Climbing Guide by Kelsey Gray
  • Alaska Bouldering Guide by Todd Helgeson, David Funatake, Kelsey Gray

Alaska: AKA Your Next Adventure

Where will your Alaska adventure take you? Order our Official State of Alaska Vacation Planner and plot your course.