The Best Bouldering in Central and Northern Arizona

Northern and Central Arizona have vibrant climbing communities and some of the best bouldering problems in Arizona. The best bouldering crags in Arizona favor strong climbers, with most of the four of five star problems being V6 or harder, which has fostered a group of incredibly strong climbers in these areas, but they also have plenty of beginner-friendly problems and moderates. Whether you’re new to Arizona, are transitioning from gym climbing to the unfiltered glory of climbing outdoors, or you’re just looking to remind yourself how stellar Arizona climbing is, this list covers you.

Flagstaff

Flagstaff is a medium-sized college town enveloped by forests, cliffs, and rugged canyons. There are plenty of outdoorsy things to do in Flagstaff, which make it a great launch pad for day trips to test your mettle in bouldering, sport, and trad on quality volcanic rock, limestone, and sandstone.

Pro climbers like Matt Gentile and Sierra Blair-Coyle sometimes stop by the area to push their limits and climb truly breathtaking roofs. Gentile recently released a new video showcasing his adventure into Flagstaff’s “Hinterlands” (areas outside of Flagstaff proper), that shows off the area’s famous highball roofs and stellar scenery.

The Flagstaff area has more than a dozen crags scattered around, but for sheer foot-by-foot excellence, the top bouldering spots are Priest Draw and Kelly Canyon.    

Priest Draw

Hands down, the best bouldering in Northern Arizona is at Priest Draw. The Draw, like much of Flagstaff, is an anomaly for thuggy, pocket-filled limestone roofs that push your core to its limits and require a meticulous combination of power and control.

The Draw is a local Flagstaff crag, nestled into a grassy valley of Ponderosa pines, and practically breeds strong climbers; folks like Chris Sharma are on the first ascension list and the crag has more than 50 problems in the V-scale double digits. There are beginner-friendly problems in the area, but even those require a respectable amount of core control and technique.

You can climb at the Draw year-round, but the best sending temps are early fall. Most of the problems are accessible within a 15-20 minute walk.

The rock is textured limestone and littered with pockets (flapper warning: many of them are small and sharp), sloper dishes, and grooves. Most of the better problems are overhung to a significant degree, and several of the best climbs are dead horizontal. You’ll find a mixture of head-height roofs with modest top outs and massive highball problems where you’ll need plenty of crash pads and spotters.

Like many of the local Flagstaff crags, the Draw’s location is hard to beat. The crag is roughly 30 minutes from town and it’s also close to the local sport climbing haunt, The Pit.

Five Priest Draw Problems to Consider:

  • Anorexic Sacrifice V6
  • The Bat Cave V3+
  • Carnivore V8
  • Move N’ Groove Barbie V7
  • Bad Ass V5

Kelly Canyon

Kelly Canyon is a small sandstone crag wedged into a Ponderosa forest with some of the most dramatic sloper problems in Northern Arizona. Kelly Canyon’s best problems feature distinct slopers and incut rails that demand technical power, skill, and a strong head game.

Most of the problems are tall, ranging from moderately to seriously highball, and nearly all of them have committing sloper top outs. The crag is awesome, but not solo-friendly. It’s highly recommended that you have multiple crash pads and spotters before planning a trip here.

The rock in Kelly Canyon changes a lot from problem to problem; generally it’s either tacky and bullet-hard or sandy and crumbly. Like any sandstone crag, don’t climb here after rainfall or snowfall; the moisture leaves the rock filthy and breakable.

Fall is the best time to climb in Kelly Canyon, and most problems are accessible within a 20 minute approach.

Five Kelly Canyon Problems to Consider:

  • Aloha Arete V2
  • Hot Carl V4
  • Jack and the Beanstock V4 (PG-13)
  • Dope Lounge V5 (PG-13)
  • Donkey Punch V6

Prescott

Prescott, the original Arizona capital, is a large mountain town about an hour and a half from Flagstaff with plenty to do for outdoors lovers. The area features excellent mountain biking, hiking and even some lake kayaking. Climbing wise, Prescott’s claim to fame is Granite Mountain, which (foot for foot) is home to the best sphincter-puckering trad routes in the Southwest.

But Prescott climbing isn’t just about towering granite faces and having epics. Prescott’s premiere bouldering area, Groom Creek, is more than worth your time.

Groom Creek

If you need an ego check then Groom Creek is your new best friend. Bouldering at Groom is stout on every level because of the grades and rock quality. The problems here are notoriously sandbagged, sometimes by a full grade or two, and the crumbling granite boulders make the problems harder as time passes. (The grades stay the same though, naturally.)  Groom Creek is the place where strong climbers can send V5 after two sessions but still have a V0+ project for three years. But if you’re a fan of granite bouldering, you won’t find a better place in Arizona.

Groom and its nearby satellite crags feature dozens of coarse granite boulders with more than 100 problems. A good 30-40 of those are of superb quality. Footwork is paramount here, as foot holds hard to find and crumbly, and body tension technique is non-negotiable. Groom takes a while to grow on you, and once it does it’ll be one of your favorite crags.

Groom Creek is located about 20 minutes south of Prescott, located deep in the Prescott National Forest. The best time to climb here is late fall and early winter. The granite is greasy in the heat and harder problems are nearly unclimbable in the summer. Most of the landings in Groom are easily protected with one or two crash pads, so it’s a great area for solo climbers.

Five Groom Creek Problems to Consider:

  • The Wave V0+
  • Facelift V4
  • Moonstone V6/7
  • Charles in Charge V5
  • Monster V8

Haley is originally from Gilbert, Arizona. Among her favorites are Arizona sunsets, Midwest greenery, being outdoors and tasting new craft beers. “There’s no time to be bored in a world as beautiful as this.”

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