The Top 5 Urban Bouldering Crags
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
As a Boston-area climber, I really appreciate urban crags, those spunky little cliffs and boulderfields tucked in between housing developments and industrial parks. They may not always be the prettiest or the biggest, but for those of us who don’t have a Hueco in our backyard and can’t take off work to travel, they’re the only way to get out on real rock with any regularity. As a salute to city-dwelling rock, I’ve put together this guide to five of my favorite urban bouldering crags around the US.
1. Hammond Pond – Newton, MA
Tucked into the woods behind a strip mall in Boston’s suburbs, Hammond Pond is probably one of the only climbing areas on the East Coast that’s accessible by subway. The boulders and cliffs scattered around the pond are short, slabby-to-steep, and made almost entirely of Roxbury puddingstone, Massachusetts’ state rock. People who aren’t used to climbing puddingstone may find themselves getting frustrated at first. It’s notoriously slippery, and filled with harsh micro-edges and crystals, making it great for building both technique and strength.While there’s bouldering scattered around Hammond, the main area is the Alcove, a short overhanging wall with traverses and moderate face problems. To get there, take the green line toward Riverside and get off at Chestnut Hill; from the stop, the approach is about ten minutes.
2. Moe’s Valley – St. George, UT
I don’t know how Moe’s has stayed under the radar for as long as it has. The area, located in a sandstone desert valley, is gorgeous. The climbing is super-steep, with plenty of dynamic moves and a few nice highballs. And while Moe’s is located on the outskirts of southern Utah’s biggest city and surrounded by residential developments, the protected location makes it feel much wilder. My one gripe about the climbing at Moe’s Valley was the occasionally sketchy rock, though the sandstone is pretty solid compared to other local crags.Thanks to suburban sprawl, you can park and walk five minutes to the boulders. It’s also possible to bike or walk from downtown St. George, though the city’s shortage of crosswalks and general disregard for pedestrians makes it a bit of an adventure.
3. Flagstaff Mountain – Boulder, CO
Flagstaff Mountain has been the training ground for some of the world’s strongest climbers. Early bouldering greats like John Gill opened problems on Flagstaff’s sandstone walls and boulders, and the area still draws big names like Daniel Woods and Alex Puccio.
The sandstone is rock-solid, if a little bit sharp, and most of the bouldering is just feet from the road. Flagstaff is also accessible by foot, via a path that winds through meadows and past Boulder’s famous most famous landmark, the Flatirons. Non-residents who plan to drive will need to buy a parking pass, available at any of the six self-service stations on Flagstaff Road ($5.00 per day).
Thanks to the healthy local climbing culture, there are always at least a few people around, so finding a spotter shouldn’t be hard. Grades tend to be sand-bagged.
4. Rat and Cat Rocks – New York, NY
Rat and Cat Rocks would be unremarkable if it weren’t for their location. These small schist outcroppings on Central Park’s southern edge are more or less the only climbable stone in Manhattan, and from spring through autumn draw crowds of boulderers looking for a quick outdoor pump. The problems are mostly easy, but there are a few hard eliminates up to V10. Because the climbing is so limited, practices like gluing are often more accepted here than at other crags.Two of the rocks’ better-known denizens are Yukihiko Ikumori, a Japanese gardener known as the “spiritual godfather” of Central Park climbing, and Ashima Shiraishi, a local climbing prodigy who, at 8 years old, sent her first V10 at Rat Rock.
5. Boat Rock – Atlanta, GA
This collection of oblong granite boulders is notable for its slabby, technical problems and splitter cracks, both of which should challenge gym climbers. There are a few steeper problems around as well, like the classic Paint Can (V5).Boat Rock has a long history of climbing, and was the site of one of the first bouldering competitions in the US in 1985. In 2001, Boat Rock was slated for development as a housing complex, but was narrowly saved when the Southeastern Climbers Coalition and the Access Fund purchased the land on which the boulders sat. Since then, land donations from locals have helped to expand the area and protect it for future climbing.