The Hit List: Zion’s Best Climbing Routes and Areas

Michael Banach on lead in Zion National Park

Micheal Banach on lead in the Cerberus Gendarme area

In Zion, the sheer volume of climbable terrain and inconsistent rock quality make it difficult for visiting climbers to maximize their time here. Zion climbing is wild, untamed, and unpredictable, and there are few local climbers who have not had a day of climbing turn epic. The most recent local guide book, Zion: Free and Clean, by Brian Byrd, offers a wealth of information and is opening up the Park to a whole new audience, but without a defined rating system it may be just enough information to get folks in over their head. While I think a climber’s seasoning depends upon some degree of misadventure, my time logged on sandy, chossy, run-out, and off width rock could help you avoid the same. For specific information on routes listed below, consult the guide book and/or mountainproject.com

Rob Schwarzmann climbing Prodigal Sun, Zion National Park

Rob Schwarzmann approaches an anchor station on Prodigal Sun

To all the climbers out there looking to experience the full value of Zion climbing, I offer you my “greatest hits collection”. All the usual small print and conditions apply; don’t assume you’ll enjoy them just because I have. But hopefully these will help you gain a direction, if you don’t have one already…

Here are some great areas to get a feel for Zion climbing:
Practice Cliffs is a great beginner top rope climbing area. Be respectful of the petroglyphs on this wall. (classics include: The Flake Route 5.9 and Casual Sex 5.8)
- Itaxia Tower has the classic 5.9 two-pitch summit route, Ashtar Command. Adjacent to Itaxia is a fantastic 5.10 finger crack on the first pitch of Maneater (*PG-13* climbing above thin gear, hollow flakes, and a single bolt anchor). Nearby is Boring Crack, a long 5.10+ splitter, and the super classic 5.10 three-pitch route, Headache.
- The Confluence features a number of beginner trad and sport routes. Start early for morning shade and you can link it up with an afternoon at the Kung Fu Theatre. Be aware some bolted routes, like “I’m No Sports Climber” require small cams. Classics here include Salty Dog Arete (5.9), Tribute (5.10), and Crimson King (5.11).
- Kung Fu Theatre has some fine 5.11 trad climbing and plenty of afternoon shade. Don’t miss the beautiful fist crack on pitch two of Kung Fu Fighter and the splitter tips seam, Inner Chi. Classic sport routes here include Hong Kong Phooey (5.10-) and Enter the Dragon (5.11-).
- Cerberus Gendarme is the crag that has it all. It gets shade early in the morning and early in the afternoon. Popular favorites include: Cave Route (5.7+), Cherry Crack (5.9), Squeeze Play (5.10), Fails of Power (5.10), Electrika (5.11), and Intruder (5.11+). Also, around the corner from Big Bend is Cynthia’s Handjob, perhaps the most beautiful 5.10 dihedral handcrack in the Park (a.m. shade).
- Cragmont is the perfect destination for all day shade, solitude, and varied mulit-pitch climbing. Classics include Gypsy’s Curse (5.10), Pow in the Rat (5.11), Feast of Snakes (5.11), and Lapdance (5.11).

Calvin Laatsch leads a chimney section of Organ Grinder, Zion National Park, Utah

The author practicing his chimney technique on Organ Grinder

For those looking to get off the deck and onto some classic Zion big walls, the trade routes are sure to please. The Moonlight Buttress, Touchstone, Spaceshot, and Prodigal Sun are likely to be busy during the peak climbing season (spring and fall), but for good reason. Check out my other blog posts for gear recommendations, and do not pass up the opportunity to free as much of these routes as you can.

Other four star multi-pitch routes:
Beginner sport route – Led by Sheep (5.7)
Moderate sport route – Made to be Broken (5.10+)
Moderate trad route – Iron Messiah (5.10)
5.11 trad route – Shune’s Buttress
5.12 trad route – Monkey Finger

Honorable Mention:
The first pitch of the Weeping Rock Chimney (5.7) is likely the best beginner trad pitch in the Park.

The climbing season is approaching quickly, and I look forward to seeing more and more people exploring Zion. Don’t forget your 70m ropes, tape, helmet, and Action Jeans.

…and if you are gonna epic, ENJOY IT!

- Calvin

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About Calvin

Calvin Laatsch guides canyoneering, rock climbing, and mountain biking trips at Zion Adventure Company; he also consults staff and clients alike on Norwegian customs, smooth dance moves, and the latest in dirtbag fashion. Bring your binoculars with you on the Zion Scenic Drive, and there’s a good chance you’ll see Calvin WAY up a wall, testing his mettle in form-fitting jeans.
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