Breadloaves City of Rocks National Reserve rock climbing

Reasons To Rock Climb – City of Rocks in Idaho

I’ve been thinking about learning to rock climb. Which is weird because as inspiring as I think rock climbers are, I also think they might be lunatics with a death wish. Aren’t they scared? Isn’t rock climbing dangerous? Don’t you need super human physical strength? These questions were on my mind when I recently visited City of Rocks National Reserve and it’s sister park, Castle Rocks State Park. In south central Idaho, these parks are a favorite among rock climbers.

While I was hiking through the parks, my feet firmly on the ground, I watched dozens of rock climbers scaling granite spires up to 600 feet high. There were rock climbers of all ages in City of Rocks, both men and women. I personally know people who love rock climbing. Surely they’re not all crazy. I just need to know more, why they started climbing, what they love about it. So, I asked my peeps and here’s what I found out. And, keep reading to find out more about City of Rocks.

Working Through Your Fears

On one hand, rock climbing seems scary so it’d be easy to say, just don’t do it. You might not ever completely get rid of a particular fear. And yet, it’s healthy to face a fear so you can learn to cope with it, and all other challenges, more easily. I don’t necessarily have a fear of heights, but I do have a fear of falling down. Allow me to get a little deep here, but I think the real reason I fear falling is because I fear losing control. I love scrambling over boulders and rocks on my hikes, using my hands and feet. So, maybe rock climbing would be a fun sport to try while gaining personal insights.

Elephant Rock City of Rocks
Almost to the top of Elephant Rock (City of Rocks)

Like a Puzzle, Both Mentally and Physically Challenging

When I’m hiking, my brain sort of goes on auto pilot. There might be sections of the trail that require me to think harder, like how to safely scramble over rock obstacles. Or if the trail terrain is particularly difficult. But my peeps tell me that rock climbing continually challenges you mentally, not just physically. You have to think about every move you make, the next place you’re going to put your hands, your fingers, your feet. It teaches you how to problem solve. It’s a full-body and mind workout.

city of rocks
Must be a great view (City of Rocks)

An Inclusive Sport

Rock climbing requires technique and strength, as well as balance and efficiency. Men and women, old and young, short and tall can all enjoy rock climbing. It’s not about muscle bulk. Rock climbing is about strength-to-weight ratio, which is the measure of a person’s strength divided by their body weight. When two people have a similar amount of strength, the person with the lower body weight has the higher strength-to-weight ratio. I thought rock climbing placed more emphasis on your arms and hands. Not true. When climbing, it’s important to push yourself up with your legs, not pull yourself up with your arms. You also need a strong core.

Private Idaho, City of Rocks
Private Idaho (City of Rocks)

OK, So Isn’t It Dangerous?

Yes, rock climbing is dangerous. But so is hiking. I’ve hiked some crazy, tough trails. I know what gear I need for what trails and in different kinds of weather. When I’m hiking, I could get lost, run into a bear or mountain lion, fall off the trail into a ravine, encounter unexpected weather, all kinds of fun stuff. Just like hiking, rock climbing requires the right gear and experience.

Windows Arch City of Rocks
Me in Windows Arch (City of Rocks)

Getting Started With Rock Climbing

If I ever do decide to give rock climbing a try, the first thing I’d do is sign up for a training class. There are climbing gyms and MeetUp groups that offer beginning rock climbing classes. The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation offers a Climbing Experience program in City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park. Trained park employees take novice climbers on easy routes. It gives beginners a feel for the sport and equipment in a safe environment, while experiencing beautiful scenery.

Near Windows Arch, City of Rocks
Near Windows Arch (City of Rocks)

More About the City of Rocks

The City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park are separate parks with separate entrances. But the entire area is generally referred to as “City of Rocks.”

Brackenbury Gulch Castle Rocks City of Rocks
Brackenbury Gulch (Castle Rocks)

Getting There

Google Maps – City of Rocks is in south central Idaho, just north of the Utah border. The closest town is Almo, a tiny village.

Backyard Boulders Trail Castle Rocks City of Rocks
Backyard Boulders Trail (Castle Rocks)

Visitor’s Center

Google Maps – There’s one visitor’s center for both parks in Almo. The rangers there are very helpful and you can pick up trail maps.

Comp Wall Castle Rocks City of Rocks
Comp Wall (Castle Rocks)


You can only camp in designated areas in City of Rocks (both parks). You can make reservations online at or call 888-922-6743. Reservations are recommended because the campgrounds are usually full. Dispersed camping is also available on nearby Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. But there aren’t a lot of trees there. Finding a spot of privacy for toilet breaks is a challenge and pretty much isn’t happening. “Howdy, tent neighbor, just taking my morning piss!”

Hiking True Grit Castle Rocks City of Rocks
Hiking True Grit (Castle Rocks)


City of Rocks National Reserve Trail Map, Castle Rocks State Park Trail Map – There are over 22 miles of fun hiking trails of all difficulty levels. The trails lead to climbing areas, features, and views. Trail markers are sparse.

Stocking Up and Post-Hike Hops

Go to Rock City in Almo, ID for…..well, everything! A combination of pizza and beer joint, liquor store, and outdoor supply shop, Rock City is the one-stop shop in Almo. There really isn’t any other place like it in Almo. Lucky for us, the place is super fun and the people very friendly. I loved hanging out on the patio with a post-hike beer.

Rock City restaurant and store in City of Rocks
Post-hike hops at Rock City

Many thanks to my personal consultant, Bryan, for letting me pick his brain about rock climbing while we hiked and camped at City of Rocks!

My personal rock climbing consultant City of Rocks
Bryan, my personal rock climbing consultant

What adventures are you thinking of trying?

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