If you’re visiting Crested Butte or the Gunnison Valley area, there’s plentiful opportunities for rock climbing both indoors and out. There’s some amazing bouldering right near downtown Crested Butte, or you can drive a little further for more trad routes and problems in the surrounding area.
Indoor Rock Climbing
The only indoor climbing gym near Crested Butte is nearby in Gunnison. Western Colorado University has a 43.4-foot climbing wall with 13 leadable routes, two free-form cracks, and a rappel platform that’s all student designed. There’s 3,114 square feet of climbing space but you do have to complete a Climbing Orientation first.
Outdoor Rock Climbing
Crested Butte is located in the Elk Mountains of Colorado, a range that covers a large area including White River National Forest and Gunnison National Forest. The Gunnison Valley and Crested Butte area is one of the coldest counties in the lower 48 states, and cold air sinks into lower elevations. It gets quite cold, which is why outdoor climbs should mainly take place in warmer months for the Crested Butte area (or spring and fall for Black Canyon and Gunnison).
There is a bouldering area pretty close to Crested Butte itself, but most of the main routes and boulders are within an hour or two drive. There’s some great quality rock and lots of opportunity for explored and unexplored routes and problems. If you want some mountaineering routes, consider nearby 14ers Castle Peak, Maroon Bells, and Conundrum, otherwise here are some of the main places in the area.
Consider purchasing the book “Gunnison Rock” by Leo Malloy for a handheld reference.
Near the town of Crested Butt and the Crested Butte ski area, you can find a fun bouldering area on the SW side of the mountain above the Skyland neighborhood (don’t park in this neighborhood – it’s private property). Mountain Project calls this area “a secret gem” and a “very Frenchy setting” and it can be accessed by following Tony’s Trail to Upper Loop Trail. It boasts large boulders among massive aspen trees and it’s generally uncrowded even though it’s some of the finest boulders in the state. Here’s a more detailed guide to the boulders.
Not far from the Skyland Boulders is the Cement Creek area, which offers multiple sport, mixed, and traditional crags that range from 1 to 3 pitches on three different rock types. Many of the routes are south-facing, making it ideal for cooler days but not peak summer. A lot of the hardware in this area is outdated, but is slowly being replaced – there’s lots of unexplored rock for intermediate climbers and experienced ones too.
Taylor Canyon Climbing Areas
Taylor Canyon is about a 30-minute drive from Crested Butte and this area boasts some great sport climbs and fun problems. While Taylor Canyon is listed as an area on Mountain Project, there are several other nearby spots that have much to offer. There’s First Buttress (5.4-5.12), which is a staked wall for top rope with easy access from the parking area, and Spring Creek, a nearby canyon with 5.8-5.12c rope climbing.
Hartman Rocks Recreation Area
Hartman Rocks is a BLM recreation area outside of the town of Gunnison that’s home to 8,000+ acres of paradise for desert mountain biking, hiking, motorcycling, climbing, and more. It’s dominated by a granite ridge that’s home to limitless adventure. Bolting is allowed, but climbers are encouraged to practice clean climbing whenever possible. This location has all types of climbing including bolted routes (5.5-5.12+), bouldering (V-easy to V-hard), and a handful of trad cracks. Most routes are quite accessible from nearby parking.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Some of these climbing areas near Crested Butte are overshadowed by the nearby Black Canyon National Park, or “The Black.” This national park is home to the deepest canyon in the state and reaches depths upwards of 2,700 feet. Permits are required for climbing but they are free and can be obtained from either the North or South Rim Visitor Center 24 hours a day. Due to the difficulty of rescues in the canyon, this area is recommended for experienced climbers only and you should climb within your ability level.
“Several western canyons exceed the Black Canyon in overall size…. some are longer, some are deeper, some are narrower, and a few have walls as steep. But no other canyon in North America combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness, and somber countenance of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.” – Wallace Hansen
Cover photo from Mike Bromberg of the Cement Creek Caves.