Best Spots for Beginner Rock Climbing in Tahoe

Best Spots for Beginner Rock Climbing in Tahoe

Beginner rock climbing on granite at Donner Summit near Truckee, CA

Trad climbing at Donner Summit near Truckee, CA. 

If you’ve been rock climbing in the gym and you’re ready to take your climbing to the next level in the Truckee/Tahoe area, keep reading! Whether you're interested in top roping, trad climbing, sport climbing, or multi pitch climbing, we'll break it down for you so you can spend more time rock climbing in Tahoe and less time looking! 

Best Spots for Top Roping in Tahoe

Don’t be surprised if you find the transition from gym climbing to outdoor rock climbing in Tahoe to be more challenging than expected. Making the move from color coded jugs to tiny crimps that you can hardly see can be quite the shocker. Luckily the Tahoe area has a good amount of top roping crags that let you focus on the climbing without worrying about the gear too much. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of taking a course from a professional to gain the necessary skills to rock climb outdoors safely. 

90 Foot Wall

Along the West Shore of Lake Tahoe lies the 90-foot wall. The approach is fairly short and easy, but your crux of the day will be beating the tourists and traffic exploring Emerald Bay and the surrounding areas. Get there early if you want to find parking. 

Not only does this crag have both easy and moderate climbs, but it also has the option to top rope or lead most routes and offers both face and crack climbing. It’s no wonder that the routes are polished from so much traffic - this place has got it all. 

Johnny Wall

If you’re coming from the Bay Area or Sacramento, Johnny Wall is just off Interstate 80 on your way to Tahoe. This is an excellent location for family or kid’s rock climbing near Tahoe as it offers eight routes from 5.5 up to 5.9 and they are all top ropable. The approach is easy - about a one-minute walk from the road!

If it’s a super-hot day, this may not be your best bet as it’s lower in elevation than Tahoe and also South facing, but the South Yuba River is just down the road if you want to jump in afterwards. 

Rappelling after outdoor rock climbing in Truckee

Rappelling while outdoor rock climbing in Truckee, CA. 

Best Spots for Beginner Trad Climbers

If you want to find splitter cracks and sandbagged ratings in Tahoe, look no further than trad climbing at Donner Summit. Just like anchor building, learning to place cams and build trad anchors is an essential skill that we highly recommend you learn from an AMGA trained guide.

School Rock - Donner Summit

You can practice placing gear and building trad anchors on Nursery School Slab, a hit for kid’s rock climbing and family rock climbing in Tahoe. The hardest climb on Mountain Project is 5.4 and makes a great place to build confidence with placing gear.  

Once you feel dialed at Nursery School, you can graduate to Kindergarten and climb the first pitch of Kindergarten Crack. Once you learn multi pitch rock climbing skills, you can complete this climb in two pitches if you want! 

Best Spot for Beginner Sport Climbers

The Emeralds

If you’re new to outdoor sport climbing near Lake Tahoe, it might make sense to drive an hour west from Truckee to The Emeralds.  This spot offers a variety of crags with lower grades and fun sport climbing.  Some routes can be a little sporty, with bolts spaced father than you might like, so be sure to give your chosen route a good look and read the comments before jumping on lead if you're pushing your grades.  

Big Chief

Big Chief is a great crag for sport climbing in Tahoe, offering steep climbs with positive holds on solid, volcanic rock. If you're feeling strong from climbing at the gym, are comfortable leading and are looking for a place to learn to rock climb outdoors, you'll love Big Chief!  If you’re a brand-new sport climber, The Chief may not be your best option.

The bolting is generally well done, and with a ton of routes packed into a small area, the density of climbing at The Chief makes it a great place to cram in a lot of climbs.  It's also a nice change of pace from the old-school granite trad climbing of Donner Summit!


Intro to Outdoor Rock Climbing and gym to crag in Tahoe

Learning to rock climb outdoors at Donner Summit near Truckee, CA.

Best Spot for Beginner Multi Pitch Rock Climbers

Lover’s Leap
The Caldor Fire ripped through this glorious place during the summer of 2021, but the trails have been repaired and the granite rock climbing is still splitter. If you’re new to multi pitch rock climbing, the Hogsback offers a few great options where you can practice dialing in your systems. The first pitch of Knapsack Crack is rated as a 5.2 and offers a bomber (unquestionably solid) tree anchor. The second pitch bumps up to 5.4 and then 5.5. The lower grades let you focus on your gear and systems rather than the climbing - take it one step at a time!

Please note: none of these suggestions are considered “safe” but they are good options from our personal experience. Before you begin your outdoor rock-climbing career, consider hiring an AMGA trained guide to teach you the skills needed to climb safely. Don’t rely on your buddies who watched a few Youtube videos to teach you. Take a class from a trained professional and get hands-on experience with some guided rock climbing in Tahoe.

Courses that make a great start are:  

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