The Ultimate Guide to Rock Climbing in Michigan
Rock climbing might not be the first activity that comes to mind when exploring Michigan, but the state is a vast outdoor playground offering a number of climbing opportunities suitable for all climbers. Whether you’re new to the sport or a seasoned pro, Michigan has several crags – climbing destinations – primed for exploring.
Climbing provides a unique way to experience the outdoors. In addition to the sport's physical and mental benefits, the stunning scenery at the top of a route is something few people get to enjoy. It’s also a great way to immerse yourself in the welcoming outdoors community of the Great Lakes State, as rock climbers are an accepting and encouraging group.
For first-time climbers, there are plenty of resources available throughout Michigan to get acquainted with the sport. Indoor gyms are a great place to get comfortable with the heights and unusual movements involved in climbing before you start scaling real rock.
Terra Firma Bouldering Co. in Grand Rapids is a great place to start. It’s all bouldering, which is free climbing on shorter walls – there are no tall rope routes in the gym – so it’s perfect for getting familiar with climbing before you tackle taller and longer routes. You’ll find more indoor gyms in Michigan’s other major cities like Ann Arbor and Detroit. Elev8, Traverse City’s gym is also extremely beginner-friendly, with bouldering and rope climbing options on both tall and shorter walls.
If you prefer to start outside, Down Wind Sports, an outdoor sports store with locations in Marquette, Munising, and Houghton, offers guided rock climbing trips for new and competent climbers alike. The Down Wind team provides all the gear you need and takes groups of up to eight climbers to different locations throughout the Upper Peninsula.
True North Outpost, primarily known for its rafting opportunities, also hosts climbing excursions. Based in the Upper Peninsula town of Norway, True North Outpost takes anywhere from one to 10 climbers to crags in the surrounding areas on either a full or half-day trip.
Rock Climbing Areas in Michigan
If you’ve already got your gear and are confident in your climbing skills, grab some friends and check out some of the climbing areas below! Before you head out, make sure you have a guidebook and download Mountain Project, a free, crowd-sourced guide to crags and routes.
A 20-minute drive outside Michigan’s capital city will bring you to the only crag in the Lower Peninsula: Grand Ledge. It’s easily accessible, as you’ll find the climbing area a brief walk from the parking lot in Oak Park. Plus, it’s welcoming to all levels of climbing. Although there’s no lead climbing allowed, there’s over 100 top rope and bouldering routes to choose from, so it’s got something for everyone. Expect other climbers on a sunny day, but the climbing community is extremely kind and tends to share their ropes, taking turns on all the routes. Doug’s Roof is one of the trickiest and most sought-after climbs here, so be sure to give this funky climb a go!
The quartzite cliff at Slugg’s Bluff is 80 feet tall and has opportunities for both sport and traditional climbing, with over twelve marked routes to date. Last year, the climbing community became the owners of this popular crag located 20 minutes outside of Marquette. What’s more, this September, the Upper Peninsula Climbers Coalition hosted its premiere Slug Fest, offering clinics and climbing to those who registered.
You’ll find Sunset Gulley at Sugarloaf Mountain, one of Marquette’s most popular hiking destinations. You can leave your car in the same lot the hikers do and walk on an unmarked track through the woods to find this crag. It’s home to just under 20 routes and offers every kind of climbing: sport, traditional and bouldering!
Situated in state forest land near the Wisconsin border, this climbing spot is in Iron Mountain. It’s deemed one of the best spots for new climbers, as most of the routes have good holds for both hands and feet. There are 29 official climbs here, with opportunities for traditional, sport and top rope climbing. If nothing else, Carney Crag is a wonderful place to hike, as it showcases the forests and beauty that make the upper peninsula remarkable.
Rock Climbing and Sustainability
While rock climbing has become increasingly popular, the art of climbing spans decades. Those who climb are often recognized as environmental stewards, as they’re almost always the ones who look after these beloved crags. The climbing community in Michigan often hosts crag cleanups and installs anti-erosion infrastructure to maintain the area. This history of stewardship is precisely why climbers were awarded ownership of Slugg’s Bluff – the family who owned the property recognized their love and care for the place.
So, if you do give rock climbing a go (and you should!), appreciate the space you’re in and make an effort to be kind to the land and the rock so people can come after you and enjoy it too.
Michigan Rock Climbing Resources
About the Author: Cameryn Cass is a freelance writer and recent graduate from Michigan State University. She’s a rock climber and outdoor enthusiast who loves exploring new ways to enjoy Michigan’s beauty and outdoor playground.