5 Cool Rock Climbing Spots in Minnesota

5 Cool Rock Climbing Spots in Minnesota

When folks think of Minnesota, they may not think of technical rock climbing. Though we may not have walls like Yosemite, we do have cliffs and bluffs that soar hundreds of feet above rivers and lakes, with some routes rated at 5.14 and higher. What’s more, given the beautiful settings in which many of the best climbing spots are located, the hike in is often as satisfying as the climb itself. Here are some of our favorite spots.

1. Palisade Head

Palisade Head, a non-contiguous part of Tettegouche State Park, is one of the tallest cliff faces in Minnesota. These 300-foot red rhyolite cliffs soar straight up from the waters of Lake Superior. The hike along the top of the cliffs affords stunning views of Shovel Point to the east and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore across the lake in Wisconsin. Along with crack climbs that range from 5.9 to 5.12b, there are also some challenging routes that are rated as high as 5.12c, such as the Superior Arete. After a day of climbing, head over to the main part of the park, where you can camp, enjoy hikes along the Baptism River, including the 60-foot High Falls, and a visit to the Lake Superior shoreline without the climb back up.

2. Interstate State Park

The cliffs (or “Dalles”) along the St. Croix River gorge in Interstate State Park are one of the state’s most popular climbing destinations thanks to its proximity to the Twin Cities metro area. The cliffs were created by a billion-year-old volcanic flow that’s since been carved by glacial melt, leaving sheer faces and potholes in the basalt. A hike along the River Trail, above some of the best climbing spots, reveals dozens of examples of these glacial potholes, which were formed by prehistoric whirlpools. One of the best things about climbing in Interstate is that there’s a route for just about everyone, from beginners to expert climbers. Dozens of routes spider web the cliff faces, with difficulty ratings ranging from 5.0 to 5.13. The campground is an easy hike from the climbing areas. Canoe and kayak rentals are also available in the park, so you can explore more of the area from the river’s vantage point.

3. Blue Mounds State Park

The “mound” at Blue Mounds State Park is neither blue, nor is it exactly a mound. Rather, it’s a red, Sioux quartzite cliff that rises more than 100 feet above the tallgrass prairies of southwestern Minnesota. Along with several gorgeous hiking trails and a herd of bison, the park offers some awesome climbing and bouldering for beginner and intermediate climbers. With routes ranging from the low 5’s to the 5.12b “No Go Crack,” and boulders of various ratings, you’re sure to find a route to suit your climbing style. Some areas of the quarry are “no-climb” areas because of loose and flaking rock—be sure to keep an eye out and avoid these parts of the cliffs. Book one of the park’s tipis for a unique camping experience.  

4. Shovel Point

Another popular climbing destination on the North Shore, Shovel Point is located in the main part of Tettegouche State Park, a few miles northeast of Palisade Head. Shovel Point is an ancient volcanic flow, exposing bare cliffs above Lake Superior. Because it is more accessible and adjacent to the park’s day-use area, Shovel Point can be extremely busy and frequented by climbing groups, as well as tourists and onlookers. Because of the point’s tapered characteristics, the climbs range from a few dozen to more than 100 feet from the bottom of the cliff faces. Ratings range from 5.5, which makes Shovel Point popular for beginners, to 5.12a. The park’s gorgeous forests and wooded campground make it an awesome base camp for any North Shore climbing adventure.

5. Carlton Peak

This peak rises over 900 feet above Lake Superior and is a popular top rope and trad climbing destination. Carlton Peak is part of the Sawtooth Mountains in northeastern Minnesota, with rock described as tough and abrasive. With the challenging conditions of this climb, it’s best suited for a more experienced explorer.