Rock Climbing in New Mexico
New Mexico offers an incredible variety of rock climbing terrains and styles. Whether you’re into the endurance of multi-pitch sport routes, the thrill of placing gear in traditional (trad) climbs, or the addictive puzzle of boulder problems, New Mexico has something for you. Factor in the picturesque desert and mountain scenery and plenty of BLM land for free camping and you’ve got a recipe for a memorable adventure in the Land of Enchantment.
“New Mexico feels like a yet-to-be-fully-discovered van life/climbers paradise. I’m not sure why everyone raves about all the surrounding states and glosses over NM. That’s what makes it so special, though, that there aren’t as many people there already.” -Michaela Brazington (@michaelabraz)
Despite a thriving climbing culture among locals, the crags of New Mexico are something of a mystery to the rest of the U.S. That’s why we’re sharing five of the most notable rock climbing spots in the state, along with where to camp and some activities to enjoy after you hang up your harness for the day. Read on for the beta.
Cover Photography by Storyteller Overland
Where to Van Camp: Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs & Spa RV Park
Why we Love it: This itinerary is meant for those that love to work hard and play hard (or rather, send hard and relax hard). El Rito Sport Area is chock-full of fun moderate-difficulty sport climbs on unique red cobble conglomerate rock. The cobbles and holes serve as excellent holds—it’s almost like a climbing gym outdoors! Nearby Little River Wall and El Rito Traditional Area offer even more routes. Camp 30 minutes away at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs & Spa RV Park and spend the next day soaking sore muscles in the spa’s mineral-rich geothermal waters.
Routes: sport (153), trad (20), boulder (16)
Where to Van Camp: Diablo Canyon Recreation Area
Why we Love it: Seek adventure in the Wild West-style scenery of Diablo Canyon near Santa Fe. The 300-foot tall basalt cliffs of the canyon make for a plethora of single-pitch and multi-pitch sport and trad routes. With free camping next to the climbing area, it’s easy to wake up early, make some coffee, and get a start on your multi-pitch project. Plus, the 336 climbs in the area could easily keep you occupied for days.
Routes: sport (279), trad (57), toprope (4)
Rock Climbing in New Mexico Cont..
Where to Van Camp: Albuquerque Central KOA
Why we Love it: Make New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque, your home base for day trips in the Sandia Mountains. Climbing in the Sandias is not for the faint of heart, with plenty of multi-pitch trad and alpine-style climbing accessible from the peak of the mountains. For something a bit more low-key, spend a couple of hours in the foothills of the Sandias (only eight minutes from the KOA) at the popular bouldering spot of U-Mound. Then head to the nearby Green Jeans Farmery for food and drinks from local vendors housed in an unconventional structure made of shipping containers. Because the dining hall is adjacent to one of the city’s two indoor climbing gyms, it’s the perfect place to mingle with fellow climbers.
Routes: alpine (295), trad (269), sport (25), toprope (15), boulder (Sandias-6; U-Mound-68), aid (2), ice (1)
Where to Van Camp: The Box Recreation Area
Why we Love it: The Box is a crowd-pleaser with offerings for every type of climbing, but the boulders are where this place truly shines. With almost a quarter of its climbs being boulder problems, The Box is a must-visit for avid boulderers. The warmer climate of Socorro makes the area a destination for winter climbing. Winter is also the perfect time to venture 30 minutes away to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for captivating scenes of migrating cranes and geese taking flight over the golden grasslands.
Routes: sport (237), boulder (106), toprope (43), trad (40)
Where to Van Camp: Jemez Falls Campground
Why we Love it: Nestled in the Jemez Mountains, Las Conchas is one of the most beautiful places to climb in the state, especially during the warmer months. Picture a stream flowing between grassy meadows and protected by volcanic rhyolite cliffs. This gentle landscape is popular for hiking and picnicking in addition to climbing. The Cattle Call Wall features easier climbs that can be toproped or led by beginners. The Love Shack Area offers short overhung sport routes and the novelty of climbing above shallow water while belayers stand back on the riverbank. Stay at the Jemez Falls Campground with waterfalls and multiple natural hot springs in the vicinity.
Routes: sport (130), trad (15), boulder (12), toprope (7)
When planning your New Mexican climbing itinerary, it’s important to do your research. Visit the Mountain Project website for specific information on how to find climbing areas and routes, as well as what conditions to expect and what equipment you’ll need. If you’re visiting New Mexico from another state during Covid-19, check the NM Department of Health website for travel restrictions and recommendations.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than connecting with total strangers within a community where you feel welcomed and accepted instantly. That’s the climbing community. That’s the van life community. Now imagine combining the two.” – Jessica Wilkerson and Shawn Freshman (@cruxandbeta)
Rock climbing and van life make a great pair. One of our favorite rigs for climbers is the 2021 Roadtrek Zion because it is rugged and small enough to navigate to many crags. If you’re a climber looking to roam the country in search of your next project, discover the 2021 RoadTrek Zion and other adventure vans here.