farris_RC_MN_WI_map

Rock Climbing Minnesota and Wisconsin describes nearly 1000 routes at 13 major areas, offering a lifetime of cragging entertainment for beginners and experts alike. Experience the distinctive sea cliff atmosphere of climbing along the North Shore of Lake Superior; cling to solid basalt routes at Taylors Falls; edge up the impeccable quartzite at Devils Lake and Blue Mounds State Park; revel in the Northwoods environment of Mystical Mountain and Carlton Peak; or push your limits on steep, difficult sport routes at Barn Bluff and Willow River. Maps and photos accompany clear written descriptions of the routes, and pertinent access and safety information complete the package to make Rock Climbing Minnesota and Wisconsin an indispensable component on your next Midwestern climbing adventure.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are many small outcrops in the region, many of which have been climbed/bolted without landowner permission. I can’t include those areas in the guidebook.

There are two issues here. First, the traditional style of climbing varies from area to area. Routes that are traditionally led and routes that are traditionally rehearsed on top rope will end up with different ratings. While we don’t have long multi-pitch routes in our area, those routes would likely be rated differently than the routes that are rehearsed on lead at areas such as Red Wing.

The second issue is your own experience. In our geologically diverse area, the style of climbing can differ dramatically from area to area. If you lack experience on a particular type of rock, ratings can seem to be too low.

Use the Area Introductions (PDF) to learn about the rationale for ratings

Yeah that happens. You can argue about it on the web. One place where I did try to be a little soft on ratings was on trad routes frequented by newer leaders. In a few places I left the traditional (top rope) ratings even though they were quite stiff. And in many cases I received no information from any of you about these routes.

The best place for these is Mountain Project. More people will see your information that way.

Nobody, and anyone is welcome to write a guidebook on any area. I consistently hear that X is putting out a new guidebook for area Y, but nothing ever makes it to print.

Good for you. The predatory reimbursement schemes imposed by Amazon mean that authors of guidebooks basically don’t get any of the money you give to Amazon. So enjoy saving a couple bucks and look forward to the near future when nobody writes guidebooks because they can’t cover their expenses, let alone make a few dollars.

Click the tabs below for an introduction to each area

Minnesota: South of Duluth

Want the joys of quartzite without the Devils Lake crowds? This is your place. There’s a lot of scope for exploration and even on busy spring weekends there’s no need to climb within earshot of other climbers. It’s often warmer here than anywhere else in the MN-WI area, a boon for early or late-season climbing.

Over 100 routes were added to the second edition!

 

Notes
  • Purgatory (page 39, route 33) is most easily climbed by going more or less straight up above the little alcove at the start; moving left about halfway up, then back right a few feet higher, is easiest. The line in the photo is too far to the left.
  • Parking continues to be an issue at the south end of the cliffs. Hike in from the north if you can. If you use the south lot, carpool! Meet in town and drive one car up; do the same from the campground.

 

Prairie Walls, Blue Mounds

Prairie Walls, Blue Mounds

The sport climber’s destination in the upper midwest. The climbs are just long enough and there are enough hard climbs to keep you happy.

Notes
  • Ratings change here constantly. The EZ routes are getting polished and holds break every year. Assume that the guidebook is wrong or ask a local. Don’t be afraid to stick clip the first bolt, thought the second clip is often still a groundfall if you blow it.
  • Every leader should carry an extra ‘leaver biner’ to replace manky carabiners at the chains. If you don’t leave at least a biner a year you’re not doing your part.
  • Here’s why you shouldn’t top rope over the fixed shuts at the top. Use your own slings…
Red Wing gear. See any problems?

Red Wing gear. See any problems?

Once the locus of central Minnesota climbing, it now has to share that title with Red Wing. Technically it’s Interstate State Park, and technically half of it is in Wisconsin and half in Minnesota, but who’s counting? Great moderate climbs and enough hard stuff to satisfy groups of varying abilities.

Notes
  • People still insist on dropping a rope or (worse yet) flat webbing down the approach to Batman etc. I predict somebody will get seriously hurt someday because of the false sense of security it provides. If you need a belay, then belay.
  • Most of the anchors I see on the top of Piece of Cake are inadequate: slings around loose blocks and gear in cracks between loose blocks.
  • Never climb on a tope-rope setup that you have not personally inspected, unless it was established by a climber that you know and trust.
David Dahl on Witch's Tit (5.10), Taylors Falls

David Dahl on Witch’s Tit (5.10), Taylors Falls

This area is used for ice, mixed, drytooling, and rock climbing. The bolted rock climbs are in the second edition.

The development of this area has shown two things:

  • the ability of climbers to organize and gain permission to develop the area from the town, and
  • the ridiculous turf battles, pissing matches, and flame wars that can arise in even a small, backwater climbing area. Too bad the climbs aren’t as big as the egos!
Sandstone before ice farming, 1997 or so.

Sandstone before ice farming, 1997 or so.

A little bit of basalt south of Duluth. Everyone finds a reason to climb here at some point. The same rock as Taylors Falls, just less of it.

Notes
  • The new parking lot is in (thanks to the Access Fund and all of those who helped). Don’t park in the old parking lot, which is the regular Superior Trail/Munger Trail parking lot.
  • Several trail races pass through this area. If you see colored flagging on the trees, please don’t tear it down.
  • There are other routes not listed in the guide, because nobody bothered to tell me about them.
  • Hunters use this land in the fall. Don’t be mistaken for a deer or grouse.

 

Fall colors on Elys Peak

Fall colors on Elys Peak

Minnesota: North of Duluth

This is the big bad cliff in Minnesota. Bad weather, suspect rock, lack of good protection, and sometimes puzzling moves produce the most challenging climbing area in the state.

 

Notes
  • Falcon closures occur almost every year. The falcons tend to move around, so the Park will post areas that are closed.
  • There has been a lot of activity here, freeing old aid routes and adding new routes.
Gary Nygaard on Palisade Head

Gary Nygaard on Palisade Head

The same rock as Palisade Head, but it’s less threatening. Still, some major-league routes in an impressive setting.

Notes
  • Try to preserve the soil and roots around the base of the trees you use for anchors.
  • Falcon closures occur almost every year. The falcons tend to move around, so the Park will post areas that are closed.
Jodie Hirsch on Only the Lonely, Shovel Point.

Jodie Hirsch on Only the Lonely, Shovel Point.

Sawmill Creek Dome: A few good climbs that are worth the walk. Usually deserted. Section 13: The coolest area where nobody ever climbs. My god, it’s a whole 30 minute walk from the trailhead! You should go to Palisade Head so we can have this place to ourselves.

Notes
  • Boulderers, please limit your environmental impacts in this area (too much chalk, clearing vegetation, mat-mania=killing ground cover, etc.)
  • Use caution during hunting seasons.
  • The Superior Hiking Trail passes right over the top of Section 13 and Sawmill Creek Dome.

 

Jon Cupka on Birch Flakes, Sawmill Creek Dome

Jon Cupka on Birch Flakes, Sawmill Creek Dome

Lots of rock, much not described in this guide due to questionable access. Some excellent routes that require a bit of work to approach.

Notes
  • Everything I describe is on Wolf Ridge property. Please follow their access rules.
  • Drive SLOWLY on the access road!
The last of the anorthosite domes with significant climbing as you drive up the North Shore. There are some neat climbs here, but setting up topropes can be quite a chore. The drive up the access road can be as exciting as the climbing., though most everyone hikes the SHT.

Notes

  • The 2nd edition has additional maps to help you find the climbs more easily, I hope.
  • Historically, these climbs are numbered. I’ve thought about attaching names but figured that I’d be struck by lightning. Any new routes forced in between current routes will be assigned numbers based upon decimal notation.

Wisconsin

A highly developed climbing area that’s very popular, and for good reason. The climbing is excellent at all grades, and the hardcores have established lots of tough routes, some with very few repeats.

My guide only details the some of the popular climbs. There are over 1500 routes listed in the Climbers Guide to Devil’s Lake, which is widely available.

I really enjoy climbing here but I don’t get to visit as often as I would like.

Notes
  • Make sure you pay your park entry fees–the rangers are ruthlessly efficient.
  • Weekends can be crazy, especially in the areas I’ve included in this guide. Groups quite often set up multiple ropes that are left unattended (booo, hisssss).
  • Leaders should be well-grounded in nutcraft and should not rely on cams as their sole means of protection.
  • Never climb on a tope-rope setup that you have not personally inspected, unless it was established by a climber that you know and trust.
Jodie Hirsch at Devil's Lake State Park, climbing Just another Pretty Face (5.10a)

Jodie Hirsch at Devil’s Lake State Park, climbing Just another Pretty Face (5.10a)

A speciality area that features severely overhanging rock. If you can’t lead 5.11 at Red Wing you don’t have any business climbing here.

Notes
  • Climbs on the south side of the stream (that’s the right side looking upstream, or the other side from the main area) are closed. Please don’t climb there.
  • Climbing is limited to certain days and hours, which change with the season. Check the park web site or the entrance station.
  • Don’t leave your draws hanging overnight–this is part of the deal that allows us to climb here
  • Pay your entry fees.
  • It always pays to wonder how long the bolts are good for in rock like this…
  • The river is loud–verbal communication between belayer and climber can be difficult.
David Dahl on Daily Grind (5.11a), Willow River.

David Dahl on Daily Grind (5.11a), Willow River.

Once the locus of central Minnesota climbing, it now has to share that title with Red Wing. Technically it’s Interstate State Park, and technically half of it is in Wisconsin and half in Minnesota, but who’s counting? Great moderate climbs and enough hard stuff to satisfy groups of varying abilities.

Notes
  • People still insist on dropping a rope or (worse yet) flat webbing down the approach to Batman etc. I predict somebody will get seriously hurt someday because of the false sense of security it provides. If you need a belay, then belay.
  • Most of the anchors I see on the top of Piece of Cake are inadequate: slings around loose blocks and gear in cracks between loose blocks.
  • Never climb on a tope-rope setup that you have not personally inspected, unless it was established by a climber that you know and trust.
Mike farris on The Old Man (5.8-), Taylors Falls

Mike farris on The Old Man (5.8-), Taylors Falls