Boston Rock Climbing Guide: Sport, Trad, Gym Bouldering


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Jun 02, 2024

Boston Rock Climbing Guide: Sport, Trad, Gym Bouldering

With easy access to some of New England's iconic crags and a burgeoning gym scene, it's not so bad to be a climber in Beantown Author Matt Stieb Photo by Osman Rana via Unsplash At a grand elevation

With easy access to some of New England's iconic crags and a burgeoning gym scene, it's not so bad to be a climber in Beantown


Matt Stieb

Photo by Osman Rana via Unsplash

At a grand elevation of 46 feet, Boston isn’t on anyone’s list of America’s great rock climbing cities. But it just might make the cut as a wicked good climbing city—with local options to test the tendons and access to world-class crags if you’re OK with driving a couple hours.

When watching the Sox, Pats, C’s or B’s brings your blood pressure to an unhealthy level, consider the options below to get your hands on some of New England’s best granite, gneiss, and schist. Or, you know, plastic.

For local know-how, the gyms are going to be a good resource for getting crag info and last-minute rock shoe pick-ups if you’re worried your old Skwamas are running low on rubber. If you’re one of the many students in the city, there are zillions of deals and discounts to scope out. For a general area guidebook, the second edition of Boston Rocks gets the job done; it’s 20 years old, but the rocks are still there. Mountain Project is always great for getting the lay of the land, but if you find yourself going back to the same spots, consider the Rumney or Pawtuckaway guide books. And while there are plenty of REI-style options to pick up a new rope or a few extra quickdraws, you’re going to have to drive up to North Conway for a true-blue climbing store. There, International Mountain Equipment has got it all, including the best consignment shop east of New Paltz.

If you grew up in Massachusetts, you already know about layering. If not, prepare for big swings in temperature with a solid puffy most months of the year. Bug spray is a must in New Hampshire during any month when the leaves are green. Winter bouldering days are doable if it’s sunny and dry; just wear long johns if you really want the temps to send hard. If you’re going sport climbing, it’s best to get your own gear, but crash pads are available for rent from Rock Spot gyms.

Climbing, for all its upsides, requires a car in pretty much every region of the country—and Boston is no exception, save for the Quincy Quarries, which you can haul your gear to on the bus. But if you time the traffic right, there’s tons of bouldering, sport, and trad of all grades within a two-hour drive, including some of the best schist known to man.

This cliff at the very southern tip of the White Mountain National Forest is the premier option in New England. Located two hours from Boston with weekend traffic, you could climb from your first day until your knees, shoulders, and toes give out and never get bored on Rumney schist. (It would be a shame if you never got to the gnarly trad and alpine climbing in the Whites, but you’ll never be bored at Rumney.) It’s great for beginners, with many easy approaches and dozens of sport routes in the low fives. It is bolted out like a gym and there are even signs telling you which way the individual crags are. Not exactly the backcountry! For the moderate climber, there are plenty of 5.10s, 5.11s, and 5.12s that are challenging and unique for the grade. And if you’re top notch, take on the stout stuff on the overhung paradise of Waimea—or see if you can chase down the guide-book-cover classic, Predator.

Go in the fall for serious climbing temps and leaf-peeping. But if you’re not going to storm China Beach, July and August are totally underrated Rumney months. New Hampshire rules in the summer. Climb hard in the morning before it heats up, then dip in the Baker River across the street from the parking lot. For other swimming options, Sculptured Rocks and the exquisitely-clear Newfound Lake are 20 minutes away.

Bring a few crash pads to take on Zig Zag Crack, the best V1 you may ever pull on. It climbs like a dream but the top-out is pretty tall. If height makes you wobbly, consider dialing in the layback on top-rope via the trusty bolt up top. Then give it the Instagram go.

The closest Dunks is on Route 25 just off the main highway. Kill a mild hangover with two orders of hashbrowns and an iced regular.

If Rumney is the best climbing within a 200-mile radius, Quincy is the most unique. Does it technically suck? Well, yeah. Thanks to years of taggers practicing on the old quarry, the first 20 feet require you to climb through multiple layers of spray paint slicked onto the granite. But if you can top-rope your way past the paint, it’ll help you get confident enough to pull on actual rock in the worst of conditions—and in damp New England, there are a lot of bad conditions. And just a few miles out of the city and reachable by bus, it’s a great place to take friends for a half-day to see if they actually like climbing outside or want to stick to gym plastic.

On the largest face in the quarry, Pins and The Power of Positive Thinking are the top-rope king lines, but plenty of short 5.5s dot the area. Scramble up the backside to set up TRs for most routes—it’s not really worth trying the few sport options considering the potential for ground fall from the first few bolts, where the paint makes the holds unreliable. Paint aside, it’s a great place to hone your anchor and belay skills, or to do a spooky first walk-off rappel on the main wall. The first climbers at Quincy actually used it as a training ground before taking on headier stuff in New Hampshire and in the Gunks in New York. Just remember that gravity is still on.

Boston’s North Shore harbors a surprising bit of granite bouldering, with most of it scattered around the Cape Ann peninsula that includes old fishing towns like Gloucester and Rockport. The beehive boulders at Dyke’s Pond are worth a trip up Route One all on their own. A number of quality low-grade challenges dot the woods around Final Judgement, a V6 on a prow that is both slappy and delicate. (If it’s summertime, cool off at Singing Beach just down the road.) A little closer to Boston is the Lynn Woods Reservations. It has over 1,000 problems alone, including The Buttermilker—a V7 with all the movement one could ever ask for in a line.

There’s a lot more bouldering on Boston’s North Shore than the South—as you might expect when comparing the coastline, where the north starts to look like the rocky Maine coastline and the south tends to be more marshy. But there are some scattered gems down in the Whitney and Thayer Woods in Scituate. The Skyline Wall has some tall warm-ups; test your ability with heights on some increasingly high problems leading up to a no-joke V4. Or head to the Bigelow boulder for some lower problems, like a tough, one-move V4, a soft V6, and a lowball V7 that feels more like wrestling than climbing.

Thank the glaciers for delivering these top-notch boulders to the woods of southern New Hampshire an hour north of the city (on weekend days). Heady V0s like Cream will get your heart pumping even if your forearms don’t feel it yet. V2 fingerlocks? Reachy V3 traverses and knee bars? Pawtuckaway has it all—including one of the best V6s on the East Coast in Ride the Lightning. Follow the charming and obvious line and commit for the slopey mantle up top.

There’s killer climbing in the Berkshires, but there’s also a general rule not to post too much information online to keep everything on an even keel with the tony locals. But that doesn’t apply to the newly established crag of Hanging Mountain—a 1,000-foot long range of cliffs of mixed rock with a great selection of routes under 5.10. As is the case with all new spots, look out for choss and keep that helmet on.

With the rise in climbing’s popularity over the past decade coinciding with a boom in tech workers inside the I-95 belt, there’s plenty of plastic to pull on in Boston. The gyms are all pretty new, meaning you’ll get some great amenities—with the tradeoff that there’s no old-school crusher gym to pull up on. If you live within the reach of the T, access is a breeze. If not, a car, or at least a bike with winter tires, is going to be helpful.

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Much of Boston's gym climbing boom is thanks to Central Rock, which has seven locations in the Boston area (25 total throughout New England and more recently, Florida) and has become a dominant player for plastic in the northeast. Leave the harness at home for the bouldering-only locations in downtown Boston, the Fenway, and Harvard Square. Go to the other Cambridge Central Rock Gym for a huge spraywall if you want to work on overhanging routes or grip strength. And for sport climbing, auto belays, and kid-friendly climbs, head a little further out to the Watertown location, which is also the largest rock gym in New England.

Monthly Membership Cost: $115Day Pass Rate: $30

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Formerly known as the Brooklyn Boulders in Boston though now apart of the nation-wide chain The Bouldering Project, this gym has a ripping Kilter Board for finger strength and unusually high bouldering walls to get your head in check for the outdoor top-out. Don’t be confused by the name: They’ve got lead climbing and top rope, too.

Monthly Membership Cost: $115 Day Pass Rate: $30

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With eight locations in the Northeast, including This might be the best choice for beginners while still providing legit bouldering, board, and sport options for the veteran climber. A $30 belay class (two people required) gives you the option to purchase a one-month membership with gear rental for another $25. And if you don’t have a car or your belay buddy is out of town, they offer frequent trips out-of-state to get on real rock.

Monthly Membership Cost: $120 Day Pass Rate: $34

Better known as QuICK, this group is helping to build and support a LGBTQ2S+ climbers with gym nights every week night at rotating spots throughout the city with discounted rates.

This unnamed hang is on the last Thursday of each month, with solid discounts for non-members to make friends and send.

Pads can get pricey, so Craigslist can often be the best way to stock up if you’re really committed to Pawtuckaway highballs. (Just make sure the foam still feels stiff.) If you’re going new, this model from Metolius has a nice carrying system and enough cushion to keep your ankles un-sprained. You can’t go wrong with all black.

OK, the Up Mocc isn’t normally thought of as an intro climbing shoe. But they’re comfy and can do pretty much anything—plus, you won’t have to upgrade to another pair once you level up to intermediate bouldering. If they’re your first rock shoe, don’t downsize.

Miuras are the rare shoe to give you enough stiffness for bad feet on vertical problems and enough of an aggressive shape to stick on overhanging problems. Rarer still, they come out of the box ready to go without much breaking in. If they’re good enough for Alex Honnold to solo Half Dome in them, they’re good enough for you.

Cheaper harnesses will keep you just as safe, but you risk looking less cool than the one with the dead bird dinosaur on it.

One of the greatest innovations in rope technology—now that they’re thin, stretchy, and safe—has been putting two patterns on the things so you can tell when you’ve used up half the rope. You’d be surprised how helpful that can be in high situations. This one from Mammut is great because it’s dry-treated and it looks like orange camo.

The standard in belay devices for getting up the cliff. Don’t forget the locking carabiner.

The standard rappelling device for getting back down.

The Half Dome is to Rumney as the Bern is to biking in Cambridge: You’re going to see it everywhere. More important than the choice of helmet, though, is its presence on your noggin. Wear a helmet! Wear a climbing helmet! The one for your bike is not designed for impacts from rocks hurtling down from above.

Keen to learn more about climbing in the Northeast? Brush up on the history of Quincy Quarries and Rhode Island's famed Lincoln Woods bouldering zone.

Published 06-28-2023

Monthly Membership Cost:Day Pass Rate:Monthly Membership Cost:Day Pass Rate:Monthly Membership Cost:Day Pass Rate: