By Mark Crawford
Special to TravelWisconsin.com
Rock climbing is a fantastic way to spend quality time outside—scaling steep rock walls, testing your endurance, and breaking through the barriers that kept you on the ground, looking up. If you enjoy the outdoors, using your body, and trying new things, a day spent rock climbing with an experienced guide could be the start of a lifelong passion. Below are some places offering rock-climbing routes for beginners.
Devil’s Lake State Park provides some of the best rock climbing in the Midwest, with “over 5,000 climbs varying from beginner to expert in difficulty,” says Jill Griffis, co-owner of Apex Adventure Alliance in Hartland. The park’s quartzite cliffs rise more than 100 feet above the lake and attract climbers from all over the country.
A perfect route for beginners is the ‘Boy Scout.’ “This long, low-angle slab transitioning to a fun three-dimensional challenge is a great first climb for anyone,” says Nick Wilkes, founder of Devils Lake Climbing Guides in Madison. “The ‘Double Overhang’ is a really tall route, with lots of variety and an airy, spooky crux with fantastic views! Then there’s the ‘Pine Tree Step-Across.’ This is a great climb to widen a beginner’s horizons, plus the ‘step-across’ surprise leaves a lasting memory.”
This beautiful park along the St. Croix River is a popular rock climbing destination. Seventeen rock climbing sections are located on the limestone river bluffs along the river. Climbers can camp in the park; lodging and dining are also available in St. Croix Falls. “Although the park has several easy climbs, access can be a bit more difficult and the routes a little harder to find,” says Allen Wiberg, owner of Midwest Mountain Guides in Chippewa Falls.
Boulder climbing can create the same situations and challenges as rock climbing does, but closer to the ground. Governor Dodge State Park has many giant sandstone boulders, some of which are excellent for climbing (avoid the ones that are crumbly and soft). The area behind the Group B campsite on the northern end has some of the most challenging boulders in the park.
A beginner can typically start anywhere, as long as there is appropriate terrain. “No matter where you live, there is probably climbing within a few hours,” says Griffis. “Any location can be a good place to start, as long as you have a guide to help with the terrain and other logistics that might be foreign to a new climber.”
“It's important to seek out a professional guide service that can mitigate the risk and introduce you to the sport in a safe and fun environment,” adds Wiberg.
From there, you can become an independent climber with the investment of your own equipment and additional training.
Working with an experienced guide reduces climbing fears and helps you believe in yourself as a climber. “Remember, you don't have to be a good climber to have a lot of fun rock climbing,” adds Wilkes. “We want you to have an authentic climbing experience where you gain real climbing skills you can use down the line. Once you get a taste of the climbing world, we bet you'll come back for more.”
Hooked on climbing? Try it in the winter too with ice climbing!