Western Montana’s rock faces are so beguiling they draw visitors from all over the world; even photos of them can take your breath away. Rock climbing is a fantastic way to experience Glacier Country. The thrill of reaching the top of a climb, witnessing miles of gorgeous views spread out before you, smiling down at your companions below, and taking a few congratulatory selfies is an opportunity not to be missed. Plus, it’s an excellent group bonding experience for family and friends. Participants can learn new skills, test their mettle, enjoy spending time outside in a beautiful setting, and perhaps even discover a new lifelong pursuit.
If you’re new to rock climbing, you’ll need the assistance of a professional. Rock Climb Montana has been introducing rock climbing to visitors ages 3 – 81 for more than a decade at three gorgeous and easily accessible locations in northwestern Montana: Kila Crags, Stryker and Stone Hill. During a half-day or full-day trip, your certified instructor will teach you the basics (knot tying, safety checks, climbing commands) and set you up on routes that match your abilities. Gear (harness, helmet, and grippy pointed shoes) is included in the guiding fee.
Concerned fear might get the better of you? Climbing’s not nearly as unnerving as you might think. A climber is anchored to the top of the climbing route by a rope that’s secured to both themselves and another person on the ground, called a belayer. If the climber slips off the rock, the belayer will hold the climber in place, so there’s little to no “fall.” The climber can easily get back on the route and continue ascending where she left off, or ask to be slowly lowered down. To further allay your fears, Rock Climb Montana boasts a perfect safety record.
Kila Crags, only 8 miles west of Kalispell off U.S. Highway 2, has nearly 50 routes that vary in difficulty from 5.5 to 5.12 (which means there are climbs for all skill levels). Despite the area’s proximity to the road, climbers are rewarded with beautiful meadow, mountain and forest views even while hanging out at the base of the three main walls: Guardian Wall, Psychology Wall and Upper Wall. These south-facing, roughly 60-foot-high shale cliffs are a great place to climb on cool spring and fall days since the sun quickly warms the rock.
For a more shaded climb, plan a trip to Stryker, a half hour north of Whitefish, where the Stillwater River cuts through the green argillite walls of Stillwater Canyon. The cool air coming off the water combined with the shade provided by the surrounding Koocanusa National Forest means that climbers don’t need to worry about overheating while trying to “top out”—climber slang for standing on top of the crag you’ve just climbed or “sent.”
For an even more epic climbing adventure, Rock Climb Montana and Glacier Adventure Guides both offer day trips to Stone Hill, northwest Montana’s largest climbing area. Less than 20 miles from Eureka and sporting 500 climbing routes, Stone Hill is a climber’s wonderland. Dig your toes and fingers into the quartzite rock and scale crags that will reward you with outstanding views of nearby Lake Koocanusa, a 90-mile-long reservoir that stretches into Canada, and lush ponderosa pine forestland.
Although guided climbs are limited to these three areas, experienced climbers capable of heading out on their own will want to check out Point of Rocks near Whitefish (you’ll need to buy a State Lands Permit); Berne Park Boulders in Bad Rock Canyon near Hungry Horse; Blodgett Canyon and Lost Horse, both near Hamilton; and the Lolo Pass area between Lolo and the Idaho State Line.
Bonus: Uncrowded climbing areas are the norm here, and if you do encounter a fellow climber you’ll be greeted with warm western hospitality.