Best Summertime Crags for Swimming & Climbing

The best thing about being a climber in Spokane is the option to choose. With several climbing areas less than an hour away, there is something for everyone. In the heat of the summer, two crags standout from the rest as being the perfect destinations to climb and swim. There’s something innately motivating about the promise of a refreshing plunge after a long day spent pulling on sunbaked granite, and both Q’emiln Park (Post Falls) and McLellan conservation area are unique in their proximity to the Spokane River and Long Lake, respectively.

Located in Riverside State Park outside of Nine Mile Falls, McLellan is an ever-developing crag of granite. Whether it’s climbing, swimming, or both, McLellan waits with open arms. There are two parking options upon arrival: the upper and lower lot. Although some people have had problems with car break ins, this issue can easily be avoided by leaving nothing in a vehicle as incentive, and bringing a Discover Pass ensures a ticket-free day. Parking in the lower lot will put the Pack Rat Cave on the left, an overhanging collection of a couple 5.10’s, 5.11’s, and a 5.13 thrown in for fun.

Most of the bouldering is located closer to the upper lot, farther away from the water. Following the road/jeep trail out of the parking lot will lead to Long Lake and The Cove (Hummel’s Cove), a favorite swimming spot and the best place for cliff jumping at McLellan, for those looking for an extra dose of summer fun.

The mosquitos in the area have a reputation for being relentless, and if the bug repellent you pack along for the day just isn’t cutting it, then Long Lake isn’t far away. Checkout Snake Slab on the way to the water, which even has some options for trad climbers, and if the handful of easy-going routes here below 5.10 still aren’t cutting it, then a cool dip is just a few minutes away.

Girl leading a climb at Post Falls.
Alysa Franklin climbing Fearless Leader at Q’Emiln Park, Post Falls. // Photo: Jon Joncker

On the other side of Spokane, barely into Idaho, lies Q’emiln Park. Just off of Exit 5 in Post Falls, it’s easy to find: simply look for the beach and the climbing will follow. Once inside the parking lot (a small fee is required), look for the Q’emiln Park Trail System sign and head west to easily approach the numerous walls of the area. The great thing about climbing at Post Falls is the abundance of moderate climbs. There’s something special about being able to hop on 5.9s and 5.10s over and over again, without having to pack gear around to different walls.

Post Wall is closest to the river, while Death Fall Wall and Lower Ledge Wall take second and third. Post Wall has everything from 5.7 – 5.10.c, and is an ideal spot for those looking to set up top rope systems.

Death Fall Wall has a little more to offer from its overhanging nature, and anyone looking for a solid 5.11 will be content here. For the sun-loving climber there’s Lower Ledge Wall. Baked by warm rays all day, anyone who spends time climbing the 5.7’s – 5.11’s at this crag will be ready for a cool dip.

When the heat finally becomes too much, and fingertips burn from crimping on sharp granite, Q’emiln Park’s beach is the perfect stop. Soft sand and cool water aside, the park has picnic tables, three covered pavilions, and plenty of grass to lounge around on. Once the faint powder of chalk has been washed away from dirty hands by the Spokane River, why not sling a hammock between two trees? Slowly nodding off with every heavy blink, the weight of tired muscles will lift away. There is almost nothing better.

[Feature photo “Sarah Moeser climbing in the Pack Rat Cave at McLellan” by Jon Jonckers.]

Read more climbing stories in the OTO archives.

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