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Where to go for your first outdoor rock climbs in Ontario

From Toronto to Thunder Bay are dozens of great crags, some better for beginners than others

There are hundreds of crags in Canada to choose from, but some are better than others for your first outdoor rock climbs. Some crags have long approaches, some require stick clips and some don’t have beginner grades. If it’s your first time climbing outdoors, be sure to go with someone who has experience with lead climbing, belaying outdoors, rigging anchors and always wear a helmet. There are a number of Facebook groups where you can find a partner in Ontario, including the new Ontario Climbing – For Women and Gender Diverse Climbers.

In Southern Ontario, Rattlesnake Point in Milton is one of the best spots to learn the ropes. In 2019, the Ontario Alliance of Climbers worked with local climbers to bolt a number of fun and moderate sport climbs. You can find all the beta in Ontario Climbing: Vol 1.4 Sport Climbing Guide to Rattlesnake Point by Gus Alexandropoulos and Justin Dwyer. The Main Wall is one of the most popular cliffs for rock climbing in Ontario because it’s close to Toronto, has a short approach and has a lot of safe climbs. Due to its popularity, many of the limestone routes are polished, so be sure to bring lots of chalk. Some good first leads include Where’s Your Bucket 5.5 and Raccoon Army 5.6.

In Eastern Ontario close to Ottawa is the Main Cliff at Calabogie, which is the best place to visit for your first outdoor climbs near Canada’s capital. There are a lot of great sport and trad routes with bolted anchors, which is why so many climbers will rig a rope and then top-rope. The Easy Way Down Sector has some nice 5.6 and 5.7 sport routes, and at the Mid-Cliff Sector is the classic Tree Hugger, a 5.8 sport climb.

In Northern Ontario are a number of great crags found from Sudbury to Montreal River on Lake Superior. None are built for new rock climbs, but some do have 5.7 to 5.9 sport and trad climbs. If you’re looking for a great place to boulder for your first time outdoors, then visit Makynen, which is about 20 minutes south of Sudbury. You can find it here, along with a number of other climbing areas north of Parry Sound.

In Northwestern Ontario, the Thunder Bay Bluffs have been many climbers’ first outdoor roped experience. The approach is short, the routes are short with a lot of features and cracks and the tops are easy to access. You can find all the info in Aric Fishman’s Thunder Bay Climbing guidebook. There are over 50 lines to choose from, including classics like Split Beaver 5.5, Zig Zag 5.7 and Flake ’til You Shake 5.8.

Jared Miller top-roping Conquering Armies 5.7 at the Thunder Bay Bluffs