Bluff Calls: Only 20 minutes outside Portland, Broughton offers an iconic climb up the crack.
The bluff itself consists of a tumble of appealing basalt cliffs that offer a surprising range of projects for all skill levels and all types of climbers. Newbies will appreciate the top-ropes, wherein you can walk around to the top of the bluff and set a safety rope from the top, instead of lead-climbing with your heart in your throat and your rope in your teeth. Beginning trad climbers—where you set and remove your own safety gear as you climb—will appreciate the easy, crack-filled, 5.6 pitches.
Like most outdoor climbing areas in the Pacific Northwest, Broughton has a tendency to be soggy until the weather stays consistently warm. And as with any popular climbing area that is so close to a major city, weekends can be crowded. Parking can be a bear, as the park also has a grassy picnic area, complete with tables and restrooms, a boat launch, and fishing spots. Be respectful, clean up after yourself and share the space with your fellow outdoor recreaters—unless they ask for a piece of your buttery biscuit, in which case it's every man for himself. ADRIENNE SO.
20 minutes from Portland: Take I-84 east to Exit 18 for Lewis and Clark State Park. Turn south at the T-intersection, drive under the railroad tracks and follow the climbers' path toward the cliffs.
Inside Portland on Rocky Butte Road. Go to the intersection of Northeast Fremont Street and 91st Avenue and go up the hill.
Do you yearn to climb outside but only have a few free hours after work? This volcanic formation in Northeast Portland is just a short drive or bike ride away. After admiring the view at Joseph Wood Hill Park on the butte's summit (and perhaps photobombing a wedding), find a trail that leads off the road around the base of the historical landmark to find a long, shady bouldering wall beneath the trees. Follow the chalk marks to do a few quick traverses and get your heart rate up. If you have a little more time, trails to the popular top-roping pitches at the butte are across the street from the domes of the City Bible Church, or else approached from below by the Grotto. ADRIENNE SO.
Take the Cascade Locks exit off I-84 to U.S. 30 east, continue onto Frontage Road and take a left on Herman Creek Road. Park at a gate with a yellow reflector, then hike about five minutes up the road past the gate to this GPS position: 45.68395, -121.83526.
Cascade Boulders are what they sound like, a bunch of boulders near Cascade Locks. They're conveniently close to Portland, but scattered around in a half-mile radius, and have been helpfully mapped out over the years, with routes from the VB beginner level to the ridiculously hard V9 level. Most spots have soft landings—pads will make falls downright cushy—and the boulders are soft basalt with finger holds that seem designed for climbing. It's a terrific spot for beginners to actually climb outside. Try to bring a GPS device to find them the first time (or take a map from Northwest Oregon Rock), or you might wander aimlessly and complain. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
1405 NW 14th Ave., 477-5666, planetgranite.com. 6 am-11 pm Monday-Friday, 8 am-8 pm Saturday, 8 am-6 pm Sunday.
Many a Portland climber watched and salivated over the building of this latest installation in the high-end chain of West Coast climbing gyms. In terms of the variety of offerings and sheer size, Planet Granite can't be beat. There are the jaw-dropping, 55-foot-high walls, with the appropriate route number painted on the gris-gris that dangles from each designated rope. There are the adjustable cracks to practice scraping up your hands, and the best ab workout ever in the form of a two-story bouldering cave. There's the massive system board and multiple weight rooms, the yoga and fitness classes, the cardio equipment perched on the third floor for optimum ogling. And the locker rooms are gorgeous. Even the dirtiest of the dirtbag climbers should shell out for a membership, if only for the chance to shower. ADRIENNE SO.
Source Climbing Center
118 Main St., Vancouver, Wash., 360-694-9096, sourceclimbing.com. 11 am-10 pm Monday-Friday, 9 am-9 pm Saturday, 9 am-6 pm Sunday.
If Planet Granite is the massive, glamorous Nobu-type climbing gym full of beautiful people in expensive clothes swirling around the bar, then the Source is a cheerful mom-and-pop shop that has awesome tater tots, and is where your favorite waitress will always lead you to the best window table. It features all the usual suspects, with a bouldering wall and several auto-belays for the lunchtime crowd that wants to sneak in some quick cardio before heading back to the office. For a small gym, there's a large range in terms of the graded routes, the level of the wall incline, and the types of holds. But perhaps the best reason to come to this gym is the friendliness of the employees, who are likely to remember your face and name after just one or two visits. If you're planning on driving, don't forget to bring quarters for the meter or cash to exchange at the front desk. ADRIENNE SO.
410 NE 17th Ave., 719-7041; 6050 SW Macadam Ave., 246-5111; 16255 SW Upper Boones Ferry Road, Tigard, 596-2332; thecircuitgym.com.
At most rock gyms, the boulder cave is an afterthought, a sad and mostly unattended addendum to multistory, rope-climbing walls. But the Circuit's three mammoth locations are completely devoted to bouldering—rope-free climbing on short routes—and the place is designed accordingly, with hundreds of climbing routes and floors so padded they bounce. The overloaded gyms look like Max Ernst paintings, or sets for a live-action Yellow Submarine, with a bewilderingly psychedelic assortment of multicolored handholds screwed onto slanting outcroppings modeled like 3-D renderings from '90s PC games. There is a charmingly makeshift quality to the place, in part because the routes keep changing, with new ones added each week. But also, a gym so dedicated to bouldering inspires a mood much more experimental than serious—it's like adult monkey bars in there—and falling is both expected and largely consequence-free. The staff is friendly and refreshingly free of jocky bravado, and the gym positively teems with climbers, who here tend to share a culture somewhere between hippie bro and crossfit, with both kettlebells and slacklines to prove it. The Tigard location even has some yoga—and at the Northeast location I watched someone gently correct someone else's tai chi. The only thing missing is beer, a campfire and the wafting smell of weed. Those come later, presumably, at Migration, which offers all-day happy-hour prices to Circuit climbers every Thursday. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
Portland Rock Gym
21 NE 12th Ave., 232-8310, portlandrockgym.com.
Portland Rock Gym is the OG of climb gyms in Portland, the first in the city when it was built in 1988 and still ridiculously packed with climbers, a fair percentage of whom are deeply skilled outdoor veterans who treat the place as a weekday of off-season workshop. Certain things at PRG aren't aging well, sure: Those mattresses strewn haphazardly around the gym's less-popular bouldering section were a little sad, and the climb-wall surface is essentially particle board. Much of this will change very soon. The gym is adding a 12,000-square-foot expansion with a yoga studio, a bar, new massive bouldering structures and separate instruction areas for kids, who often scurry through the space as a byproduct of PRG's admirable commitment to youth education. But even without the additions, PRG remains a go-to spot for the city's serious sport climber set, a somewhat clubby hang for climbing's equivalent of a professional class. One of the most prized features is the tiled granite face on one side of the gym rumored to mimic part of the surface of Smith Rock; I watched many fail miserably, before seeing a woman impressively spider up the face in a series of sliding, pivoting movements that looked less like effort than dance. But note that it's not a great walk-in-and-climb sort of place for beginners unless you take the coursework available onsite: The $52 intro (which teaches safety and knot-tying) will be necessary unless you've got your own experienced belayer, and the instruction style at the $25 evening intros is a like your grandpa tossing you into a lake to teach you to swim. But hey, that's still the best way to teach people how to swim. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.