The White Rock Crags are a cluster of excellent basalt cliffs scattered along the western rim of deep White Rock Canyon, carved by Rio Grande. The areas offers many excellent and classic one-pitch routes that range from 45 o 70 feet high. The cliffs are easily accessible, usually sunny and dry, and are peaceful and quiet with a feeling of remoteness even though your car is parked a half a mile away in a suburban neighborhood.
Although White Rock is historically a traditional climbing area, sport climbers also find excellent conditions. Lots of quality sport routes, well protected with bolts, lace most of the area's crags.
The White Rock Crags include The Overlook, The Underlook, Below the Old New Place, The Old New Place and Sunumu Place, Gallows Edge and The Pit, The New New Place, The Big Enchillada, and Potrillo Cliffs. All cliffs are clustered within a couple of miles of each other along the canyon rim on the east and south side of the village of White Rock.
Each of this places is unique and offers great climbing. The Overlook area is definitively the most scenic one per my humble opinion, Gallows Edge is the best area for the beginner sport climber, and Potrillo Cliffs is a good area to learn traditional lead.
From Albuquerque or Santa Fe, simply drive north on Highway 285 until you reach the town of Pojoaque. From here, turn left onto Highway 502 - directions towards Los Alamos and Bandelier N.M. You will cross Rio Grande, and after coming up a steep, curving section of the road, you will follow signs towards White Rock, state road 4.
The crags are basically located inside the village, and I will describe how to find each crag location separately.
There are no fees, no parking permits. Dogs are allowed.
No camping in the immediate White Rock area. Overnight camping is not allowed at Overlook Park or anywhere else in White Rock. The best nearby public campsite is Juniper Campground at Bandelier National Monument, 12 miles west of White Rock off Highway 4. The campground, on the rim of Frijoles Canyon, offers pleasant, wooded sites with water and restrooms. The fee area is open year round on a first-come, first-served basis and quickly fills up in summer.
Primitive off-road camping is available farther west in Santa Fe National Forest.
External LinksRock climbing guide
The Overlook sits directly below a popular observation point that overlooks the Rio Grande in White Rock Canyon and the distant Sangre de Cristo Range. The views from the point and the cliffs are spectacular and make any visit worthwhile. The 65 foot high crag offers excellent climbing on more than 65 sport and traditional routes.
Approach: From NM SR 4, turn south on Rover Blvd. After about 100 meters, take a left on Meadow lane. Follow this street for 0.8 miles until you see signs for Overlook Park. Follow the road until you come to an obvious end - parking lot and the observation point. The trail is located on the left side of the observation point - it is clearly visible.
Gallow's Edge is home to several easy sport routes, a rare thing to have so many 5.6 to 5.8 sport, nice bolted routes with fixed anchors right next to each other. I used to go there a lot in the past, lately avoiding the area since it is usually more crowded. Yes, first-time leaders, novice climbers, and young children can have a ball here.
Approach: From NM SR 4, turn south on Rover Blvd. After about 100 yards, take left on Meadow lane. Follow this street for 1.3 miles passing the turnoff for the Overlook. You park you car on the street between house number 719 and 721. It is easy to spot on weekend days when several cars are usually parked on the street. There is a concrete pathway between those two houses, and annoying barking dog in their backyard. The trail from here go to Below the Old New Place, The Old New Place, Gallow's Edge, and The Pit. I accessed The Gallow's Edge from both side left and right , but I believe that shorter trail is on the right. You just walk towards the cliff and look for a trail going down. The approach takes less than 10 minutes.
There are cliffs right above the Gallows Edge - called Upper Gallows Edge featuring 3 described routes, 2 sport: 5.9 and 5.7, and one trad, but there are multiple cracks and opportunities to explore new routes. You just have to know how to set up anchors at the top. You can easily walk off from the top of this cliff.
Below The Old New Place
Below The Old New Place, an excellent 55-foot high basalt crag, is a superb sport climbing crag with at least 30 routes. This area has slightly smaller cliffs than the Overlook, but a great concentration of 5.12 sport routes. Routes on the taller, more solid left side of the crag see lots of traffic, the right side gets almost none. Bolting is allowed here.
Approach: parking is the same as The Old New Place or Gallows Edge. Walk toward the canyon on a concrete pathway between the houses, and try to ignore barking dogs. From the end of the concrete path, turn left and walk 100-150 feet on a path and then follow a smaller path leading to the canyon's rim. Look down, you should be standing above the Old New Place. If you continue slightly north, you will see a faint path to reach crags of the Below The Old New Place, which are basically slightly to the left (north) and slightly below the Old New Place.
The Old New Place
The Old New Place, a 60-foot-high, east facing basalt crag, is a longtime local top rope area. Most climbs can be led. Most routes range from 5.9+ to 5.11+. Anchors are easily accessible from the top. The Old New Place is a no bolt area by local agreement.
Approach: Drive through White Rock's residential area east of Highway 4. Turn south on Rover Blvd. After about 100 yards, take a left on Meadow lane. Follow this street for 1.3 miles passing the turnoff for the Overlook, until you see houses # 719 and # 721. Park anywhere at side of the road. Locate a concrete pathway between those two houses , and walk southeast towards the cliffs. This approach is the same as for Gallow's Edge and The Pit.
Follow the concrete trail through a fence (the house # 719 has 3 barking dogs in its backyard). Once on dirt, walk toward the tim and turn left onto the trail closest to the rim for about 100 yards. Look down below you, you should be able to spot some anchors, you are standing at the top of The Old New Place. There is a pathway to the crags below.
You park at the same place as above - Gallow's Edge. You can also follow the same approach route as for Gallow's Edge. The Pit is located only about 70 meters from there, just follow a faint trail east. You will know that you found the area by standing above the pit and looking down, there is a thunderbird painted on its wall. Look for the anchor chains on one of the rock faces, The Pit is just below it. It is so easy to walk around The Pit and not see it, but the chains are very visible.
The easiest way to get down is to downclimb on the north end or rapel.
There are 7 routes inside The Pit, some trad, and some sport, ranging from 5.7 to 5.10c. And yes, once you are inside The Pit, you have to climb out.
Potrillo Cliffs, an excellent traditional cliff - its climbing is a good mix of easy and moderate routes. This is a good place to practice your crack climbing skills. The best routes are between 5.7 and 5.10. Almost ever route is recommended.
The cliff is very popular, with easy access, lots of routes, and a good winter climate. The cliff's south-facing aspect makes it a busy destination in winter. Summer days are often too hot for comfort except in the morning.
Potrillo Cliffs was the first basalt cliff developed in White Rock area. Local climbers climbed here in early 1950s, and Pillars of Hercules (5.7/5/8) defined the upper level of difficulty in 1950s. Later another climber established the 5.9 grade in New Mexico with an ascent of now-classic Upper Kor's Crack.
There are no sport routes at Potrillo. The local climbing community agreed to honor the crag's long traditional climbing ethic. The crag was identified as a "no bolt" area. However, each climb has anchors at the top (so, you can even top rope it if you do not feel comfortable, but I found plenty of opportunities for gear placement).
Approach: Drive west through the village of White Rock on Highway 4 toward Bandelier National Monument. Turn left onto Monte Rey Drive South (one of the last streets in White Rock). Drive 0.7 miles and turn right onto Potrillo Drive. Drive another 0.7 miles and turn right onto Escalante Way. Park on either side of the road between houses (mailboxes) 428 and 422.
The access trail begins behind the fire hydrant on the west side of the road. Follow the obvious trail west until it splits, turn right (left fork of the trail goes to Big Enchilada climbing area). At the sign announcing the government rules for the area, veer left. You have to leave the obvious trail, and follow a faint trail towards the cliff. The descent to the cliff base is at the eastern end of the cliff.
The Big Enchilada
The Big Enchillada is located close to Potrillo cliffs. It features some fine traditional climbs and two sport routes. Bolting is allowed here, but is discouraged. Other good qualities are the basalt is good to excellent, the approach hike is minimal, and you rarely see another party climbing here. Cliffs are about 60 feet high.
Approach: From White Rock drive west on Highway 4 towards Bandelier National Monument. Turn left onto Monte Rey Drive South (one the the last streets in White Rock), then right on Potrillo Road, and right onto W. Escalante Way. Basically, the same approach as above Potrillo cliffs (both are located very close to each other, 5-10 min walk). You park between # 422 and 428 mailboxes (but don't park in front of the fire hydrant, painted yellow and orange, easy to spot). Follow the obvious trail behind the fire hydrant west until it splits, and follow the left branch. The right branch leads to Potrillo. The trail ends at the canyon rim. Walk left about 20 meters and locate a short downclimbing section over broken basalt. Scramble down the gully to the cliff base. Routes are located from both sides of the end of the gully.