Climbing Destination Guide: Skaha Bluffs, British Columbia

Skaha, BC, Canada

skaha climbing guide

Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park is located in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, which is known for its relatively warm, dry climate. This makes Skaha an ideal spring and fall destination when Squamish is too wet and the Bow Valley is too cold. The surrounding valley is also known for its gorgeous scenery, refreshing lakes, fresh fruit, and some of Canada’s premier wineries. The Bluffs are located in the relatively central city of Penticton, BC—four and half hours east of Vancouver and eight hours west of Calgary.

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Skaha boasts 66 crags and cliffs housing over 1000 designated routes. While the majority of these are bolted sport climbs, trad climbers will also find plenty to keep them entertained. The rock type is gneiss, a metamorphic form of granite, resulting in climbs with bomber solidity akin to destinations like Squamish and Yosemite. The solid gneiss rock, abundance of lines in all styles—from cracks and roofs to crimpy vertical faces—and straightforward approaches has made Skaha British Columbia’s premier sport climbing destination.

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Specific description of climbing style

Skaha is best known as a sport climbing destination, but is in fact well-stocked with traditional climbs at all levels. Of Skaha’s recorded routes, nearly 40% are traditionally protected. It even boasts one of Canada’s most difficult trad lines, the newly established Sonnie Trotter test piece, Family Man (5.14b).

Best season

Skaha boasts a long climbing season, beginning as early as March and extending through November. The best sending temps are found in April and October. The summer months can be very hot, but success can still be had chasing shade and spending peak UV hours basking at the lakes in town.

Climbing grade range

The majority of the climbs at Skaha fall into the 5.10 to 5.11 range, but there is something for everyone with climbs ranging from 5.6 through 5.14. Beginners will find some great routes on which to hone their skills at the Red Tail crags while 5.12 and higher climbers will have no lack of projects at Doctor’s Wall, Great White, and the Belfry.

The grading is neither stiff nor soft. Because there is such a wide variety of climbing styles available, everyone will be able to find routes that suit them and feel easier or routes that force new skills and feel challenging.

Skaha BC climbing

Top climbs in the area

  • Plumline (10a): A sustained Skaha classic and one of the first lines you see as you approach the crags. A worthy first effort in the park.
  • Brilliant Pebbles (5.10c): Some fun jug pulling off the ground leads to a typical Skaha crimpy face climb. Not a pebble to be seen.
  • Real Special Forces (5.11a): This sustained 11a is a benchmark for the grade. It never gets harder and it never gets easier. Its neighbor, Besieged (5.11b), is an equally worthwhile target.
  • Wings of Desire (5.11c): THE must-do Skaha line! A long route that will test every tool in your belt—from hand jams, to stemming, to crimping, to pulling a final roof before the anchors. All that coupled with fantastic positioning high in the bluffs.
  • Bladerunner (5.12a): A burl-fest down low leading to a crimpy boulder problem just below the anchors—a proud onsight.
  • Salvation (5.12b): A gently overhanging crimp fest that doesn’t let up until you’ve clipped the chains. Like much of Doctor’s wall, it’s hard to believe such a perfect sequence of holds exists outside the gym.
  • Apricot Jam (5.12b): This very long route has it all—a crack climb into a difficult roof encounter followed by a series of strength-sapping crimps on the headwall guarding the anchor.
  • GQ (5.12c): One of the best at Doctor’s once you get around the awkward start sequence. The mid-route boulder problem provides some unique movements on slopers.
  • 12 Step Derailer (5.13a): Another route that has a little something for everyone. Large burly pulls through the first half lead to a crux sequence on tiny face holds and a toss to a “sloper jug”.
  • Replicant (5.13d): The classic hard Skaha test piece. Easy climbing off the ground leads to long, hard pulls on an overhanging prow.

Skaha BC climbing

Best kept secret

Buy the fruit! If you’re there in season, buy all the fruit. Okanagan peaches are world-renowned, and for good reason. Roadside stands are everywhere.

Best local spots

Lachi Indian Restaurant

While it may come as a surprise, Penticton boasts a fantastic Indian restaurant. Lachi on Main Street offers filling, authentic dishes that are perfect for sharing. Bring all your friends and celebrate the day’s sends!

The Barley Mill Pub

The Barley Mill Pub, located very close to the crags, is a great place for a post-climb beer and burger, with the added bonus of an extremely affordable pool table.

Save-On Foods

For climbers on a budget, the local Save-On Foods has one of the better grocery store kitchens around with a full salad bar and fresh pizzas emerging regularly.

Where to stay

The typical van-dweller place to stay is the Walmart parking lot. It is not glamorous, but it is conveniently located and the wifi signal outside is strong enough to watch Netflix.

The closest official camping is the Lake Skaha Tent & Trailer Park.

Banbury Green, located lakeside opposite the Bluffs is also a pleasant place to take a load off and go for a swim at the end of a long day. Bear in mind that the Okanagan is a popular destination for many tourists, not just climbers, and camping reservations might be required during the summer high season.

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Other information

Parking at Skaha Bluffs is free, a rarity for a Provincial Park. In recent years, thefts from the parking lot have been a problem. As a result, the Skaha Park Watch Society was formed. Volunteers monitor the lot during the high season and have done an incredible job decreasing the crime rate. If you see them, please consider donating a few dollars to keep the program in action. And help them do their job by keeping valuables in your vehicle out of sight.

Also be wary of ticks, which are prevalent in the park. Have your partner do a tick-check at days-end and consider wearing long pants for the approach.

Now to you

These destination guides are only made possible through the feedback from climbers like yourself. Are we missing some beta? Have anything extra to share? Leave your feedback in the comments below.

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