Overview: El Potrero Chico, Mexico
Interestingly meaning: “The Small Corral,” small is the last word that comes to mind when surrounded by the 1000-foot limestone cliffs enclosing the park. Resting in the Chihuahuan Desert in the East Sierra Madre, El Potrero Chico is a Mexican National Park located minutes from the town of Hidalgo in the State of Nuevo Leon.
Potrero has a deep history of climbers coming to the area since the early 1990s to establish hard and long sport routes.
The limestone and dolostone rock was formed under a shallow sea millions of years ago and various mountain building events have pushed the rock unit up for your climbing pleasure. The limestone and dolomite fractures vertically to create shear pocketed technical faces, adventurous vegetated slabs, and clean overhangs similar to the limestone found in Spain. The tallest cliff is the North Face of the Mountain of El Toro, which is just shy of 2000 feet.
Specific description of climbing style
Bolts! A rope and a dozen quickdraws with allow you to crag or multipitch adventure climb with the safety and low weight of a sport rack.
Multipitch sport climbing is the name of the game; however, Potrero has so much more. There is also spectacular single pitch face and powerful overhung tufa climbing. There is also pretty rad bouldering for low commitment days and an endless supply of highline potential for the slacking enthusiasts!
Visit in late fall, winter, and early spring. The Chihuahuan Desert gets hot!
Climbing grade range
The tall climbing tends to have a lot of moderate routes in the 5.9 – 5.11 range, with the exception of a few harder test pieces. Single pitch climbs span into the 5.13s.
Best local spot
Ask the locals about cheap natural hot springs. Some are indoors and essentially awesome spas.
Top climbs in area
- Aguja Celo Rey (5.10, 2 pitches) – Great two pitches to get you on top of Las Agujas (The Spires). It’s all about the destination on this classic.
- Treasure of the Sierra Madre (5.10c, 7 pitches) – Sustained 5.10 climbing on truly varied terrain. Climb vertical sections, roofs, traverses, and through some plants. A little bit of everything!
- Snot Girlz (5.10+, 7 pitches) – Moderate route and a great intro to Potrero multipitch. First two pitches are the hardest then 5 rewarding pitches of 5.9!
- Black Cat Bone (5.10d, 9 pitches) – Fun, long, and varied route on the jungle wall.
- Space Boyz (5.10d, 11 pitches) – One of Potrero’s longest routes, climbs right in the center of the park. A guaranteed adventure!
- Sender Diablo (5.11c, 6 pitches) – Fell incredibly exposed on this mostly overhung route leading up the outrage wall.
- Sender Luminous (5.12+, 15 pitches) – Must do route if you climb at this level. 11/15 pitches of incredible continuous 5.12 climbing.
- Pangaea (5.11c) – Dynamic hueco jumping on great overhung rock. Everyone loves his route.
- Don Quixote (5.11d) – Technical stemming up a large dihedral. This route is as much a puzzle as it is a climb.
- Celestial Omnibus (5.12-) – Fantastic tufa climbing on the beautifully exposed outrage wall.
- Surfer Rosa (5.13) – Prepare your thumbs for this classic tufa pinching test piece!
Best kept secret
It’s Mexico! Tacos anywhere and everywhere will be delicious!
How stiff is the grading?
If you can crimp incut edges, you’re good to go.
Where to stay?
La Posada is the most popular area and where the parties are at. But there are other options such as La Pagoda and Homeros, which are a bit cheaper with less crowds. Another great option is to rent a house if you’re planning a stay for over a week.
A huge plus to visiting El Potrero Chico is how affordable it is. After the hassle of driving across the border or an international flight. One can stay in Mexico for literally a fraction of US, Canadian, or European destinations.
Northern Mexico is known to be sketchy and dangerous, which is certainly true near the border. But the town of Hidalgo is one of the friendliest and mellow places I’ve ever been to. Don’t let this deter you from visiting this epic climbing destination.
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.
Have your own destination beta? Submit a destination today.
Explore MoreRelated articles you'll love
Our 40+ most popular articles ever
Today’s Best Rock Climbing Gear Deals
200+ rock climbing videos
Video: Sandstone and Stone: Discovering Climbing in Moab, Utah
Climbing Destination Guide: El Salto, Mexico
Utah’s Highlining & BASE Gathering: Gobble, Gobble, Bitches, Yeah
How to Maximize Your Time on Rock When Traveling Alone
Climbing Destination Guide: Bishop, California
Climbing Destination Guide: St. George, Utah
All climbing destination guides
Rock Climbing Gear Guide: Sport Climbing Essentials
Lead Climbing: Clipping Strategies, Techniques, and Safety Tips
Van Life: Essential Gear for Dirtbagging on the Road
How to Convert a Cargo Van into the Ultimate Climber’s Camper
Free eBooks for rock climbing training, technique, and more