Overview: Lander, Wyoming
Unspeakably beautiful landscapes, unlimited limestone sport climbing, and perhaps the most climber-friendly town you’ll ever visit, all await you in the small town of Lander, Wyoming.
Its remote location in Central Wyoming makes Lander a somewhat committing climbing destination for most of us—but the lucky climbers who make the journey will surely not leave disappointed (if they choose to leave at all!).
Its close proximity to the world-class alpine climbing in the Wind River Range, new development of quality granite bouldering, and easy access to virtually unlimited dolomite limestone cliffs—including the popular pocket-pulling Wild Iris and tall walls of Sinks Canyon—make Lander a destination that will please the likes of just about any climber. And with new areas consistently being explored, this sport climbing mecca holds far more than a lifetime of climbing … all within a breathtaking 30-mile radius.
Even during the highest-trafficked summer season, when the iconic International Climbers’ Festival takes place, rarely will you encounter crowded crags at the most popular walls. If anything, you’ll find yourself remiss at how you could possibly be surrounded by so much beautiful rock with just you and your climbing partner.
If it’s not the epic climbing that will charm you in Lander, its the kind and hospitable people that welcome climbing and biking dirtbags with astoundingly open arms, all summer long. Not only does the city offer free camping in town at the City Park, but it also holds perhaps the greatest climber bar in the world.
Specific description of climbing style
You can find alpine climbing, bouldering, and even sandstone trad climbing in the Lander area, but it’s the incredible and endless sport climbing that draws most climbers in.
When it comes to Lander’s pristine limestone cliffs, you’ll encounter a range; anything from well-featured, crimpy, and positive pocketed climbing, to more bouldery, mono-pocketed routes that truly put your tendons to the test.
With such an excellent variety in the steepness of walls and height of climbs—depending on which cliffs you venture to—you’re guaranteed to find plenty of routes that suit your style well. Lander also boasts an vast array of moderately difficult to extremely difficult climbs (some gnarly 5.14s, if you’re into that sort of thing!); making it a phenomenal place to improve and challenge your rock climbing limits.
Some of the main sport climbing areas include:
- Sinks Canyon
- Wild Iris
- Fairfield Hill
- Fossil Hill
- Miner’s Delight
- The Strawberry Roan
- The Sweat Lodge
- Wolf Point
- Wolf Pup
- Baldwin Creek
- Suicide Point
For those interested in bouldering, don’t be dismayed. You’ll have plenty of boulders—from V-easy to V13 to explore in the following areas, with considerably more being developed:
- The Dolomite Band
- Sinks Canyon
- Fairfield Hill Granite
- The Cabin Boulders
- Popo Agie Falls Trail Boulders
- The War Zone and The Source
- Tombstone & Worthen Reservoir Boulders
- Wild Iris Boulders
- The Rock Shop
- Sweetwater Rocks
- Torrey Valley
- Big Country: The Falcon’s Lair
- Devil’s Kitchen
- Cirque of the Boulders
Unbeknownst to most— you can actually climb in Lander all year-round. Despite frigid temps in town in the winter months, you can retreat to Sinks Canyon, which experiences an inversion that allows for t-shirt cragging weather, due in part to the cliff line’s south-facing position.
Summer—the most popular visitor season—presents ideal conditions for climbing at Wild Iris and other higher elevations crags. Late summer and early fall deliver less buggy conditions for access into the wild alpine climbing of the Wind River Range. The rest of fall allows for access to virtually all crags, while spring can vary due to snowy or wet conditions.
Climbing grade range
You can find just about any grade of climbing in Lander, but it holds an incredible concentration of high quality routes in the 5.10 to 5.13 range. If moderate to hard sport climbing matches your level, you may very well never want to leave this place …
Best local spot
The town of Lander has its share of gems. Most notably, the Gannet Grill / Lander Bar stands out as the premier spot in town for climbers to enjoy a post-climbing or rest day beer, and perhaps a delicious Wyoming beef burger on the side.
For an awesome and affordable breakfast and lunch spot, be sure to swing by the Middle Fork. The food and ambiance are excellent, and they also offer a weekday 5-6pm Happy Hour with $2.50 Bloody Marys!
Another spot not be missed is the Lander Bake Shop, serving up coffee, breakfast pastries, and sandwiches—also offering wifi and plenty of outlets, for those working remotely.
For climbers with a higher budget, make sure to grab a meal at Cowfish restaurant and brewery, which offers a sophisticated menu of steaks, seafood, pasta, and salads. And for those with less to spend; you can still stop by and enjoy the more affordable pub menu—specifically get yourself a delicious $8 burrito after the main kitchen closes!
Oh, and for climbers with a sweet tooth: you can grab some delicious ice cream at either the Scream Shack or Ken & Betty’s on Main Street. Both are real tasty.
Top climbs in area
With so much climbing here, this list can’t do Lander’s climbing full justice; but here a few must-climb sport routes:
- Take Your Hat Off (5.10b), Cowboy Poetry, Main Wall, Wild Iris – Fun pocket-y jug hauling on vertical to slightly overhanging bullet limestone.
- Tribal Warfare (5.11b) Tribal Area, OK Corral, Wild Iris – Sustained, pumpy, and ridiculously fun 5.11 climbing. Probably one of the best 5.11’s you’ll ever climb. DO IT!
- Heaven Can Wait (5.11b) Hardware Wall, Sinks Canyon – So much fun! A variety of laybacking, chimneying, and stemming take you onto a face filled with a long, beautiful line of pockets. Keep your pump under control over the bulge-y crux to the anchors!
- Cowboy Poetry (5.11b / 5.12b), Cowboy Poetry, Main Wall, Wild Iris – Sustained climbing to a definitive slope-y middle crux. 5.11b to the first anchors, and 5.12b over the challenging slope-tastic roof moves.
- Hot Tamale Baby (5.11d) Hot Tamale Wall, Main Wall, Wild Iris – A tough, powerful, and definitely spicy 5.11 climb that goes from steep to slabby, and isn’t over ’til it’s over.
- Zorro (5.11d) Main Wall, Zorro Area, Wild Iris – Amazing, sustained, 5.11 enduro climbing. A beautiful route.
- Wind and Rattlesnakes (5.12a) Rode Hard Wall, Main Wall, Wild Iris – An absolute classic. Short, bouldery, and somewhat tricky climbing that requires your full attention the whole way through.
- Hang Fire (5.12a), Fossil Hill – Arguably the best 12a in Lander — tech-y and powerful, with holds getting better the higher you go. Fight the pump!
- Achin’ for Booty (5.12a), Purple Galaxy Wall, Sinks Canyon – Grind your way up good holds up a steep cave. Fight the pump over the high, roof crux to get to the anchors!
- Choke Cherry Eyes (5.12a) Aspen Glades, Wild Iris – A slabby to vert to slightly overhung route requiring you to whip out technical prowess, pull on a few monos, and make a committing move. Super fun!
- Purple Galaxy (5.12a) Purple Galaxy Wall, Sinks Canyon – A boulder-y start followed by long, incredible slightly overhung pocket pulling. Go to the second set of anchors for some addition pump.
- Killer (5.12c) Killer Cave, Sinks Canyon – Cave climbing at it’s finest. Enduro, powerful, and tech-y climbing at the crux give this climb “the biggest holds you’ll ever fall off of.”
- When I Was I Was a Young Girl, I Had Me a Cowboy (5.13a) The Erratic, Wild Iris – Basically a big ole’ boulder problem on incredible rock. A tricky start with plenty of not-so-fantastic pockets take you up big movement across a series of pocket-y cruxes. Slap up to a sloper before you make it to the anchors!
- Endeavor to Persevere (5.13c) Killer Cave, Sinks Canyon – Hard, bouldery moves climb the arete on the right side of the iconic, Killer Cave. Several challenging cruxes throughout make this one a very proud send!
How stiff is the grading?
People debate the stiffness of the area, but it truly depends on your strengths. More boulder-y climbers will feel that Wild Iris grades are on point, but for others, they may feel tough.
Either way, don’t let the grades deter you from hopping on any routes—most climbs in Lander are incredibly well-protected; making it an ideal area for those working on their comfort level when it comes to sport climbing.
Best kept secret
Aside from Lander’s incredible climbing, there are a few local gems and attractions worth attending or making the trip for on rest days …
On a hot day, head to the top of Sinks Canyon to reach the Popo Agie water slide, where you can take a dip (rinse off your dirt-covered self?), cool off, and soak in the scenery.
To get a taste of the area’s history, head down to South Pass City to experience the Carissa Gold Mine Tour (May 30 thru Labor Day, tour begins Thursday – Sunday, 2pm). It costs only $4 for non-Wyoming residents and it won’t disappoint. They also offer a Night Shift Tour that includes a scotch tasting (however, the last one ever occurs August 22, 2015)!
Care to get your dance on post-climbing? Check out the Native American dances on Wednesday nights at 7pm, right next to Safeway.
Where to stay
Lander couldn’t be a more dirtbag-friendly destination. There’s no shortage of free camping throughout the entire climbing region, plenty of RV-friendly and paid options, as well as hotels if so desired.
At the Lander City Park —just a jaunt away from the center of town— you can car/trailer/van camp along the river or tent camp in the grass for free for up 3 days, with access to nice bathrooms and free water. During the summer months, the city seems fairly relaxed about the duration of your stay; however, if tent-camping, be considerate and move your tent every couple of days to salvage the grass! No matter how long you choose to stay; be respectful, don’t trash the bathrooms, and leave no trace.
At Sinks Canyon, you can also find free camping just beyond the Missouri Field Camp on the left-hand side. There are also two nice paid State Park campgrounds— Sawmill and Popo Agie — that cost $11 per vehicle, and also have yurts available. You can also choose to camp at the Forest Service Campground further down the road, which costs $15 per vehicle.
At Wild Iris, there is free camping just beyond the Main Wall parking area below the OK Corral cliff (14-day limit). Take a right just before the pit toilet, and set up camp at any of the beautiful, large spots that sit along the dirt road (careful, as it’s not the best road!). Keep your food contained in your car or in a tree; there are grizzly bears in the area.
Free camping can also be found in other areas around Wild Iris, Fossil Hill, Baldwin Creek, Wolf Point, and near the Sweatlodge parking area.
International Climber’s Festival
The International Climbers’ Festival is the longest standing climbers’ festival in the world. It takes place the weekend after 4th of July weekend each year. It’s awesome and you should attend.
A new guidebook, Lander Rock Climbs (2015) has just released. The bouldering guidebook, Bouldering in the Wind River Range (2013), offers great information on the area’s bouldering; however, significant development has occurred since its publishing, and thus many problems are not included. Both can be purchased at the local gear shop, Wild Iris Mountain Sports.
You can get groceries from Mr. D’s, Safeway, or The Grainery (a health foods store) in town.
Local climbing gym
The local gym, Elemental Fitness, has a small bouldering wall ($8 entry) and offers $5 showers.
You can access free wifi at the Public Library (fantastic summer hours and great place for those who work remotely), the Lander Bake Shop, Safeway, and Old Town Coffee.
Bulk (sometimes free!) food
Desperate and in need of some free and/or bulk grub? Stop by the NOLS Gulch at the Rocky Mountain Branch Office and get some free “take at your own risk” food (e.g. pasta, lentils, sugar, etc.) that come back from recent NOLS trips, as well as many other paid food offerings.
For an in-depth look at Lander climbing, check out this film from Kyle Duba:
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