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Washington State Park

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Climbing Sections:

About Washington State Park:

Most recently, the Park Superintendent has told a climber that climbing is not allowed in the park. We'll look for clarification, and if this is indeed the policy, then this destination will be deleted.

For the hard lead sport climber, Washington State Park is a nice alternative to a day in the climbing gym, for metro St. Louis climbers; the park is about 1 hour from St. Louis.

Along the Big River, which goes through Washington State Park, are some limestone and mixed rock (chossy) cliffs. These are sport routes that go up to about 60 feet, and vary from big blocky holds to slab to pockets, and a couple with Verdon-style way-overhanging pocketed starts. You may choose to stick clip the first bolt on a couple of the harder routes, that bear painful consequenses for missing the clip (or the hidden hold).

At the bottom of the access gulley, get up to the cliffs, and follow them along, with the cliffs on your left. Do not climb the first route you come to, on the chossy reddish rock; the anchors are pulling out. This is an UNSAFE route. It should never have been put up, and it will be removed soon. Get to the gray limestone section.

The routes are relatively new, but there is little route development possible due to the small size of the cliff. Some of the rock is pretty chossy, and cleaning it will never get you down to solid stuff; other parts of the cliff might bear a good line with a little work. Tread (and drill) lightly, as drilling and climbing in Washington State Park is still subject to closure, if somebody makes a bad impression.

There's no day use fee, but there's a fee for camping (even cabins to rent). I don't think you'll need more than a day to max out the climbs here, but Johnson Shut-Ins and Elephant Rocks State Park are about 35 - 45 minutes further south on Hwy 21, so you can camp there or here for the same state fee (about $6-$7 per person).

As with any area we visit, let's pack out some extra trash left by the folks who seem to take our natural resources for granted. And leave the boom boxes at home. In addition to disturbing other park users, there are private homes just across the small river from the cliffs.

Nearest town or city: Desoto
Directions: From St. Louis, take either Highway 21 south all the way to the Washington State Park entrance, or get to Interstate 55 south, to the Desoto exit and to Hwy 21, left, then a few minutes to the park entrance. Follow the main park road to the overlook parking area, and around to camping areas if needed.

Park in the small overlook parking area, and be out by sundown. The path starts at the left end of the parking area. At one point on the path, you will come to a sharp left-hand turn; stay on the straight ahead path. It will take you to an obvious gulley in the woods (there's a rusting wire fence at the gulley where you start going down), and down to the riverside. The scramble down to the river might feel like 4th class to a spectator. The hike to the river will take less than 10 minutes. Once down by the river, just follow the path, with the cliff on your left, and spot the lines of bolts marking the routes.

There's a significant section of white and yellow limestone, with roof overhang starts at the right end, gradually becoming gray, kinda blocky limestone as you move left down the cliffline. There's a large scooped out chossy section that you'll just wish was climbable, and then another section with some routes, including some kinda cool slabs to boulder up on.

Once the cliffline begins to lose height, it's over.

There is a bridge that has been closed to traffic (unsafe) at one end of the cliffs. I do not recommend parking here, and hiking in; I have a feeling that it would be a good place for your vehicle to be broken into, and/or towed away. The hike down from the parking area is better anyway. The hike back up will get your old heart pumpin'.

Latitude, Longitude:
Access Issues: I climbed yesterday and didn't have any issues with park staff, however I also didn't ask permission before going. It's located at the very end of the park so as long as its a small group that gets in somewhat quiet I don't see them coming down to give you a hard time. It was a week day when I climbed which may make a difference.
Camping: Yes
When to Climb:
Quantity of Climbs: Day

Forum Discussions (2 posts)

  Subject Author Replies Last Post
No Replies Not to bad, only needs some traffic jetson1 0 Jun 30 2011, 7:41 PM
With Replies Info Needed drulints 4 Jun 11 2007, 10:17 AM