Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park is a renown rock climbing destination located in the South Okanagan of British Columbia. This climbing hotspot boasts 66 separate crags and 988 unique climbing routes, 63% of which are sport climbs (Skaha Rockclimbs: A User’s Manual, 2012). Really, this place is just plain awesome!
The entrance to Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park is located just south of Penticton, BC, on the east side of Skaha Lake. Coming from Penticton, drive towards South Main Street which will turn into Lakeside Road. Look for a road sign directing you turn left on Smythe Drive. Coming from the south, take Eastside Road which follows Skaha Lake on the east and turn right on Smythe Drive. Smythe Drive will turn into a single-lane paved road leading up to the parking lots.
There are two parking lots at the top, a lower parking lot and an upper parking lot, each one offers a different access points for exploring Skaha Bluffs. The gate opens at 7:00 am and if you happen to come on a busy day you (weekend, holiday, summer…) the parking lots fill up fast!
Why Climb with Kids?
If you rock climb and have kids, bring them climbing! Rock climbing is such a great experience for kids and families. I could probably write an entire post on why climbing is so great for kids but here’s the short list: it gets kids outside exploring some pretty rad spots, it builds their confidence, it helps them develop strength and coordination and it teaches them a lot of cool skills.
Climbing Safely with Kids
Rock climbing has some very real risks and hazards. If you’ve never climbed before, start by checking out an indoor climbing gym to learn some of the basics and connect with other families that climb. Then I suggest finding a local adventure company that specializes in beginner rock climbing courses. Learning to rock climb safely is paramount!
When climbing with kids always be aware of surrounding hazards: ledges, falling rocks, snakes, crazy squirrels (a real thing) and other rock climbers. While kids don’t need climbing shoes for easy routes (running shoes or closed to sandals (KEENS) work fine), they must have helmets and proper fitting harnesses. Also, kids are naturally curious, something I usually encourage, but safety always trumps curiosity around a busy rock wall.
Where to go Rock Climbing with Kids at Skaha Bluffs?
There are two popular places for beginner rock climbers at Skaha Buffs. The first is a rock named Daycare and the second is an area called Red Tail.
Daycare was the first spot we brought our kids climbing at Skaha Bluffs. It’s quick to get to and the climbs are easy. To access Daycare, park in the upper parking lot. The approach (hike) to the rock is a short 700 meters jaunt uphill. Another nice feature of Daycare is that the base of the rock is relatively safe and there are no steep drop offs, which is good for younger kids that wander. Daycare has nine short routes that range from 5.7 to 5.9. The routes without bolts are meant to be top-roped which can be set up by hiking to the top of Daycare.
While Daycare is a really great spot to bring kids climbing there are a few downsides to this area. The rock is less than vertical (slabby) which can make falling and lowering a bit trickier for younger kids. The rock faces west which means this area is nice in the cooler months (early spring and late fall) but gets really hot in the summer. Also, given that this rock is a really great place for newbies climbers it’s usually very busy.
- Very quick approach (700 m)
- Safe at base of rock
- Easy routes (5.7 to 5.9)
- Option to set up top rope
- Sunny all day (good for spring and fall)
- Slabby wall
- Very Busy
- Sunny all day (too hot in the summer)
Red Tail Wall
Once our kids got tired of Daycare we brought them over to Red Tail Wall, another popular spot for beginner climbers. Red Tail Wall is comprised of several sections (South Red Tail, Upper Red Tail and Lower Red Tail) and encompasses a good variety of easy to more difficult routes.
To access the Red Tail Wall park in the lower parking lot. The approach to Red Tail is about 1.2 km and definitely more technical. The first stretch of trail from the parking lot is flat and wide but after taking the right veering trail towards Fortress, which leads to Red Tail, the trail narrows and climbs up over very rocky areas with steep drop-offs. My two older kids (9 and 7) can hike this trail easily but my youngest’s (5) still needs to be carefully watched. Last year we were hiking out of this area and my youngest (refusing to hold my hand) slipped and cut his head on a rock. That being said, this trail is really beautiful and we’ve hiked it several times just for the pleasure of it.
There are 61 routes on the Red Cliff Wall ranging in difficulty from 5.6 to 5.11. We usually bring our kids to South and Lower Red Tail. There are some nice roomy spots along the Lower Red Tail wall, but be aware that there are steep drop offs along the whole Red Tail area.
Read Tail Wall is a fabulous place to climb and we prefer it to Daycare because the wall is vertical and there are so many great routes. Also, this area gets sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon making it a better place to climb on hot days. The downside is that it’s so great…it’s so busy!
- Quick approach (1.2 km)
- Great variety of routes (5.6 to 5.11)
- Vertical wall
- Shady in the afternoon
- Technical approach
- Steep drop-offs
- Very Busy
Tip: For more information about Daycare, Red Tail Wall or about the many other crags and routes at Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park get a copy of Skaha Rockclimbs: A User’s Manual by Howie Richardson.