We’ve all heard someone utter the saying you can’t please everyone. Well, those people aren’t climbers and have never visited New Hampshire’s Pawtuckaway State Park in the fall.

Pawtuckaway summers are known for the masses of campers and boaters who flock to the park, along with swarms of seemingly Deet-resistant bugs. But come autumn, the crowds and insects recede and climbers descend on the park to tackle its world-class bouldering, hard cracks, and interesting face climbs on its sharp granite cliffs and rocks. There is simply something for every type of climber at every level—from boulderers, to trad climbers, to top ropers and from beginner-friendly routes and problems to climbs established by legends like Tim Kemple, Dave Graham, and Dean Potter.

Credit: Tim Peck

Pawtuckaway’s Unique Geology

While most climbers visiting Pawtuckaway are awestruck by the size and magnitude of P-Way’s glacially deposited boulders, many of the area’s most notable problems lie within an even more interesting feature: the remains of an ancient volcano. The mountains of Pawtuckaway form the outline of a volcanic “ring dike”—sometimes called the Dragon’s Eye for its appearance on topographic maps—which are concentric rings of mountains formed by magma rising up from the underground.

The volcano and glaciers that created the rugged landscape of Pawtuckaway State Park are long gone, but their remnants created a playground for climbers. Steep cliffs, vertical faces, and glacially deposited boulders dot the landscape and classic problems and routes appear at almost every turn.

Credit: Tim Peck


There’s a wide variety of climbing found at P-way, but the park is best known for its bouldering, thanks to its hundreds of granite boulders, many of which are within close proximity of each other. Three of P-way’s main bouldering areas—Boulder Natural, Devil’s Den, and Round Pond—are all within a short walk of one another.

The wide variety of problems also adds to the appeal. Boulderers will find problems with every type of feature, from slopes to crimpers to cracks, and every height, from lowballs to highballs.

“Must visit” problems include:

  • Cream (V0+): A classic highball that follows good holds to an unnerving height, even if you’re comfortable at the grade.
  • Essentials (V1+): A semi-tall slab that requires delicate footwork and a committing move to the top.
  • General Lee (V2): Despite being barely five feet off the ground, this classic problem works up a sloping rail; Hope for crisp temps and good fall friction.
  • Hobbit Hole (V3): One of the most popular problems at P-way, follow the left angling crack while searching for feet—leaving the crack is the crux.
  • Crimp Problem (V3+): Short and sweet, pull on the obvious moon-shaped crimp and throw for the top.
  • Overlooked (V4): Strange beta, crazy movement, and a great setting—right next to a pond—make this a fall classic.
  • Atlas (V5): The easiest problem on one of the coolest-looking boulders at P-way, the Balance Boulder.
  • Ride the Lightning (V6): On every New England boulderer’s tick list, the mantle at the top will test the commitment of even the headiest climber.
Credit: Tim Peck

Trad Climbing

Bouldering steals the show at Pawtuckaway but a handful of great clack climbs keeps trad rad at the park. Don’t let their lack of length—many aren’t much taller than classic highballs like the aforementioned Cream or The Whip—sandbag you into thinking they’re easy. These climbs are stout, will tear you up, and come with old school grades. Pack your hand jammies or tape gloves and remember that Obscene Phone Call—the obvious three parallel cracks at Upper Cliffs—was originally rated 5.6, but gets a 5.8 rating today.

Favorite crack climbs include:

  • Double Chin (5.6): After an awkward start around (or using) the tree at its base, this climb delivers pure hand jamming pleasure that will have you wishing Upper Cliff went on forever.
  • Lakeside Jam (5.7): A classic wide crack located just beside Round Pond—bring your off-width game and big gear. Feeling brave? China Dragon (5.10) shares its start with Lakeside Jam but follows the thinner right-angling crack.
  • Obscene Phone Call (5.8): No matter what this Upper Cliff standout is rated, you don’t want to miss it. Follow the three parallel cracks past a low crux to jamming glory.
  • The Horn (5.9+): Another Upper Cliffs classic, The Horn is hard for the grade and a proud tick for aspiring crack climbers.

Not ready to take the sharp end? No worries—with a long static line, it’s easy to set up a top rope on the majority of P-way’s trad lines.

Credit: Tim Peck

Top Roping

You don’t need the steel-like fingers of a boulderer or the cool-head of a trad climber to enjoy P-way climbing. The overwhelming majority of Pawtuckaway’s trad climbs are easily top roped, which makes it a popular location for newer climbers. That said, many new climbers find themselves at Lower Slab, thanks to the accessibility of the top of the cliff (there is a trail to it on climber’s left), an abundance of trees for building anchors, and numerous moderately graded climbs.

  • Pete’s Tree (5.4): A nice blend of moves—from jamming to smearing—make this a popular route for climbers looking to build their skills.
  • Flake Route (5.5): A fun route on straightforward moves following an obvious flake system on the left side of the crag.
  • Beginner’s Route (5.6): Another fun route that begins with some slab moves and classic P-way feet (think polished and slippery) that gives way to positive holds above.
  • The Dike (5.8-): Put your footwork to the test and follow the obvious dike to the top of the cliff.
Credit: Tim Peck

Getting There

Besides the summer crowds and bugs, Pawtuckaway also has some rowdy dirt roads. If your Unlikely Adventure Mobile has low clearance, parking at Horse Farm is recommended.

Fortunately, Horse Farm is a popular parking lot for both bouldering at Round Pond and roped climbing at Upper and Lower Cliffs. Horse Farm is a small parking lot along Round Pond Road, which is a dirt road on the left side of Deerfield Road for climbers arriving from Route 101. From Horse Farm, climbers hike downhill along Round Pond Road for about a mile until they hit Round Pond and the trail signs to the various climbing spots.

Climbers with higher-clearance vehicles can cut off some of this approach, but it does require accessing Round Pond Road from the opposite direction. To do so, find the signed access point at Reservation Road off Route 107. Follow Reservation Road—first paved, then dirt—until there’s a dirt road with a gate on the left (Gate 5; typically closed in winter). Turn left onto this dirt road (Round Pond Road), following it for several miles until you come to a sign for the bouldering at Boulder Natural. Continuing on this road for a few more minutes brings you to Round Pond, where there is a small parking lot. There are a few side roads along the way, so bring this map with you to avoid getting lost.

Fall at Its Finest

A great thing about Pawtuckaway is that all of the activities that attract people to the park during the summer are arguably even better in the fall. The campground is quiet and campsites are easy to secure and there are substantially fewer boats on the water. There’s also fantastic hiking and some burly mountain biking found at the park, both of which, much like the climbing, are far more enjoyable when the bugs die down.

Do you have a favorite problem or route at Pawtuckaway? Leave it in the comments below so we can bust out our bouldering shoes or hand jammies and give it a burn.