Sport Climbing at Exit 38, Deception Crags Area

Added by Wells Preston

This area offers great sport climbing, within a 1/2 hour of Seattle. There are over 139 different routes with a large variety in grades in grades from 5.4 - 5.13. There are also five different climbing areas, all within a 1/2 mile area: Substation, Write-Off Rock, Deception crag, Nevermind, and We Did Wall. This area is close enough to Seattle that during the spring, summer, and fall, you can climb here after work.

Sport Climbing at Exit 38, the Deception Crags Area, is an amazing area to climb within 1/2 hour drive of downtown Seattle. It is an amazing resource for climbers living in Seattle, as during the spring, summer, and fall, it can be reached quickly afterwork, with minimal traffic.

There are 5 distinct areas of climbing: Substation, Write Off Wall, Nevermind, Deception Wall, and We Did Wall. With over 139 sport routes and grades varying from 5.4 to 5.13, there are routes to suit every level of climber. Most of the climbs are connected via the Iron Goat Railroad trail, an old railroad which has been converted to a 15 foot wide gravel trail, also used by cyclists, runners, and hikers. Please be considerate of other users of the trail, keep gear neat, and ropes close to the wall to allow traffic through. Please be careful throwing ropes from the top as well as belaying too far out from the wall; not all visitors are aware of the risks of climbing.

This guide will discuss the location of each wall, and the "Classic" route(s) on each wall, but due to the sheer number of routes, it will not cover all routes. Entire guidebooks have been devoted to Exit 38 climbing. Please note: to minimize wear on anchor chains, build your own top rope anchors and rappel off routes after cleaning instead of lowering through the chains.

To get there take I-90 east from Seattle, to Exit 38. Follow signs for Olallie State Park, and head east off of the exit ramp, (right turn from east bound, I-90, left turn from west bound). Drive approximately 1/2-3/4 of a mile till you see the gravel parking area on the left. The trail up to the crags is across the road on the other side of a concrete barrier.

Follow the trail through the woods, up the hill to the old railroad trestle. It is well worn, with mild elevation gain. At the base of the large bridge, to the left of the trail is the first climbing area: the Substation.

The Substation: This wall has approximately 18 routes, varying in grade from 5.7 - 5.11. It is slightly overhung in the center. If it has rained recently, the tree cover will keep these faces wet for longer than other areas at Exit 38. The area is divided by stripe of rock down the middle that stays wet except on the hottest of days, due to plant growth above. The easier route are generally to the right of the wet area, closer to the trail; the difficult routes are left of the wet area.

Some classic routes on this face are:

  • "Rug Monkey": a 5.7 route approximately 85 feet long. It is located directly to the right of the wet area.

  • "You're Only Nice to Me When You're Wet": a 5.10d route, approximately 45 feet long with thin crimps and holds leading up.

If you keep hiking on the trail, you will hike up on to the Iron Goat Trail, and you will be at the next and the easiest area: Write Off Rock.

Write-Off Rock: A large slab with 6 routes, it has the largest concentration of 5.4-5.8 routes. Only one route is 5.9 on the wall, and that route is 5.7-5.8, except for the crux-top-out move. This is a great beginner area and is usually a little more populated than others at Exit 38. Many groups with kids, beginners, or teaching various aspects of climbing will stop here.The 3 routes on the left hand side of the wall are mostly slab/friction climbing, while the 3 routes on the right of the wall are juggy and have small cracks to climb.

Some classic routes on this wall are:

  • "Mom There's Pink in My Burger": a 5.6, short juggy, route with some good non-essential cracks, great for teaching jamming for beginners, or for teaching trad-placements on top rope. This route is the farthest right route on the rock.

  • "Knife in the Toaster": a 5.9, a slab/ friction climb that starts as a 5.6-5.7 then quickly becomes a 5.9 with the last moves up a vertical face. The final top out move is tricky and fun. This route is dead center, third route from the left, and third from the right. This is a personal favorite of the author as a warm up climb.

If you continue hiking east, down the Iron Goat Trail, directly after the bridge, you will see a steep trail that hikes up into the brush on the right. If you take this trail, it will lead you to the Nevermind Wall.

Never mind Wall: This area is a good concentration of moderate to advanced routes. With grades varying from 5.9-5.12c, this area's climbs are challenging and fun. Many of the routes are blocky or juggy. There is very little room to belay on many of these climbs, and less room to hang out if you're not climbing. Due to the difficulty of the routes, this area does not see as much traffic; as a result, many routes here are in a need of a good cleaning in spring and even into the summer.

Classic route at Nevermind Wall:

  • "Love Bucket", 5.10c features an interesting and tricky start, followed by awesome climbing above. It is located about dead center on the wall.

Deception Wall:

The Deception wall is a the large face that is on the right as you walk down the Iron Goat Trail, after you pass the trail up to Neverland Wall. There are several great routes on the wall and it is the tallest wall in the area. Most routes are between 40-60 feet long, with several over 100 ft. The longer routes have rappel anchors mid way through the route. Access to the belay spots for the different routes can be challenging as they require climbing down and hiking around the old railroad bed.

Classic route on the Deception Wall:

  • "Old Milwaukee Road", 5.10a, 100 ft long. This awesome route is located in the middle of the wall. To reach the first pitch, hike up the moderate 3rd and 4th class terrain. The route leads slightly left to a corner. Closely spaced bolts protect the upper portions.

From Deception wall, keep walking east down the Iron Goat Trail to reach the last wall in this area, The We-Did Wall.

The We-Did Wall: This is the wall farthest east down the Iron Goat Trail from the access trail and the Write off Wall. There are a lot of great routes, ranging from short three bolt 5.6 routes, to 5.10 overhangs. Much of the climbing is slab with some sparse jugs intermixed. It is arguably the best wall at the Deception Crags area, and this author's favorite. The routes on the western half of the wall are very easy. The routes in the middle on the large overhang area are significantly harder and the routes east of the overhang are 5.8-5.9. The 5.9 routes are typically one or two difficult moves and then a grade below climbing for the remainder.

Classic Routes on We Did Wall:

  • "Black Caboose" 5.9, this route is the farthest left (east) on the wall. It is a great climb with a difficult series of moves between the second and third bolt. Be careful that no one is parallel with you during these moves on neighboring climbing as the propensity to swing is great.

  • "Absolutely Nothing" 5.9, this route is two to the right (west) of Black Caboose. It starts off with some sloped jug moves, with the crux being between the second and third bolt, up over a significant lip. Above this move the route is mostly slab friction moves.

Pro Tips:

  • Keep your gear out of the main trail area, either close to the climbing walls or the grassy area on the opposite side of the path. This includes ropes. The Iron Goat Trail is used by cyclists, joggers, and hikers and we need to be respectful of their use.

  • Even in summer, it can get chilly up here, bring extra layers.

  • If you bring food or beer, bring a plastic bag to hike out any trash, there is a distinct lack of trash receptacles here.

-There is a port-a-potty located west of Write-Off Wall and east of We-Did Wall

  • It can get very crowded and there may be people waiting for the route you want. On the flip side, please do not setup and leave top ropes if you are not climbing them, share the stoke and the crag.

  • After an evening climbing, head to the North Bend Bar and Grill for dinner and beers. They have awesome food, great beer on tap, and a full bar. Generous portions will satisfy even the hungriest of climbers.

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Rock Climbing
Easy Parking
Picnic Area


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ūü•áTop Contributor

about 3 years ago

A+ write up!

This is an awesomely in-depth write up to the routes you can find at Exit 38. This spot offers a greater variety in route length and difficulty than its neighboring Exit 32, which is usually favored by more advanced climbers. Exit 38 is a great place for first time rock climbers to try their hand at outdoor sport climbing, and also ideal for practicing lead climbing before taking a test or certification in a gym.

ūü•ą Contributor

over 4 years ago

Some decent routes, but...

The rock is better and the routes are generally more memorable 6 miles west on I-90 at Little Si / Exit 32. Albeit, there are some hidden gems in the area and the grades are more moderate.

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