It might surprise you that some of the best bouldering in New England is in the Ocean State. Located just minutes from Providence, Rhode Island, Lincoln Woods State Park is home to a multitude of classic granite boulder problems that have been challenging rock climbers for years. If you haven’t been to “the Woods,” as locals call it, it's time to put this prime northeast bouldering destination on your tick list.
Climbers have been frequenting the Woods’ coarse granite boulders for almost a hundred years. A 1935 article in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s journal Appalachia titled “Rhode Island, the Rock Climbers’ Paradise” highlighted the climbing in the then-Lincoln Woods Reservation, pointing out that the Woods is for “Boulder climbing almost entirely” and that “a narrow crack about 20 feet high provides the best climb in this Reservation.”
Although articles like the one in Appalachia made climbers aware of the Woods’ potential, a group called the “Rhodey Loadies” truly put it on the map as a bouldering destination beginning in the late 1960s. Following in the footsteps of Paul Baird—who John Sherman called the “Grandfather of the Loadies” in his book Stone Crusade—a peripheral member of the Gunks’ Vulgarians, the Loadies built a reputation for partying as hard as they climbed. Unlike their predecessors, who used bouldering to train for the larger cliffs of the northeast and beyond, the Loadies bouldered for the sport of it alone.
Early developers like Paul Baird and the prolific John “Whitey” Maclean demonstrated the fantastic diversity of climbing found at the Woods. Baird was tall and powerful, standing over six feet tall and weighing over 200 pounds—warm up on Baird’s classic Beginner’s Delight (V0) on the Iron Cross Boulder. Conversely, Whitey is small, wiry, and flexible. Find a horrid crunch or crimp problem and Whitey’s likely the first ascensionist—try Whitey’s Hard One (V9) to see what we mean.
"Unlike their predecessors, who used bouldering to train for the larger cliffs of the northeast and beyond, the Loadies bouldered for the sport of it alone."
Through the 1970s and into the early 1980s, the Loadies continued establishing standard-pushing problems like “Tall” Ed Sewall’s Try Again II (V5), Pond Cave Traverse (V4), and Heart of Glass (V4). Don’t let the grades fool you—these problems are hard! Bouldering persisted at the Woods through the 80s, but there was a downturn in activity because many believed the Loadies had picked all the Woods’ plum lines.
It took until the 1990s for a new generation of climbers like Dave Graham (Shoot to Kill, V11), Tim Kemple (Under the Big Top, V11), John Glassberg (Miss Hyde, V11), and Matt Wilder (Divine Providence, V11) to re-establish Lincoln Woods as the preeminent bouldering destination in the northeast.
Then, in the early 2000s, the Woods took its place on the national stage with the publishing of a “MiniGuide” in Rock & Ice magazine, authored by Joe McLoughlin, and his separately published 64-page A Bouldering Guide to Lincoln Woods, RI. Including the Woods in Tim Kemple and Pete Ward’s guidebook, New England Bouldering, in 2004 (the third edition of which was released last year), pushed it even further into the limelight.
Although it’s been ten years since Ty Landman sent Chelsea Smile (V13), the park’s hardest problem, bouldering at the Woods might be at the pinnacle of its popularity. It’s a destination for beginning boulderers and seasoned senders alike, in part because many of the classics are tightly clustered and easily accessed via a paved loop road. With features including cracks, flakes, crimps, slopers, and jugs, the Woods has routes for all types of climbers and climbing styles on everything from sit starts to highballs to traverses.
Of course, in the age of COVID-19, check travel restrictions before visiting Lincoln Woods. Once there, recreate responsibly—don’t crowd around boulders and save those highball projects and problems with bad landings for another day. There's plenty of rock to go around and as you explore the park, stay on the lookout for Woods’ stalwart John “Whitey” MacLean. He’s been there for it all, and is in the “high risk” age bracket these days…high risk of floating your project, that is.