Best Rock Climbing Spots in the US

Andrew LyleMarch 04, 2019

Thanks to the varied terrain, natural beauty, and diverse geology from sea to shining sea, the United States of America is one of the best places on Earth for rock climbing. Not only do climbing routes, monoliths, walls, and boulders come in all shapes and sizes, they can be found around nearly every corner.

Within big cities and metropolitan areas, climbing gyms are bringing the climbs to urban centers. The cream of the crop, however, is still found in the countless national parks and natural formations that define the iconic US expanse and the everlasting beauty of its assorted wilderness landscapes.

This diversity is the main reason mountaineers and rock climbers from across the globe head to the States. The type of rock varies from region to region, with sandstone, granite, volcanic amalgamation of basalt and tuff, and so much more. While the rock composition and location may be ever-changing, the scope of its beauty remains.

To give you an idea of the best places to take on the slabs and cracks of the most eminent locations across the United States, we have compiled a list of the seven best rock climbing spots in the United States to enjoy the sport. Whether you are a trad climber, sport climber, or even a boulder hawk, there are plenty of options for everyone in these places known for cultivating the sport.

 

 

What are you waiting for? Grab a guide and head into the rockiest parts of the United States on a world-class rock climbing program!

 

1| Yosemite, California

 

Chances are you’ve heard of Yosemite whether you know it or not. As one of the most popular climbing destinations in the country, it has been a source of pride for big wall climbers throughout the history of the sport. Its most notable routes include El Capitan, Half Dome, and Sentinel.

El Capitan is a behemoth, 1,000-meter masterpiece that towers over Yosemite Valley. Its most popular route, among many, is The Nose, which features a grueling 5.14 Grade and a staggering 31-pitches. Spending two to four days on this amazing ascent is a rite of passage for the most intrepid athletes of the sport.

 

Just another adrenaline-pumping California ascent. Photo courtesy of Daniel Laggner.

Other popular climbs include Cathedral Rocks and Royal Arches, which are less demanding time-and-length-wise but just as fun. Graded across the spectrum, these routes run anywhere from 150 to 450 meters.

As a bonus, the scenery of Yosemite includes sequoias, mountain summits, and an abundance of wildlife. The Sierra Nevada location surrounding the park is home to a variety of outdoor sports. This can motivate travelers to extend or enhance an unforgettable rock climbing program.


In Brief

  • How to Get There: San Francisco is the largest nearby airport. Driving from there, you can be at the foot of El Capitan in under four hours.
  • Climbing Style: Big wall, trad, (some) sport, bouldering. Single- and multi-pitch courses.
  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Type of Rock: Granite
  • Best Time to Go: Spring and autumn. March through May and September through November. The hot summers and cold winters don’t provide the same appeal as the delightful mild seasons of the Sierra Nevada.

Check out this great two-day trad climbing class from certified guide Daniel Laggner!


2| Moab, Utah

 

Gorgeous sandstone structures make Moab a hit in the rock climbing community. Not only is it beautiful, but it is a high-quality rock (when dry) that makes for an exciting and unique climbing experience.

Thousands of routes of every stripe cross the region, from the exhilarating towers of Arches National Park (think Owl Rock – 5.8 and Bullwinkle – 5.6, both single pitch, all the way up to Elephant Butte) to the 5.10+ Grades of Indian Creek’s crack climbs. All levels are welcome, and Moab covers all parts of the spectrum when it comes to grades, lengths, and disciplines.

 

Classic sandstone pitch in Moab, Utah. Photo courtesy of Jerome Smart.

One of the best features of Moab is the wide variety of possible climbs. Routes blend into one another for a never-ending supply of compelling ascents, so every climb is a new and boundless adventure. Routes can serve beginners looking to transition from the climbing gym to the rock while also accommodating the seasoned vets who have traveled far and wide for a taste of the pristine sandstone.

Be careful of the weather, as the wet sandstone can compromise the climbing equipment. A knowledgeable, certified guide will help ensure a safe and satisfactory climb in this idyllic setting of South Utah.


In Brief

  • How to Get There: Salt Lake City and Denver have equally enticing airports to fly into, reaching Moab within a four-hour drive and a six-hour drive, respectively.
  • Climbing Style: Sport, crack (trad)
  • Difficulty Level: Beginner and up
  • Type of Rock: Sandstone
  • Best Time to Go: March, April, October, and November. The temperatures are comfortable, the rain is minimal, and the views are evocative (duh).

Climb the towers of Moab with AMGA-certified guide Jerome Smart!


3| Shenandoah National Park, West Virginia

 

Located in the Appalachian Mountains on the western side of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park mixes awe-inspiring beauty with limestone and granite slabs of the highest order. Rock climbing here is epitomized by the mountain views, with feature crisp blue skies in spring and changing foliage in the fall.

The park features a wide array of great climbing areas, like Lil Stony Man, Old Rag, and Bent Tree Area. You can work on top roping or mess around with bouldering, but the claim to fame for Shenandoah is the fulfilling trad lines. The Crackin (5.11d Grade) nears the higher end of the spectrum, but more basic-level ascents like The Shield Direct (5.8) and Kopley’s Corner (5.7) make the area fun for everyone.

 

Unwavering beauty of Shenandoah National Park from Skyline Drive. Photo courtesy of Stefan Serena.

Old Rag Mountain is probably the most infamous climbing area. While it seems to be crowded as you make your way from the trailhead, the technical climbing scene here is relatively open, even with the healthy bounty of top notch lines.

Beginners can take advantage of 5.2 routes, too, so picking up the sport here is a great way to start your rock climbing career. Virginia’s unique and historic wilderness has a palpable energy that beckons to alpinists and climbers from all over the country – and beyond. The flexibility and proximity of the routes within the park make multi-day expeditions just as feasible as a road-side day trip.


In Brief

  • How to Get There: Fly into the District of Columbia and head a bit over 100 miles west. The drive is about two hours into the national park.
  • Climbing Style: Crack, trad, (some) sport
  • Difficulty Level: Beginner to intermediate
  • Type of Rock: Granite, sedimentary
  • Best Time to Go: Year round. Severe weather can occur in summer and winter, so aim for the innocuous spring and autumn months.

Discover the magic of the Blue Ridge Mountains on a rock climbing program with AMGA-certified guide Lester Zook in Shenandoah National Park!


4| Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

 

Whether you feel lucky or not, you can definitely find an unforgettable rock climbing program at Red Rock Canyon, just a short distance from Las Vegas, Nevada. Another sweet sandstone spot, the region is bursting at the seems with an eclectic mix of ascents. When the rest of the country cools during winter, this becomes a go-to destination for climbers in search of a quality fix.

The generous grades are perfect for resume-building beginners, who flock here for the plethora of variable routes and thousands of options. Grizzled climbers who need to feel alive can test their mettle on Epinephrine (5.9), Cloud Tower (5.12-), and – of course – Monster Skank (5.13).

 

Sandstone slab work at Red Rock Canyon. Photo courtesy of The Mountain Guides Red Rock.

Every climbing discipline can be found here, even bouldering. You can expect a short single-pitch or a complex 20-pitch tapestry. Those who wish to train for more exposed and daring routes can get a satisfactory workout on the unique and beautiful geology.

Arguably the best part of Red Rock is its proximity to the city. Few locations in the United States and beyond offer such high-level climbing without a lengthy drive into the wilderness. This uncompromising take on Red Rock has made it a premiere spot for mountaineers and climbers.


In Brief

  • How to Get There: With Las Vegas a stone’s throw away, flying into McCarran and driving out can get you onto the rocks within an hour. Maybe less.
  • Climbing Style: Sport climbing, trad climbing, bouldering. Single- and multi-pitch routes.
  • Difficulty Level: Beginner and up
  • Type of Rock: Sandstone
  • Best Time to Go: Fall to spring. You can go all year round, but the summer heat makes climbing past 11:00am a chore more than an adventure.

Take Lady Luck to the outskirts of Vegas and spend a day with an AMGA-certified guide on a rock climbing program at Red Rock Canyon!


5| Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

 

Oregon tends to fly under the radar, but when it comes to jaw-dropping natural beauty, Smith Rock State Park makes its way to the front of the line. A vast network of trails in this high-desert location complements the volcanic geology. Built primarily for sport climbing, it is considered a flagship location for this discipline and holds a strong appeal for this outside of the US.

There is a bit of everything here, but it is best known for its tried and true routes that make advanced climbers blush. It has been developed from the 1960s on, so worn out equipment can add challenges on an ascent. The views of the Crooked River winding through the park are also associated with its iconic charm. Gorges below and the Cascades on the horizon are enough to make a climber’s heart melt.

 

Sport climbing a daunting wall. Photo courtesy of Laurel F.

With more than 1,800 routes, varying lines can be constructed to fit the needs of the climber. Screaming Yellow Zonkers and Pure Palm are classic routes that will warm up the veterans before taking on the notoriously difficult ascents like The Morning Glory (5.13 and up).

The area is known for its difficulty, so be prepared for this. The climbing community has long developed the park and may underestimate the grades of some climbs.


In Brief

  • How to Get There: After flying into Portland, Smith Rock State Park is just a three hour drive to the southeast.
  • Climbing Style: Sport
  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Type of Rock: Basalt, tuff
  • Best Time to Go: March through May, September through November. Summer can hit 100 degrees (F) while winter can break below 0 degrees (F), so climb at your own risk during these periods.

Join AMGA-certified guide Mick Pearson on a rock climbing weekend program at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon!


6| The Gunks, New York

 

One of the premiere climbing areas in the Northeast, the Shawangunk Mountains (informally The Gunks) are a long-worn set of quartz cracks and slabs in New York State. The cracks are no joke and the exposure is electrifying, so novices and experts alike should come with their “A” game.

With the beautiful scenery of upstate New York just starting to unfold below, the views are absolutely outstanding. The overhangs and roofs come equipped with relentless forests of lush greenery that make the challenging climbs more than worth their weight in gold.

 

The essence of exposure at Sky Top in the Shawangunk Mountains. Photo courtesy of Alpine Endeavors.

Made up of a variety of cliffs from The Trapps, The Nears, and Millbrook, there are plenty of excellent, classic routes, from Son of Easy O (5.8) and Bonnie’s Roof (5.9) all the way up to Supper’s Ready (5.12-). Sky Top, visible for miles from the surrounding landscape, is a cliff that was recently reopened under the stipulation that you climb with a certified guide from just one authorized guide, Alpine Endeavors.

The Gunks have been a climbing haven from its first development in the 1930s, making it one of the first and most classic areas for the sport. Trad climbers should feel proud to experience the thrills of this nearly 100-year-old destination and carry on a long climbing tradition that could only arise in New York.


In Brief

  • How to Get There: Fly into New York City (Newark, JFK, or – gulp – La Guardia) before driving north for two hours. The scenic drive along the Hudson River adds to the allure, and for those with the time and forethought can try the Metro-North Railroad for ultimate enchantment.
  • Climbing Style: Trad (crack)
  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate to advanced
  • Type of Rock: Quartz conglomerate
  • Best Time to Go: Spring to fall. Adverse winter weather gives way around April and comes in like a lion in late October early November.

Follow one of the AMGA-certified guides of Alpine Endeavors to the Shawangunk Mountains and enjoy a two-day rock climbing course just north of New York City!


7| Joshua Tree National Park, California

 

No climbing list would be complete without the unique, beautiful, and Southern California vibes of Joshua Tree National Park. An icon in its own right, climbers have been making this spot a scene for years now, thanks to impressive outcroppings and an expansive landscape of mountains and deserts.

From cracks and slabs, roofs and chimneys, every climber is smitten when placed in the unusual beauty of Joshua Tree. Boulders help beginners acclimate to single-pitches, which in turn provide an ample training ground for complex multi-pitches rife with challenges.

 

Looking down from the heights of Joshua Tree. Photo courtesy of Mojave Guides.

Some of the most popular routes are Right On (5.6, four pitches) and Dappled Mare (5.8, four pitches) to Bird On a Wire (5.10a, three pitches) and Leave It to Beaver (5.12a, single-pitch). Boulders blanket the landscape with equally diverse levels of difficulty.

The best way to cap a climbing trip in Joshua Tree is with a symbolic sunset, revealing a desert sky full of stars that will take your breath away.


In Brief

  • How to Get There: Fly into LAX (Los Angeles) and enjoy a classic two-hour southwest drive to Joshua Tree.
  • Climbing Style: Trad, crack, bouldering
  • Difficulty Level: Beginner and up
  • Type of Rock: Gneiss, quartz
  • Best Time to Go: Fall, winter, and spring. Summer can get pretty hot, so be prepared to climb in the morning if you want to brave the heat.

Let the AMGA-certified guides of Mojave Guides take you on a compelling day program full of unforgettable rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park!

 

NOW is the time to book your rock climbing trip with one of the fantastic certified guides! Prepare yourself to reach new heights on an adventure in the lovely United States countryside!

 

 

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