Climbing Spots In The USA
When it comes to sheer choice, the USA has to be one of the world’s best for totally awesome climbing spots. From the sunshine state of California to the vast expanses of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, there are almost limitless opportunities to rope up and hit the heights.
Whether its crags, boulders or head-spinning cliff faces and drops that are your thing, the US has all the climbs to test, challenge and satisfy even the most experienced of rock climbers.
But it’s not just about the climbing die-hards, the US also has some world-beating climbs for the beginner, meaning it’s a great place to start and ultimately lose your heart to the joy of scaling sheer rock.
With so many places to choose from, it’s not been an easy task but here’s our choice of what we think are the 10 best climbing spots in the USA.
1. Yosemite National Park, California
No guide to the best climbing spots in the USA would be complete without the granite playground that is the Yosemite National Park, so we thought we’d start this guide on a high. The ultimate US climbing destination for many, this 1,200 square miles national park offers world-class crack climbs and sheer-faced walls that test and challenge the hardiest of mountain fans. Plus, with its Californian climate, it can be accessed pretty much all year round.
From the endurance crack and free climbs of the Merced River Canyon to the serene Tuolumne Meadows granite domes, climbing in Yosemite is totally awe-inspiring and can be pitched at most levels of the mountaineer. Plus, for those who like to push their boundaries, the Yosemite Valley offers many adrenalin-fueled multi-day climbs that will keep you stocked up with adventure tales for years to come.
And, talking of adrenalin climbing adventure, Yosemite is also home to the monster El Capitan, 3,000 feet of vertical granite that are considered the gold standard in sheer face climbing. Once thought to be unconquerable, this epic rock is the ultimate challenge for the adventurous soul. To just stand at El Capitan’s base and marvel at its sheer scale is intimidating enough so, for the estimated 3,000 people who scale its walls, it must be an unforgettable experience. And a truly testing one – the full height can take a skilled climber anything up to four days to conquer. Make sure you have your climbing helmet handy and start your adventure.
2. Red River Gorge, Slade, Kentucky
Often overshadowed by its larger-than-life Yosemite counterpart, 2,000 miles away in the state of Kentucky lies the Red River Gorge – a must-do list contender for the serious climber.
Known as ‘The Red’, this popular climbing location is vast and offers over 1,600 potential climbs so you are totally spoilt for choice. And while it’s a favorite site for serious climbers, the beauty of the gorge is that its size means the variety can cater for beginners too. The sandstone cliffs of Red River are stunning and offer a whole host of rock formations to conquer, including challenging arches, giant overhangs, and natural bridges. This park is an absolute natural beauty so a climbing trip to the gorge can easily double up into an awesome hiking and camping trip.
Out of all its rock faces, the Motherload area, in the south of the gorge, is its biggest climbing attraction and sits near the top of many climbers’ must do list. Offering a host of trad and sport climbing routes, the Motherload is an experienced climber’s dream and throws in enough big moves, sharp degree overhangs, and tight space bouldering to keep Red River fans coming back for more. And, we have it on good authority that once your adrenalin day is done, the pizza at Miguel’s in nearby Slade is the only way to refuel!
3. Joshua Tree National Park, California
Its popularity means it can get a bit over-crowded in the height of the season, but Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California is a bucket list destination for many. Its sheer scale – over 1,235 square miles – makes the Joshua Tree the perfect destination for any outdoor enthusiast. But when it comes to climbing, this stunning wilderness really comes into its own.
The meeting of two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado, has created a playground of geological and rock formations that can satisfy the most experienced of climbers all year round. There are around 8,000 known routes in the park, including short challenging routes as well as gnarly hikes and bouldering climbs, thanks to the coarse granite of the rock which makes the surfaces and faces a joy to climb. Plus, the climate in the park means you can continue your winter climbing when other peaks and parks are cold-weather off limits.
Most routes in this stunning national park are climbed trad, but bolted routes can also be found. So, if you like your cracks, crimpy faces, long traverses, overhangs and a host of challenges in-between, then join the estimated one million climbers each year and get a Joshua Tree route or two under your belt.
4. Zion National Park, Utah
Named by Utah’s Mormon settlers as ‘little Zion’, this stunning national park is something of a promised land when it comes to serious rock climbing.
With its 2000ft plus canyon walls offering long endurance climbs and some of the best rappelling opportunities in the state, it’s no wonder that sports climbers come to the Zion in their droves. Add in some seriously breathtaking landscapes, including waterfalls and slot canyons, and the Zion National Park is a no-brainer for our top USA climbing spots list. Be warned though, with its sheer long drops and sandstone rock faces, you need some skill to tackle the Zion, making it largely a climbing destination for advanced rock climbers. The Zion is famous for its super-long wall climbs and can make a great location for a multi-day trip with your climbing buddies as you hone your climbing rope skills on some technical rock faces. For less experienced, the park also offers some good bouldering practice, within the central canyon.
The best time for climbing in the Zion is from March through May and September to early November as the summer month temperatures can soar to over 100 degrees on the unshaded cliff walls.
5. Leavenworth, Washington
A bit of a local ‘secret’, Leavenworth in Washington state’s Cascade mountains is a climbing spot more than worth the effort to check out. Not only do you get a seriously good place to practice your rope and rock climbing shoes work, but you get to hang out at the Bavarian-themed village of Leavenworth after a hard day’s climbing for some authentic German food and a beer, or two.
Set over a relatively small area and all within 10 miles of the town, the climbing zone of Leavenworth has a long history of climbing and bouldering. It makes our top 10 list for its plethora of climbing opportunities and the ease of access – pull over the truck, and you’ll soon be harnessed up and set your foot on some awesome granite rock. A great base for trad climbing, Leavenworth is also a bit of a bouldering haven. And its sheer range of crags and walls makes it a great climbing destination for mountaineers of all levels.
Snow Creek Wall offers multi-pitch routes while the walls of Castle Rock, Midnight Rock Careno Crag, and Givler’s Dome provide some of the state’s best climbs. Another amazing climbing destination is the Peshastin Pinnacles – a 34-acre state park boasting sandstone slabs giving climbers multi-pitch challenges and jaw-dropping views.
6. Acadia National Park, Mt. Desert, Maine
For our next top USA climbing spot, we move from the canyons and crags of inland states to the jagged cliffs of the Maine coastline.
For the bold and brave, Acadia National Park provides an epic climbing trip, in a stunning location at the edge of the northern Atlantic Ocean.
Spectacular granite cliffs sweep down to the water’s edge, giving you the ultimate climbing experience hanging over the power of the sea. The Acadia provides an adrenalin-fueled chance to test your mettle as you climb the crags and sea cliffs made from the stunningly beautiful coarse pink granite. This is not a climbing trip you take lightly, as well as your kit and climb plan you will need to also take the tide charts into account, but if your climbing skills are up to the mark, this is an awesome way to spend your climbing weekend.
7. Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
For fans of the classic sci-fi film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the ominous presence of the Devil’s Tower mountain in the wilds of Wyoming is enough to send you running for the hills. For climbers, it’s more than enough to get you roping up and ready to climb. The hexagonal columns of this stunningly surreal mountain offer superb routes for anyone who enjoys the challenge of crack climbing, meaning it easily makes our top 10 list.
The Tower is an awesome geologic feature that protrudes out of the prairie and is considered sacred by Northern Plains Indians and indigenous people. With its rockface scarred by hundreds of parallel cracks – some extending to 400 feet – it is considered to be one of the finest crack climbing areas in North America. With no park rescue nearby, this is best left to experienced climbers and you must register before you take to the Tower. But for anyone willing to put in the time and effort to navigate the Devil Tower’s walls, the payoff is more than worth it. Out of this world, is what we say.
8. Shawangunk Ridge, N.Y.
From beginner to advanced, head to Shawangunk Ridge in New York State for some deceptively challenging climbs in a cool location that offers over 1,000 different routes.
Just 90 minutes’ drive from NYC making it the perfect weekend rock for East Coast dwellers, ‘The Gunks’ as it is affectionately known, is also well worth more of a journey to make the most of its varied climbs.
Shawangunk Ridge is the continuation of the long, easternmost ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, this vegetation-rich ridge is a stunning location that also offers a laid-back vibe in which to learn, practice and hone your climbing skills.
With many of the rock faces offering horizontal cracks, the Gunks is a great climbing spot to get started, but the variety will keep you challenged as you learn and hone your skills. But it isn’t all about the newbies, the Gunks has some trump cards up its sleeve for the more advanced climber to also have some adrenalin fun. Not least some seriously challenging overhangs to test the nerve.
9. Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park is a free climber’s heaven, with stunningly surreal red sandstone formations that call out to be scaled. This beautiful desert area in Utah spans more than 100,000 square miles and has over 2,000 natural stone arches, as well as hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks.
Arches is not for in the inexperienced but by sheer drama and scale, it easily makes our top 10 USA climbing spots list. For the experienced climber, the Arches National Park is a gift – most of the main routes are close to the road and you can get access pretty much all year round.
There are restrictions to climbing in the Arches – you can’t deface the rock with climbing pitons – making it pretty much free climbing territory. But for the brave-hearted, the feel of the rock, the sheer size of the climb and the alien environment backdrop makes the Arches a very special place indeed.
10. Black Canyon, Gunnison National Park, Colorado
And finally, for a totally off track, extreme climbing spot, the aptly named Black Canyon, in Colorado’s Gunnison National Park, is the last worthy contender for a spot on our best climb in the USA list.
If wild and untamed is your thing, then Black Canyon is the place to go. This deep and narrow canyon is for seasoned climbers only and you need to have the skills as well as the instinct for the rock, but a little hardship will more than reap the climbing rewards. If you can work around the inconsistent rock quality, natural environmental challenges and its remoteness – meaning rescue is not readily available – then the scale and scenery will astound you. With the deepest point at over 2,700ft and some of the craggiest spires around, there is some significant height to scale in the canyon over a choice of 145 multi-pitch routes. Go prepared, take your time end enjoy US adventure climbing at its very best.