The United States is home to 423 national parks and over 10,000 state parks, many of which are blessed with mighty rock formations and steep walls that attract over 10 million climbers yearly. It is no surprise that the country has also inspired and bred a throng of pioneering and accomplished climbers, including Alex Honold, Dean Potter, Chris Sharma, Tommy Caldwell, and Lynn Hill.
Locals and destination climbers come to the US to test their limits against some of the most difficult and scenic climbs. But on top of the challenge and adrenaline rush, they are also drawn to the country’s tight-knit and supportive community of climbers. To top it off, each of these climbing spots is located in vast rugged, often ancient terrain, offering an authentic frontier experience, dramatic landmarks, and captivating views.
If you’re looking to answer the call of the wild and experience national parks from a unique vantage point, ready your climbing gear and outdoor clothing, and plan a visit to these destinations:
Yosemite National has long lured some of the sport’s greats. The major points of interest include El Capitan, Half Dome, and Tuolomne Meadows. But these walls may be too difficult and risky for beginners or even intermediate climbers. Serious athletes often train for years before they decide to give El Cap a try. The Cookie Cliff can be a good first introduction to multi-pitch climbing. But if you’re aiming for El Cap as your trophy climb, the awe-inspiring wall boasts various routes considered to be the most grueling in the world of climbing.
But there are easier routes that you can try, such as the Free Rider, the one Alex Honnold free solo-ed (climbing without a rope, aids, and safety gear) in a record-breaking 3 hours and 56 minutes. The Dawn Wall, known to be the hardest, longest free climb rock face in the world, is over 3,000 feet long with a difficulty rating of 5.14d. Given the site’s popularity, it can get crowded during peak seasons, so be sure to plan your trip wisely.
Rock climbing in Moab is as diverse as the rock formations in the area. You can choose among Arches National Parks, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse State Park, and Castle Valley and find top-notch climbs on hard, blazing red sandstone. The area offers enough variety to engage climbers of all levels, but make sure to check in with local guides to know which rocks are open for climbing.
Keep in mind that climbing on cultural resources such as the arches and natural bridges in the area are prohibited as these are considered sacred ground. The best spots among climbers include The Fisher Towers, Potash Road, Owl Rock, and Indian Creek.
Red Rock Canyon
The Red Rocks of Southern Nevada provides plenty of options for climbers of all skill levels. The canyon has beginner, intermediate, and multi-pitch routes of moderate technical difficulty. And, of course, each climb leads to breath-taking views of cliffs, many-hued rock formations, and the endless desert.
You can also make it a family affair as local outfitters provide educational programs to spread the joy of rock climbing. There are camping grounds nearby if you plan to stay for a few days. Red Rocks is known among climbers as one of the best destinations for non-granitic climbing in the US. If you’re looking to climb for hours up to the summit, try to avoid hot summer months as temperatures can hit above 100 degrees.
If you’re on the hunt for the best year-round, beginner climbs in the country, Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect destination. It is home to Quail Springs Rock, Intersection Rock, Atlantis Wall, and Thin Wall, which climbers regard as enjoyable but adequately challenging climbs. It’s also a popular winter climbing spot, thanks to its mild weather.
To top it off, you can explore one of the most otherwordly places in the world and marvel at the odd-looking yucca trees that you won’t find anywhere else. The rock faces here may not be as tall and steep as Yosemite’s, but the area boasts over 8,000 routes and 2,000 boulder problems, so your options are endless.
Shawangunks (The Gunks)
Up for a challenging climb alongside the toughest pitchers in the sport? The Gunks is the place to be. Get ready to test your limits and the limits of the sport. The solid quartz conglomerate boasts steep horizontal breaks that are great for traditional climbing and bouldering and a whopping 5 linear miles of the cliff face and sharp angles. But don’t get too intimidated. As a premier climbing spot, the area has a robust community of climbers, guides, and rescue teams that will help you throughout your experience. Plus, it’s just a short drive from New York City, so it’s perfect for a weekend trip.
Rock climbing is one of the best ways to enjoy the country’s vast and awe-inspiring natural wonders. Make sure to put these destinations on your bucket list.