A great rock climbing destination is more than just a scenic destination, it’s a place of big vibes and big memories. Picture it now: A climber, alone on the mountain, wind whipping through their hair.
Their strength and concentration stand between them and certain peril. Okay, for the average person, rock climbing isn’t quite that dramatic.
There are, in fact, a lot of different kinds of rock climbing, and the experience can be as mellow or adventurous as the climber wants it to be.
Either way, rock climbing is a good workout and a great way to get closer to nature. If rock climbing is something you’ve always wanted to try, it’s never too late. Here are America’s best rock-climbing destinations.
If you’re an experienced climber, maybe you’ve already climbed a few places on our list. Or if you’re a beginner, maybe you’ll find a spot to try your first climb. Some destinations may just leave you shouting, “Road trip!”
Still, others have been near you the entire time, and you just didn’t know it.
There’s no need, in other words, to Google “best rock climbing spot near me” because we’ve done the hard work for you.
Here’s a quick rundown of the top 10 rock climbing spots in America:
- North Conway, NH
- Bolton, VT
- Slade, KY
- Marquette, MI
- Telluride, CO
- Flagstaff, AZ
- Salt Lake City, UT
- New Paltz, NY
- Morrison, CO
- Eldorado Canyon, CO
Before we get to the details let’s cover a few tips and pointers for beginning rock climbers. You veteran climbers should keep reading too, because you just might need a refresher.
What Kinds of Climbing Are There?
The first question you’re going to want to ask yourself before getting into rock climbing is what kind of rock climbing are you most interested in trying?
Here’s a brief overview of the best climbing styles for a beginner.
You don’t even have to go outdoors to rock climb. Your first climb could be in a gym, which is a great place to learn, practice, and keep your skills sharp when you’re not on the road. But this article isn’t primarily about staying indoors (we do mention a few indoor spots) but for now, let’s move on…
Bouldering is excellent for beginning climbers because you don’t need much gear. Since you’re moving across the face of the rock or up the boulder, climbers usually don’t go as high as they might with other kinds of rock climbing. When bouldering, in fact, you’ll more often than not be able to hop right off the boulder and land on your feet.
Outdoor Top-Rope Climbing
A more advanced style of rock climbing is called top-rope climbing. With this technique, done in pairs, a climbing rope is anchored at the end of the route. The first climber uses the anchor as a destination point while climbing, and the other climber stays on the ground to hold the rope taut.
More advanced kinds of rock climbing include sport climbing, when bolts are drilled into the rock and climbers use quickdraws to clip themselves in as they progress.
There’s also traditional or “trad” climbing. Trad routes don’t usually have any permanent anchors, making “trad” climbing challenging for beginners, so don’t try this method until you’ve built up your skills.
Even then, make sure you’re out there with an experienced coach or guide. This is true of any kind of rock climbing. Join a gym, take some classes, hire a guide, and remember: safety first!
Now that you have a sense of the different kinds of rock climbing, let’s cover the kind of gear you’ll need to start rock climbing.
Best Gear for Beginner Rock Climbing
There is a lot to consider when choosing rock climbing gear, and a lot of different brands to choose from. Here’s a summit-level view, if you will, of the best rock climbing gear for beginners.
Rock Climbing Helmet
Begin your search for rock climbing gear with a good helmet. Look for a helmet that fits snugly but not too tight, with a hard protective shell and internal strapping system.
Rock Climbing Shoes
Rock climbing shoes are another important part of any climber’s gear. With rock climbing shoes it’s important to remember that they’re just for rock climbing—wearing them for any other purpose can ruin them. Be sure, then, to travel with a good pair of hiking shoes.
Like anything, fit is important with climbing shoes, though a general rule is that climbing shoes will fit a bit tighter than shoes meant for other purposes.
Let’s now move on to the climbing harness. If bouldering is your thing, you can skip this part since bouldering doesn’t require a harness at all.
If that’s you, go ahead and scroll down.
The kind of climbing harness that’s right for you depends a lot on the kind of climbing you intend to do, so before choosing a harness, pick your style and consult a professional.
In addition to what we’ve already covered, good starter gear for rock climbing beginners includes chalk, carabiners, and a belay device.
There’s just so much to know about climbing gear—too much to cover here. Plus, for safety reasons, you should talk to a pro. When choosing your gear, be sure to do your research and consult an experienced climbing coach or guide.
All packed for your first rock-climbing road trip? Good. Let’s now move on to what we’re all here for: America’s best rock-climbing destinations.
When compiling this ranking of America’s best rock-climbing destinations, we called for input from avid climbers, travel and outdoors sports bloggers and enthusiasts, instructors, guides, gear retailers, and local residents. We asked them what made their spot so special. We asked them about the following:
- Opportunities to climb in a variety of styles
- Terrain in the area
- Number of places to climb
- Availability of gear, guides, and instructors
- Nearby lodging and food
- Quality of the local climbing scene
We got so many great responses that it was hard to choose. But we narrowed the field and now present to you America’s 25 best rock-climbing destinations.
Best Destinations to Rock Climb
America’s Best Rock-Climbing Destinations
North Conway, NH
Where to stay: North Conway Grand Hotel
Where to eat: Muddy Moose Restaurant & Pub
In the world of rock climbing, North Conway, NH, stands apart for its mix of multi-pitch routes and remote crags. When it comes to rock climbing, North Conway and the nearby Mount Washington area truly have it all.
Popular spots in the North Conway area include Cathedral and Whitehorse ledges in Echo Lake State Park. And with a summit elevation of just over 1,100 feet, Cathedral Ledge features epic views across the Saco River.
North Conway is one of the rock climbing meccas of the East and perhaps of the entire country, says Brad White of IME-USA, a climbing equipment store and school based in North Conway.
For gear in North Conway, head to the International Mountain Equipment retail store. “IME is the gathering place in the north country for climbers and backcountry skiers,” and only eight minutes from Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges, he says.
Where to stay: The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa
Where to eat: Prohibition Pig
Most people think skiing when they think about outdoor sports in Vermont. But the truth is, Vermont is home to a number of great climbs, many near Bolton, home to the University of Vermont and just 10 miles east of Burlington.
“Our favorite climb is probably The Rose, an 85-foot rock climb that gives you that classic Vermont feel,” says Paul Johnson of Northoutdoors.com, a site dedicated to all things outdoor sports-related in America’s north country.
And since many of these spots fly under the radar, Vermont climbs tend to be less crowded than a lot of other spots on our list.
Where to stay: Natural Bridge State Resort Park
Where to eat: Miguel’s Pizza
If you’ve seen the 2004 rock climbing documentary Red River Ruckus, Slade and the Red River Gorge may already be familiar to you
What earned Slade, KY, and the Red River Gorge Geological area a spot on our list was the 100 naturally occurring sandstone arches spread out over nearly 30,000 acres, situated in the heart of the Daniel Boone National Forest, approximately one hour east of Lexington,
“Every year, rock climbers come to Slade from all over the country,” says Mark Ventura, Slade resident, founder and owner of Miguel’s Pizza Restaurant, which doubles as a rock climbing facility and gear shop.
“During these times the Red River Gorge is buzzing with climbing and outdoor enthusiasts,” he says.
Where to stay: Landmark Inn
Where to eat: Big Boy Restaurant
The next spot in our ranking is a great place to try ice climbing, says Paul Johnson from Northoutdoors.com.
“The ice climbs are outstanding as you are climbing frozen waterfalls that can have a vertical of 60 feet or more. If you aren’t up for bringing your ice gear, the summer climbing is excellent too,” Johnson says.
In addition to ice climbing, Marquette earned a spot in our ranking for all the great climbs within a 30-mile radius of town, making Marquette the perfect home base for any rock climbing expedition.
“You will find several great climbs on the shores of Lake Superior and in Hiawatha National Forest,” Johnson says.
Where to stay: Mountain Lodge Telluride
Where to eat: Brown Dog Pizza
For dramatic cliffs, outcroppings, and the steep faces of the San Juan Mountains all year long, head to Telluride, CO.
“Telluride, Colorado is home to some of the most notable and iconic rock climbs in the American West!” Georgie Bishop, founder of Lodgingintelluride.com, tells RAVE Reviews. Telluride is a great spot for ice climbing as well, she says.
Popular climbs in the Telluride area include Via Ferrata, Ophir Wall area (including East Buttress and Cracked Canyon) Telluride Cliffs, Bilk Creek, and Adventure Rock—a manmade boulder with various challenges located in Telluride’s Mountain Village.
“What I love most about Telluride is it’s a wonderful community, and the insane natural beauty that surrounds us,” Bishop says.
Where to stay: Weatherford Hotel
Where to Eat: MartAnne’s Burrito Palace
Whether your preferred style is sport, trad, or bouldering you’ll find a spot to climb within 10 minutes of Flagstaff, AZ, says Timothy Carlson, a former resident of Flagstaff and founder of Hikethepla.net, a site for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds.
“I can vouch that the access to high-quality climbing both in and around town is rivaled by few other places,” Carlson adds, mentioning Flagstaff Climbing as the go-to source for the best climbing gear.
Carlson’s favorite climbs in the Flagstaff area, home to Northern Arizona University, include The Pit, Paradise Forks, and Priest Draw. Plus, world-class destinations like Joshua Tree, Red Rocks, and Indian Creek are just a few hours away.
“Located in a serene alpine setting, Flagstaff is a great place for any lover of the outdoors; a great town for rock climbers,” Carlson adds.
Salt Lake City, UT
Where to stay: Little America Hotel Salt Lake City
Where to eat: Red Iguana
What earned Salt Lake City a spot on our list are all the amazing climbs available in the numerous canyons that surround the city.
Another unique rock climbing opportunity available in Salt Lake is The Iron Curtain, offering the thrilling experience of climbing almost directly above the I-80 freeway.
There’s also Ferguson Canyon, with a great mix of climbs, including bolted, trad, top-rope, and lead-only. Some of Salt Lake resident and Utah.com employee Mason Stout’s favorite climbs in the Salt Lake area include the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.
“Salt Lake is the closest major city to world-renowned red rock climbing in Moab and Canyonlands,” Stout says.
New Paltz, NY
Where to stay: Hasbrouck House
What to eat: Bacchus Restaurant, Brewery & Billiards
An easy overnight or weekend trip from New York City and Northern New Jersey, New Paltz, NY, is a cozy college town only about 30 minutes south of Bear Mountain, making this a great place for beginners and experts alike to get away from the big city and climb.
“There are a ton of different areas to climb depending on your skill level and what sort of climbing you enjoy doing,” says local resident and rock climber Katie Mistretta of RECREATIONiD.com, an aftermarket outdoor gear retailer.
“Just be prepared for the quartz, which is very rough and gritty.” But it makes for great friction and you feel solid on even the smallest holds, she says.
“I love to go to Shawangunks Ridge, aka ‘The Gunks,’” Mistretta continues, “which is part of the Mohonk Preserve.”
Other spots Mistretta mentions in the New Paltz area include Peterskill, with an easy approach and a wide-variety of climbing options. There’s also The Trapps, located just past the Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center.
Where to stay: Red Rock Mountain Lodge
Where to eat: Red Rocks Grill
With an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, Lover’s Leap is located just off US Highway 285, making it the perfect climbing spot for elevation junkies on a road trip, says Amanda Hackney, representing THIRDHOME.
THIRDHOME is a luxury property and travel club with a rental lodge available near Morrison that’s frequented by rock climbers and located only a few minutes from Lover’s Leap.
Lover’s Leap isn’t all this small town near just outside Denver has to offer. For bouldering, try Morrison Boulders, where climbers find “greasy slopers with a few wicked crimps interspersed,” where climbers receive “a gym-like workout, on real rock, in an encouraging atmosphere,” writes climber Quinn Stevens, on Moutainproject.com, a resource for all things rock climbing related.
Eldorado Canyon, CO
Where to stay: Boulder Adventure Lodge
Where to eat: Brasserie Ten Ten
El Dorado Canyon, known as The Eldo by regulars, stands apart among rock climbing locations if, for no other reason, than the sheer volume of the climbable rock, says Manny Hernandez of the travel blog Embarky.io.
There are roughly 1,200 routes ranging from beginner to expert level at The Eldo, located just 7 miles outside Boulder, and the sandstone and quartzite can most often be climbed year-round.
Among the most popular are Shirttail Peak, Wind Tower, Rincon Wall, The Bastille, and Redgarden Wall. To hire a guide, RAVE Reviews recommends Colorado Mountain School.
Where to stay: Adventures on the Gorge
Where to eat: Secret Sandwich Society
Like a lot of variety in your climbing excursion? The gigantic, 63,000-acre New River Gorge National River near Fayetteville in Southern West Virginia offers more than 1,400 established rock climbs.
The cliffs around the New River Gorge are made up of hard sandstone, ranging from 30 to 120 feet in height. Most of the routes favor advanced and expert climbers, although there are places for beginning rock climbers to learn and polish their skills.
While in Fayetteville, check out Adventures on the Gorge, an adventure resort offering unique half- and full-day guided rock climbing adventures, like the “Learn to Rock Climb” day in which beginning climbers can work with a guide to polish their skills.
“My favorite route in the New River Gorge is Legacy,” says Adventures on the Gorge climbing guide Paul Nelson.
“Legacy has all the different styles of climbing within a single climb,” he continues: a steep section with large holds, a slab section with very technical moves, and even a crack climbing section.
“Plus, the top has an amazing view of the New River Gorge,” Nelson says.
Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Where to stay: Jumbo Rocks Campground
Where to eat: Dillon’s Burgers & Beers
For high desert monzogranite climbing opportunities with scenic views of the Mojave and Colorado deserts, try Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California.
There are also traditional-style crack, slab, and steep face climbing challenges at Joshua Tree, appropriate for all skill levels. In total, there are 8,000 climbing routes at the park, with thousands of boulder problems and hundreds of natural gaps.
To see it all, hire a guide or choose from one of the day classes offered at the park.
“With its magnificent height along with its scenic views, Joshua Tree will make rock climbing rewarding for any enthusiast,” says Simon Hansen, avid rock climber, frequent traveler, and founder of Homebrewadvice.com.
Mount Rushmore National Park, SD
Where to stay: Lodge at Palmer Gulch
Where to eat: Ruby House Restaurant
South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore National Memorial offers large-grained granite crag formations and challenging boulder fields. This contributes to the area being widely considered the best climbing area in the entire Black Hills National Forest area, says Jennifer Willy, editor at the travel site Etia.com
Popular spots to climb at Mount Rushmore include the Chopping Block, Lightning Bolt, and Razorback. In total there are nearly 800 climbs to choose from in the area, including pegmatite granite climbing, with everything from 10-foot boulders to traditional routes reaching heights of over 600 feet.
Whether your preferred climbing style is trad, sport, top-rope or boulder, there will be something for you at Mount Rushmore.
Where to stay: 5th Street Inn
Where to eat: Charles Street Dinner House
Yosemite National Park, near Mariposa, CA, has been a source of pride for big-wall climbers throughout the history of the sport. But that’s not all Yosemite has to offer.
There are, in fact, all sorts of other kinds of climbs to choose from at Yosemite, like the sustained crack climbs of the Merced River Canyon area. Or instead, try the domes of Tuolumne Meadows.
Other places to climb near Mariposa include Royal Arches with 17 granite pitches. There’s also the multi-pitch climbs of Cathedral Peak.
For classes or to hire a guide, check in with Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service.
Shenandoah National Park, WV
Where to stay: The Inn at Sugar Hollow Farm
Where to eat: Hawksbill Diner
For limestone and granite slab climbing of the highest order, head to Shenandoah National Park. There, you’ll find a wide array of great climbing spots, including Lil’ Stony Man, Old Rag, and Bent Tree.
Rock climbing is so popular at Shenandoah, in fact, they devote an entire day for beginning and intermediate climbers to enjoy guided rock climbing in the park. For more technical climbs try Compton Peak and Whiteoak Canyon, among many others.
There are some 232 climbs in total at Shenandoah, mostly geared toward trad-style climbing. Try Chasm Crack, for example, a popular, 85-foot trad route. For guided rock climbing and rappelling adventures check in with Shenandoah Rock Climbing.
Where to stay: Barn Door Hostel & Campground
Where to eat: The Common Cafe & Tavern
The route and rock quality at White River National Forest, near Rumney, NH, are excellent throughout the grade spectrum. We recommend Rumney Rocks Day Use Area, an international climbing destination known for a vast number of rock and ice climbs on metamorphic rock known as schist.
Rumney is also home to the Rumney Climbers’ association. In 2016, the RCA was part of a coalition, purchasing and setting aside an over 80-acre tract of land for climbing. This area includes popular spots like Rumney’s northwest crags as well as routes like The Prudential, Buffalo Pit, Buffalo Corral, Northwest Territories, and Asylum.
Cochise County, AZ
Where to stay: The Gadsden Hotel
Where to eat: Chatitas Steakhouse
Looking for a great, under-the-radar place to climb with kids? Cochise County, AZ, remains an unheralded hot spot for rock climbing, nowhere more so than the town of Pearce, itself an up-and-coming hotspot for climbers.
When it’s time to pick a spot to climb in Cochise County, we say head to Cochise Stronghold, a world-class climbing area with hundreds of routes that have been established for decades but have seen little usage due to Cochise County’s under-the-radar status in the climbing community—until now.
Maybe best of all, the adventures are suitable for all ages, with climbs ranging from 80 to 800 feet.
For guided tours in Cochise area, head to Tombstone Adventure Company, a full guide and outfitter service. Otherwise, the nearest gear shop is in Tucson, nearly an hour’s drive, but don’t despair because Tombstone Adventure Company provides all technical climbing and safety gear to its clients.
Shawnee National Forest, IL
Where to stay: Makanda Inn
Where to eat: Triple E BBQ Lake of Egypt
You like big bluffs and you cannot lie? Shawnee National Forest, lying between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in southern Illinois, is full of countless bluffs just waiting for you to come climb them.
But bluffs aren’t all Shawnee is about. There’s also Giant City State Park in the Shawnee National Forest, with two designated climbing areas and a number of anchor points installed by the Southern Illinois Climbers Association.
Other spots perfect for sport climbing and top-roping are Fountain Bluff and Jackson Falls. And for bouldering, try Holy Boulders, a bouldering site secured by the Illinois Climbers Association, with an annual bouldering competition in November.
For equipment and gear, there’s Shawnee Trails Wilderness Outfitters, located in nearby Carbondale.
Where to stay: Horse Pens 40
Where to eat: Hector’s Kitchen
If for no other reason, Horse Pens 40, a privately owned outdoor nature park near Steel, AL, is enough for any climber to set their course for the southern part of the country.
Horse Pens 40 is home to one of the most concentrated boulder fields known to man, a dream for any climber who boulders. The facility sponsors several bouldering competitions each year, like the Triple Crown competition, the “Sloperfest Slap-N-Jam” in the spring, and the Chandler Mountain Challenge.
You can also stay or camp at Horse Pens. There’s a restaurant, and climbers can rent crash pads or other gear from the facility.
South Lake Tahoe, CA
Where to stay: Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel
Where to eat: Ace High Saloon & Smokehouse
For granite climbing, try South Lake Tahoe, CA, with massive spires of granite prevalent all around the region.
Other popular climbing spots around South Lake Tahoe include Lover’s Leap. There’s also bouldering at Emerald Bay, while Bliss State Park and Castle Rock are among the many other iconic and breathtaking spots to climb in the region.
Blue Granite Indoor Climbing Gym in Tahoe is a full-scale rock climbing gym including rope climbing, bouldering and yoga, the only facility of its kind on Tahoe’s South Shore.
The newly constructed building is LEED-certified with large windows for natural light and climbing routes for individuals of all skill levels. Also in Tahoe, there’s Epic Discovery at Heavenly Resort with a ropes course for all abilities and a man-made 25-foot rock climbing wall. For gear, head to Sports LTD.
Where to stay: The Plains Hotel & Resort
Where to eat: Hacienda Guadalajara Cheyenne
One of the most unique stops in our tour of America’s best rock climbing destinations is Vedauwoo Climbing Area, located just outside Cheyenne, WY.
Vedauwoo is full of vast otherworldly rock formations of 1.4 billion year-old granite, with opportunities for world-class mountaineering in all forms, including bouldering, climbing, scrambling, and rappelling.
Most of the routes are cracks, but climbers will also find areas for face climbing. Recommended climbs Vedauwoo include Chinatown, Turtle Rock, and Master Blaster, and camping is available for climbers to stay on site.
Estes Park, CO
Where to stay: Hotel Estes
Where to eat: Claire’s Restaurant and Bar
Estes Park, CO, and the Estes Park Valley offer a great mix of climbs for both beginning and expert climbers, with the touch, terrain, and consistency that extreme climbers crave, but plenty of cracks, edges, and slabs for novice climbers as well.
At about 7,500 feet above sea level, Estes Park Valley is known for granitic, gneiss, and schist crags. And while trad climbing is most common in the area—some climbs are as long as 900 feet—there are abundant bouldering problems and an assortment of sport climbs as well.
For bolted lines, try The Monastery, located between the Galuchie and Bobcat Gulches for igneous granitic pegmatite as well as schist and gneiss.
Where to stay: Chattanooga Choo Choo
Where to eat: Taco Mamacita
For sandstone climbing, we recommend Chattanooga, TN, tucked between the mountains of Southeast Tennessee. A challenging sandstone climb near Chattanooga is Sunset Park, offering exquisite rock and tons of high-quality routes.
There’s also the fierce orange sandstone cliff lines known as the Tennessee Wall, with 600 documented climbing routes providing a diverse set of challenges, including cracks, aretes, dihedrals, and overhanging walls and roofs.
For bouldering in Chattanooga, we recommend Stone Fort, with world-class boulder formations, high-quality sandstone, intricate routes and astounding views. There’s also Rocktown, full boulder clusters only about 30 miles from downtown Chattanooga.
Where to stay: Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town
Where to eat: High Noon Restaurant and Saloon
With the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque’s backyard, as well as a number of other day trips and faces nearby, this area of New Mexico is the perfect playground for rock climbers.
Just a 15-minute drive from downtown Albuquerque, in the Sandia Mountain Foothills Open Space, there’s a perfect climbing and bouldering spot called U-Mound. Or try Cattle Call Wall in the Jemez Wilderness area, just an hour and a half north of Albuquerque.
Cattle Wall is perfect for lead-climbing, both beginner and expert, as the several routes along the wall are fairly straightforward with lots of holds and grips to maneuver.
Where to stay: Casper C’mon Inn
Where to eat: Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana
With gorgeous rock walls emerging from either side of the North Platte River, Fremont Canyon, just a short 30-minute drive from Casper, WY, is the last spot in our ranking of America’s best rock climbing destinations.
Fremont Canyon offers climbs ranging from 40 feet to over 400, ranging in difficulty from 5.6 to 5.13. The spot is known primarily as a trad area, but there are lots of sport routes at Fremont canyon as well, with many routes requiring climbers to rappel off the rim to get to the base of the climb.
For gear, we recommend Mountain Sports in Casper.
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