Being an avid rock climber and climbed in Asia and many parts of Europe, the United States is still very much a destination that I always wanted to spend more time to truly immerse in. Join me to find out about some of these world-class climbing areas. Here you will find the only guide you need on what spots to climb, where to stay, and how to get to these spots in America!
Outdoor Rock Climbing Destinations in the United States
1. Yosemite National Park – California
The birthplace of American climbing, Yosemite was where the first generation of American climbers paved the way for the sport as we know it. The likes of Lynn Hill, the first person to ever free climb The Nose, and John Long, one of the American pioneers of the sport, all got their starts on classic climbs in Yosemite National Park.
Nowadays, everyone can enjoy Yosemite’s beautiful, sprawling valley, with its impressive granite walls jutting up from the valley floor. Yosemite offers a wide variety of climbing styles, from single-pitch to multi-pitch trad and aid climbing, and you can even find quality bouldering.
Just check out the famous V8 Midnight Lightning video below…
If you visit Yosemite, be sure to stay in the historic Camp 4. There is a lottery for campsites in the summer, but if you visit in the off-season, you can only get a campsite on a first-come-first-served basis.
2. Joshua Tree – California
Another climber’s paradise, Joshua Tree offers endless routes and boulder problems. Most of the climbing is crack or friction slab climbing, so it is best to go when temperatures are cooler. It’s important to know that camping options in Joshua Tree are limited, especially in peak season. Many campgrounds close in the summer and get mostly fill up in October through May, so be sure to plan your trip ahead of time.
3. Bishop – California
Bishop and its surrounding area offer some of the most amazing rock climbing in the U.S. The Happy and Buttermilk bouldering areas have some of the best bouldering in the world, and the Owens River Gorge is a world-class sport climbing area only a 20-minute drive away. These areas also enjoy an almost perfect temperature and weather for climbing, as they have over 300 days of sunshine a year. You’ll just want to stay away in the summer months, as the temps can get a bit high.
4. Indian Creek – Utah
Indian Creek is a crack climber’s paradise located within the Bear’s Ears National Monument. Almost all of the routes are trad, so be sure to come with a full rack of gear if you’re hoping to set up some climbs. It is also important to know that the rock is sandstone, so it can be extremely harmful and dangerous to climb on damp rock when there was rainfall the night before.
5. Smith Rock – Oregon
Considered by many to be the birthplace of sport climbing in the United States, Smith Rock State Park offers both classic and cutting-edge routes for climbers of every ability level. The area offers over 1,500 routes, so you’re sure not to get bored on a visit to the area. There’s a first-come-first-served camping area known as “The Bivy” where you can pitch a tent or park a camper van.
6. Wild Iris – Wyoming
A limestone mountain located at an elevation of 9,000 feet in Lander, Wyoming, Wild Iris is a picturesque crag that boasts almost 300 high-quality sport climbs. The prime season begins in June and can last through the end of the fall, but it’s important to keep in mind that Wyoming weather can be unpredictable. The area offers a lot of mid-range routes, so it is the ideal crag for the intermediate level rock climber.
7. Rifle Canyon – Colorado
Rifle Mountain Park is considered by many to have the best limestone sport climbing in the United States. Though more appropriate for advanced climbers, Rifle has over 400 sport routes mainly starting around 6a/5.10a and going up to expert grades. The area has some of the best 8a/5.13 climbing in the United States. Routes in Rifle are mainly endurance based, varying from slightly to very overhung, so be sure to hit the rock climbing gym to train up before planning your trip.
8. Red Rock – Nevada
If you haven’t already noticed, the United States has an abundance of high-quality sandstone climbing areas, and Red Rock is no exception. Located right outside of Las Vegas city, Red Rock boasts just about any type of climbing imaginable. You can find over 2,500 climbs in the area, ranging from single-pitch sport to massive multi-pitch trad routes. It is possible to camp at Red Rock Canyon Campground, but sites are limited.
9. New River Gorge – West Virginia
Another sandstone climbing paradise, the New River Gorge is one of the most popular climbing areas in the United States. Most of the routes are more appropriate for advanced and expert climbers, but the upside is that there are areas available for any and every season. It’s also located only about an hour drive from the iconic and famous Red River Gorge, so a trip to the two could easily be combined.
10. Red River Gorge – Kentucky
Located in Slade, Kentucky, the Red River Gorge is a world-class sandstone mecca located in the Eastern part of the United States. With over 2,000 routes ranging from beginner to expert, The Red draws climbers from all over the world. Spring and fall offer the best climbing temperatures, as temperatures are cool and humidity levels are low.
And, of course, a trip to the Red wouldn’t be complete without a stay at Miguel’s Pizza. With $3/night campsites and some of the best customizable pizza east of the Mississippi, Miguel’s is a gathering place for climbers from all over the globe.
11. Horseshoe Canyon – Arkansas
Horseshoe Canyon Ranch is some of the American South’s premier climbing. With hundreds of bolted sandstone routes, Horseshoe Canyon is a sport climber’s southern paradise. They also host the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell Climbing Festival, a 24 hour climbing endurance festival that takes place every September. The festival has even seen the likes of Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, and at the very least is sure to be an experience to remember.
12. Mount Lemmon – Arizona
Mount Lemmon, a diverse climbing area in the Santa Catalina Mountains, is some of the best climbing the southwest has to offer. Though mostly bolted sport climbs, you can also find some high-quality multi-pitch trad routes. You can find free camping along the Catalina Highway, and it is possible to climb all year round!
So whether you are the 1st time visiting the US to rock climb or are a season trad climbing looking to discover more places to climb, there is something available for you. Making a trip to the US usually involves an immense amount of prior preparation like car rental, ESTA visa application as well as pre-booking of some of the most popular campsites.
I would also recommend that you make time to stay at least 4-6 days at each climbing area and take into account the time needed to get from one climbing area to another. So to get the best of your summer climbing, a good 2.5 – 3 weeks would be perfect to get the life you want.