Rock climbing is a sport that was once reserved for ultimate hardcore adventurers with almost super-human strength and stamina. But the influx of rock climbing gyms across America in recent years has made rock climbing more accessible with lessons for all skill levels, guided outdoor trips, and a welcoming community of nature lovers. Meanwhile, professional rock climbing has a growing fan base and has even been considered for a new Olympic sport, which is inspiring the next generation of climbers.
With the diversity of terrain in the U.S., chances are that you don’t have to travel far to get your hands and feet on a rock face to test your limits. These are some of the most unbelievable rock climbing destinations in the U.S. to check out once you’ve mastered the basics.
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Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite is the ultimate American climbing destination for many people, and rightfully so. No climbing repertoire would be complete without visiting this legendary park that inspired John Muir and millions of others. This climbing destination is world-renowned and known for the sustained crack climbs of Merced River Canyon. Multi-day aid climbs are also popular with truly adventurous types. Just keep in mind that since this is a protected park, some cliffs and falcon nest site areas are off-limits to minimize the impact of human activity. Although it can get crowded, Camp 4 provides a legendary and authentic camping experience that takes reservation and first-come-first-served requests.
Red River Gorge, Slade, Kentucky
While some travelers don’t see many good reasons to visit Kentucky, climbers know that some of the best rocks you can get your hands on are located right here in Slade. This area is huge and has lots of climbing potential for climbers of all skill levels. “The Red,” as it’s affectionately called, has lots of routes in the 5.6 to 5.8 range. There are some great climbing guide companies based here that will take you out into the gorge safely and with all the gear and instruction you’ll need. Stay in a cabin in the woods to make an outdoorsy weekend out of it. Having dinner and hanging out at Miguel’s Pizza is a must while climbing The Red.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree is a dream destination for many outdoor enthusiasts and one of the best climbing spots in the U.S. Even though it’s popular and sometimes crowded here, there are still thousands of routes up the park’s rock formations. The best times to climb here are between October and April to avoid the heat. Plan a winter climbing trip to Joshua Tree and get some routes in while many other climbing destinations are closed for the season due to snow, ice, and cold.
Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin
Many climbers in the Midwest feel frustrated because all the great climbs seem to be out west or along the east coast. However, Wisconsin has some surprisingly awesome cliffs that you can travel to on a budget in just a weekend. This is another area where it’s easy to find an experienced guide company for beginners and intermediate climbers. One of the best parts about climbing here is taking a dip in Devil’s Lake down below to soothe your sore muscles after a hardcore day of climbing.
Zion National Park, Utah
This national park in Utah is known for some of the best rappelling and climbing opportunities in the area and the landscapes are nothing short of breathtaking. Zion has 2,000-foot sandstone cliffs that have become famous for their long climbing routes. Since there aren’t too many top roping or sport roping climbing areas otherwise, this is a climbing destination best left for experienced climbers. However, there are also a couple great bouldering areas in the main canyon. One is about a half mile north of the south entrance and the other is just 40 yards west of it. You don’t need any type of permit to climb for the day, but you may if you’re staying overnight and camping for a multi-day climbing adventure. Spring and fall are the best times to climb at Zion to avoid wet rock.
Although the Leavenworth area of Washington is best known regionally, it is an awesome place to climb that is worth traveling for too. There are lots of routes in a relatively small area and a long history of climbing and bouldering here. This is a great place to climb if you like to simply pull off the road and set up a top rope. Granite crags are abundant, and all levels of climbers can find something to challenge them here. After climbing, head to the Bavarian-themed village of Leavenworth for some authentic German food and brews.
Acadia National Park, Mt. Desert, Maine
The mysterious and jagged cliffs of the Maine coastline provide the perfect backdrop for an epic climbing trip. This is a really unique climbing area because the cliffs hover just over the waters of the northern Atlantic Ocean, offering spectacular views from the granite. Due to the cliff’s proximity to the ocean, you’ll need to check a tide chart to make sure that your route base isn’t going to get flooded for your belay partner. Don’t miss the pink granite cliffs at Otter Cliffs and Great Head.
Devil's Tower, Wyoming
Devil’s Tower has an ominous presence in the Wyoming wilderness, and its hexagonal columns provide a dream experience for those who enjoy crack climbing. Some of the cracks here extend about 400 feet, with route ranges starting at 5.7. Most the routes here aren’t bolted, so you’ll need to bring your own stoppers and camming devices for protection. Check the national park’s website for the most up-to-date information on closure dates because the area closes periodically for a native tribe and falcon nesting.
New River Gorge, West Virginia
West Virginia really is wild and wonderful when you’re an outdoorsy type that loves to hike, bike, climb, and paddle. There are well over 1,000 climbing routes at the New River Gorge National River that range between 30 feet and 120 feet tall. This is an ideal destination for experienced climbers because many of the routes start at 5.9 and above. But you can start with Bridge Buttress to work on your skills and also practice your bouldering here. Another excellent place to climb in West Virginia is Monongahela National Forest above the North Fork River, where the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area has routes ranging from 5.0 to 5.12.
Shawangunks, New Paltz, New York
East Coast-dwellers love heading to Shawangunk Ridge to do a little climbing in New York. This area is often referred to as “The Gunks” and has more than 1,000 climbing routes along several miles of rock face. This is a great place for all skill levels because many of the rocks have horizontal cracks that help beginners reach the top. High Exposure is a fun 5.6 route that’s anything but boring. However, there are some really challenging overhangs here for experienced climbers to attempt and overcome. The Gilded Otter, a local eatery, is a great place to satisfy your tummy and taste buds post-climb.