The 12 Greatest Places for Rock Climbing in the USA in 2020

In a country known for first places, it’s no surprise that the USA holds a large number of the best climbing destinations you’ll find anywhere on the planet.

When it comes to rock climbing, it doesn’t matter what you’re looking for, the USA delivers. From the grand alpine endeavors of the Pacific Northwest to the steep, hidden cliffs of the southeastern corner, from the arid landscapes of the western deserts to the rolling hills of the midwest — America has rock climbing covered. The sheer vastness of the USA, the myriad of rock types, styles and quality make it an unrivaled international location for the sport. Whether you’re traveling from afar or looking for your next local adventure, here’s our list of the best places to rock climb in the USA.

Climbing Smith Rock
A climber in Smith Rock State Park in Central Oregon — the birthplace of American sport climbing

For the best climbing in the world, look no further than your own backyard

I once lamented the absence of international travel in my life. I filled my refrigerator with pictures of far away landscapes, of the cultures, destinations, and eventually, the climbing that I hoped to one day challenge myself with. It took a number of years before I realized that there was a world’s worth of climbing right here in my home country. There is so much climbing to discover, which is why I haven’t made any region my official full-time home just yet. Alongside my partner, we seem to be changing scenery every couple of months when the need to discover a new destination arises. In any given year, I find myself all over the country, traveling where the climbing and the guiding work takes me, and I feel incredibly lucky to have this ability. I have had the chance to play in these places, some of which I have even called home for a little while. So whatever the type of rock climbing you’re after, you’re bound to see it on this list! Here are the 11 best places to rock climb in the USA:

NEVADA

1. RED ROCK

BEST AREA FOR FREE CLIMBING
Rock climbing of all styles from limestone to sandstone, trad to sport to bouldering, multi-pitch epics to shorter routes all the way down to 30ft single pitch
Adjacent to a major city with a myriad of paid lodging, supply, and entertainment options
One of the longest climbing seasons in the country
The patina and formations lend themselves to intuitive free climbing without the need for aid on most major objectives
Limited camping options
The one-way scenic loop adds extra logistics

Most visitors arrive in Las Vegas and never glance away from the dazzling light displays playing out as you walk down the strip with your four-foot-tall margarita glass in hand. Yes, the scenes of the Las Vegas Strip can be overwhelming, but even more so is the striking, otherworldly skyline just west of town that is the Red Rock National Conservation Area. Made of a unique type of sandstone, this enormous escarpment, which can reach heights of over 2,000 vertical feet, lends itself very well to free climbing. When I arrive at a location like Yosemite, I can’t help but think that I may never free a route on El Cap, but when I gaze up at Mt. Wilson, front and center in the Red Rock, I can point out numerous routes below 5.12 most of which rise to its summit).

World-class climbing in Calico Hills

The black desert varnish, weathered by time alongside the crack systems normally associated with sandstone, leads Red Rock to be considered “5.7 Heaven” or “Moderate Mecca” for individuals looking to amp up their mountain game on the rock. However, when I go cragging in Red Rock, it’s not always the towering objectives I seek. Red Rock also has world-class single-pitch sport and trad climbing in an area known as the Calico Hills. These tri-colored mounds of cliffs offer cracks, slabs, overhangs, vertical crimps, jugs, slopers, and even a few short multi-pitches. All grades can be encountered at almost any of the main areas.

The one-way scenic loop can make for tricky logistics

No matter the type of climbing you’re after, from the First Pullout (Calico I) to Oak Creek Canyon, objectives and crags must be accessed via the 13-mile, one-way scenic loop (which costs $15 per vehicle unless you have an Interagency Pass). Other areas like Calico Basin can be accessed outside of the park, as well as Oak Creek Canyon (an additional mile of walking) to Black Velvet Canyon and the Southern Outcrops. There is also great bouldering available at Kraft Mountain and scattered throughout the many canyons.

I spend about two or three months out of the year climbing and guiding in Red Rock – it’s my favorite place on earth.

by Cody Bradford – AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours ambassador

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RED ROCK - Good to Know

Climbing styles

Trad, sport, bouldering

Rock type

Aztec Sandstone

Best season

Fall, winter, spring

Best intro area

Calico Basin

Guidebook

Red Rock’s: A Cimber’s Guide by Jerry Handren

Rest day activities

Hiking the canyons, mountain biking, or test your luck in Vegas

Best camping/lodging

Red Rock Canyon Campground

Guide service

The Mountain Guides (Jackson Hole MG)

KENTUCKY

2. RED RIVER GORGE

TOP CHOICE FOR SPORT CLIMBERS
There is climbing of all types, from slab to overhangs; from 5.4 to 5.14d; sport and traditional
Much of the overhanging climbing stays dry, even in the rain
The prime climbing season (fall) is often during some of the drier months
The RRG is HUGE, large enough that it is not too hard to find a crag with solitude
It can be quite humid, especially at the start of the fall season or late spring and especially summer
Afternoon thunderstorms are common on most hot days

I first visited the Red River Gorge in 2010 after a peer described the climbing as “the biggest holds you will ever fall off.” With a reputation like that, I just had to throw myself at the impressively steep lines. Home to some of the most spectacular and unique sandstone in the eastern US, the Red River Gorge — “The Red,” as it’s known to most climbers — is home to some of the most famous sport climbs, not just in the entire country, but in the world!

Get started at Bruise Brothers

On my first trip to the Red in 2010, I immediately visited Muir Valley (now owned and managed by Friends of Muir Valley) and gave the Solarium a try. After failing on a shot at Banshee (5.11c), I decided to ask the local guide service for some advice to better acclimate. I found myself at Bruise Brothers on some more short, but thought-provoking lines, realizing that the Red is far more than just viciously steep walls. I discovered thin, vertical lines at Bruise Brothers, steep jugs at the Motherlode, amazing splitter trad lines at Indian Creek and the Long Wall, and even a tower or two and a couple of multi-pitch lines!

When should you head to the Red?

The Red River Gorge is located about 60 miles southeast of Lexington, Kentucky, around a town called Slade, which is the best location to check for a weather forecast. The weather can be wet, so have a plan. Typically, afternoon storms are short, and many steep lines will either dry quickly or stay completely dry. Fall is the driest of the seasons. Get yourself to the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway and eventually take the KY-11 right into Slade.

Miguel’s is where the climbing scene lives

Just south of Slade, you’ll find Miguel’s Pizza, the premier climbing scene at the Red. Call me old fashioned, but I love to stay at Miguel’s! There are certainly other options that are both cheaper and as nice, but this is where the heart of the Red comes to life! With a climbing shop, a restaurant, and plenty of camping with hot showers, Miguel’s is the epicenter for all things climbing at the Red and should be a must-visit on anyone’s itinerary.

In what would seem like the middle-of-nowhere, Kentucky sits a mythical land of endless steep sandstone walls. Those chalked up caves, coves and hollers hold, arguably, the best single-pitch sport routes in the country.

by Aaron Gerry- Avid climber, adventurer and 57hours contributor

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RED RIVER GORGE - Good to Know

Climbing styles

Sport: 70%; trad: 30%

Rock type

Corbin Sandstone

Best season

Fall

Best intro area

Muir Valley ($10/vehicle)

Guidebook

Red River Gorge Select (2018)

Rest day activities

Plan a Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour and visit several distilleries in the area

Best camping/lodging

Miguel’s Pizza

Guide service

Southeast Mountain Guides and KRAG (Kentucky Rock & Adventure Guides)

CALIFORNIA

3. YOSEMITE

TOP CHOICE FOR TRADITIONAL CLIMBING
Variety of terrain on granite from low in the Valley to high up in Tuolumne Meadows and the High Sierra
Historical birthplace of modern rock climbing
Yosemite Valley’s infrastructure makes it easy to get around without a vehicle; utilize a bike or shuttle
There’s cell phone coverage in the Valley
Can be very crowded, especially on weekends and holidays and not just due to climbers
Better suited to climbers with at least a minimum of traditional climbing experience

No climbing lifestyle is complete without a pilgrimage to Yosemite! The first time I ever visited Yosemite, I entered through Tioga Pass. The abrupt change from High Sierra escarpments to the grand, round domes of Tuolumne filled my view shortly after. After climbing the iconic Cathedral Peak and linking it with the striking Mathis Crest, I didn’t think it could get any more surreal. After a couple of days of cragging, I dropped into the valley where the majesty of Yosemite National Park comes to life. Towering 3,000 feet above, the faces of El Capitan (El Cap) and the Cathedrals filled my imagination with the seemingly impossible task of standing on their summits.

For climbers, Yosemite has it all

In the realm of traditional climbing, Yosemite provides ample opportunities for adventure at all scales. Grades are a mixture of sandbagged to modern, with older, historical feature routes such as the Steck-Salathe (hard 5.10b squeeze). Then, there are the grand cracks on routes like Astroman (5.11c), which will have you grunting to earn the send. Over at Manure-Pile Buttress, popular routes like Nutcracker offer a more moderate introduction to climbing in the valley.

Not ready to tackle El Cap just yet?

Warm up your big wall skills on formations like the Leaning Tower or the South Face of Washington Column. Free climbing on a big wall? Try your hand at the Regular NW Face on Half Dome or the now iconic Free Rider (thanks, Honnold). Up in the high country, Tuolumne Meadows can offer short single pitch areas such as Murphy Creek, runout slab scare fests on just about any of the domes, classic test pieces such as the Bachar-Yerian (5.11c X), and moderate, fun link-ups of classic formations such as Tenaya Dome, Mathis Crest and Cathedral Peak. There’s even alpine objectives on Mt. Conness!

The rock here is exclusively granite, carved and polished by Ice Age glaciers that add a level of specificity to the climbing required here.

by Cody Bradford – AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours ambassador

YOSEMITE - Good to Know

Climbing styles

A bit of everything, but approx 60% traditional

Rock type

Granite, Granite-diorite, Quartz Monzonite among other forms of plutonic rock

Best season

All times of year (elevation dependent)

Best intro area

Lembert Dome (Tuolumne); Manure Pile Buttress and Swan Slab (Valley)

Guidebook

Rock Climbing Tuolumne Meadows (4th edition); Rock Climbing Yosemite Valley

Rest day activities

Float the Merced, Hiking Tuolumne Meadows or High Sierra. Hang out in El Cap Meadow and watch the climbers

Best camping/lodging

Camp 4 is the quintessential climbers camp, but fills very fast depending on the season; car camping options available roadside outside of the park

Guide service

Yosemite Mountaineering School (only allowed concessioner. Be sure your guide or instructor is AMGA certified)

UTAH

4. INDIAN CREEK

GREAT FOR CRACK CLIMBING
The close proximity to Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Monticello and the Abajos means there are lots of options for rest day activities
The camping is spectacular
There is a strong culture of sharing routes even if a rope is up, which significantly helps with this popular area
Given the amount of shaded and sunny areas, climbing can be had for the majority of the year
A 70m rope is highly recommended due to the nature of most routes being around 30+ meters long.
No cell phone coverage anywhere in the Canyonlands and Bears Ears

Open almost any issue of Climbing Magazine or Rock and Ice, and you’ll see a picture or article on Indian Creek. That’s because of its perfect splitter cracks that call to be climbed. Climbing “the Creek,” as most climbers call this area, is about thinking with your hands, feet, fingers, arms, and entire body to create the holds needed to make upward progress on these splitters.

Never enough camming devices and meters of rope for the Creek

The nature of the Wingate Sandstone is that of long, consistently sized, parallel-sided cracks. The protection of choice is a spring-loaded camming device, and A LOT of them. The common practice is to pair up with other climbers to combine racks to tackle the often 35-meter pitches of climbing where a single size camming unit may be needed. A 70-meter rope is usually a good idea — and a second wouldn’t hurt at many crags.

Camping is simple and easy at Indian Creek

One of my favorite parts about Indian Creek is the self-sufficient camping. On the BLM managed land, there is no running water, no cell coverage, and few human-made facilities. You can count the number of pit toilets in the area on one hand. While paid, well-maintained sites exist, many will find solace in locating a quiet spot out in the desert (where those with high clearance, 4×4 vehicles can wander). That said, it’s on you to know where this is and isn’t allowed, so educate yourself on best practices before arriving. And don’t travel off the designated roads; the fragile desert environment of the Colorado Plateau contains crypto-biotic soil and other desert agents that are easily damaged by human traffic.

There may be other climbing areas in the country where crack climbing is the predominant style, but none as vast and pure as Indian Creek.

by Cody Bradford – AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours ambassador

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INDIAN CREEK - Good to Know

Climbing styles

Traditional crack climbing

Rock type

Wingate Sandstone

Best season

Fall, winter, spring

Best intro area

Supercrack/ Donnelly Canyon

Guidebook

Creek Freak: Indian Creek Climbs (2018)

Rest day activities

Hiking, mountain biking, skydiving, skiing (Abajos/ La Sals)

Best camping/lodging

Super Bowl Campground; Bridger Jacks; Roam Industry

Guide service

Jackson Hole Mountain Guides; Red River Adventures

CALIFORNIA

5. JOSHUA TREE

GREAT FOR EASY ACCESS CLIMBING
Short approaches and routes
Desert environment and rock type allows for dry climbing even after heavy rain
Easy to find shade or sun
Most campgrounds allow for easy access to climbing without driving
Flaring and sparse nature of many cracks can make protecting difficult for more inexperienced climbers
Many classics require walk-offs that can be scarier than the routes

Climbers who like to access their climbs right out of their car or campsite will love Joshua Tree. Whenever I stay in Hidden Valley Campground, it is truly sublime to wake up, walk 100 yards (or less) to a classic, climb it, and return to the campsite for coffee and breakfast. This type of access makes J Tree unique, and it’s a great example of the culture here.

The Wonderland of Rocks

While Hidden Valley, Ryan and Jumbo Rock campgrounds can get crowded, walking for an adventure into the Wonderland of Rocks will allow you to escape not just crowded routes, but people, too!

Many climbers may find the style in Joshua Tree to be a bit “blue collar,” in that the rough quartz monzonite often forms rounded features and flaring cracks, forcing a lot of smearing of the feet and inserting the body entirely into the feature to add friction where jams or positive holds are lacking. This is certainly not always the case, as it is not too difficult to find deep cracks and positive jugs and crimps within a stone’s throw of bolder lines.

Check out the Pinto Basin

Areas like Indian Cove Campground have more patina, which creates more positive face holds, and therefore, more bolt protected lines. Much of the formations in the Pinto Basin lend themselves to long, uninterrupted cracks that are easy to protect. Though, they’re not so easy on the hands due to the grain size of the rock in this part of the park. Glove up those hands!

Typically short routes

From the top of one of the formations, the park appears as if drawn in a Dr. Seuss book, with its iconic Joshua Trees dotting the landscape amongst the flat, sandy valleys, and rounded and stacked rock formations. It is quite easy to go wandering through the desert and find your own area to play on, with no one else around. Routes tend to be short, and this makes J Tree a great location to get out there and enjoy the day with no specific objective.

The smaller grain size and overall concentration of formations in the Lost Horse Valley, where most of the history of J Tree climbing lies, make this area the most popular and attainable for those new to the area.

by Cody Bradford — AMGA certified rock guide and 57hours contributor

JOSHUA TREE - Good to Know

Climbing styles

Trad, limited sport (mostly “bolt protected”)

Rock type

Quartz Monzonite

Best season

Fall, spring

Best intro area

Real Hidden Valley

Guidebook

Joshua Tree Rock Climbs by Robert Miramontes

Rest day activities

Hiking, scrambling, talus caves

Best camping/lodging

All campgrounds in Joshua Tree

Guide service

Mojave Guides

NEW YORK

6. SHAWANGUNKS (THE GUNKS)

THE BEST LOW GRADE ROUTES FOR HIGH EXPOSURE
Less than 90 miles from NYC
Rock is reliably strong
The steep nature of the climbs often allow for incredible exposure on climbs of any grade
A robust committee of climbers and rangers in partnership with Petzl and Access Fund trained members ensure bolted anchors are equipped and maintained professionally
Less than 90 miles from NYC
A $20 day pass or $95 annual pass is required to climb

When you hear any local climber talk about “the Gunks,” you might think that the climbing here actually sustains their existence like food and water to the rest of us. This may come off as overzealous, but after climbing my first pitches, on the route High Exposure (5.6), I understood the excitement around this place.

Trad climbers are in luck (and need a bit of humility)

The style of climbing here is most decidedly traditional, and the newcomer should prepare for exposure and adventure — as well as maintaining a healthy dose of humility. It is not uncommon for 5.10 climbers to arrive and decide to climb routes around 5.6-5.8. New climbers to the area need to familiarize themselves with how the horizontal breaks are spaced. Due to the airtime in play, in the event of a fall from pumping out, climbers need to ensure that their protection on these features is sufficient. While not all of the climbing at the Gunks is a steep jug haul, this style is certainly indicative of the Gunks.

Know where you’re permitted to go (or better yet, hire a guide!)

A big consideration for new visitors to note is that access to certain cliffs is either closed unless you’re with a guide or very close to (or even on) private property. It is best to consult a guidebook or visit a local guide service to find out if any of the areas you want to climb are off-limits.

Many routes in the Gunks may seem moderate on paper, but when standing at the base, gazing upward and out at the unrelenting roofs and deep horizontals, you begin to realize where the area’s infamy comes from!

by Cody Bradford – AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours ambassador

SHAWANGUNKS (THE GUNKS) - Good to Know

Climbing styles

Traditional

Rock type

Quartz Conglomerate

Best season

Fall

Best intro area

The Trapps

Guidebook

Gunks: A Climber’s Guide to the Shawangunks (both editions)

Rest day activities

Swimming holes around Split Rock, visiting NYC

Best camping/lodging

American Alpine Club Campground

Guide service

Alpine Logic

Utah

7. MOAB

BEST SANDSTONE DESTINATION
Every adventure activity under the sun, so plenty of rest day activities
With a variety of elevations it is possible to climb most months of the year.
Every style of climbing is possible here -- bouldering, sport, trad, aid
4 hours to the nearest major airport (Salt Lake City)
Moab is a small town with small infrastructure, so on busy days, traffic can feel overwhelming.

Every October, as the temperatures in the southwestern US begin to drop, I make my yearly autumn trek to Moab. With an abundance of outdoor adventure opportunities — especially for climbing — it is hard to think of a better sandstone destination (which is saying a lot given that I live in Las Vegas).

Moab sits on the banks of the Colorado River, east of Canyonlands, west of Durango and Grand Junction, Colorado, and north of almost nothing. This swath of sandstone towers and canyons is known geologically as the Colorado Plateau. Chances are if you think of a desert landscape that lacks saguaros, you probably imagined this area!

When to climb in Moab

The time for visiting Moab varies as you can visit different elevations at all times of the year. However, the prime times are between October through November and March through May. If visiting during the hotter months, it is advisable to seek the areas within the La Sals, such as Mill Creek. The climate here is high desert and mostly dry, but late fall and winter can see a great deal of snow at all elevations.

Where to climb in Moab

I prefer the splitters of Indian Creek, but you’ll find every type of climbing here! For aid climbing shenanigans, you won’t find a better place than the Fisher Towers near Castle Valley. Tread lightly as the rock here is some of the softest (and muddiest) anywhere. For trad climbing, the splitters of Indian Creek immediately come to mind, but canyons such as Long Canyon and Day Canyon contain a decent amount of splitters themselves on beautiful Wingate!

Towers, sport climbing and more

There’s an array of towers to summit in Moab, most notably the towers of Castle Valley. A couple of my favorites are Lighthouse and the Devil’s Golfball. Moab’s got you covered for sport climbing as well. Much of this is along Potash Road at locations like the Scar, Mars, and Wall Street. The areas I tend to favor are the Theater and the Cinema. For bouldering, it is hard to beat Big Bend Boulders, but I also enjoy the low hanging fruit of the tough splitter boulder problems at the Crack House.

Camping in Moab

Camping around Moab has become a hot topic as of late as the popularity of the area continues to grow. I HIGHLY recommend you educate yourself on land agencies in the area and know whose land you are on. One of the best ways to do this is to visit the BLM Field Office in downtown Moab. They are there for questions just like this! There is a myriad of free BLM and Forest Service options just south of town off of HWY 191.

Make the most of Moab, hire a climbing guide

A great way to experience the pleasure of Moab rock climbing is to hire a guide. For tower pursuits and lessons, I recommend The Mountain Guides (Jackson Hole Mountain Guides). There are few people with the degree of mountain knowledge that this team has. For learning the tools of the trade for climbing true splitter cracks, I recommend checking out Red River Adventures and one of their famous Splitter Camps.

The Moab rock climbing is as varied as the rock formations themselves. If you’re looking for the splitter cracks, it’s a world-class mecca for such an endeavor.

Cody Bradford, ACMG rock guide and 57hours author of Everything You Need to Know About Rock Climbing in Moab, Utah

MOAB - Good to Know

Climbing styles

Bouldering, sport, trad, aid

Rock type

Sandstone (Wingate, Kayenta, Navajo, Carmel, Entrada)

Best season

Year-round, but best weather is Oct-Nov and Mar-May

Best intro area(s)

Day Canyon, The Cinema, Utopia, Big Bend Boulders

Guidebook(s)

High on Moab: Moab Climbs and Creek Freak: Indian Creek Climbs both by Karl Kelley

Rest day activities

Canyoneering in Arches National Park, floating the Colorado River, skydiving, mountain biking

Best camping/lodging

Creek Pasture, Potash Ponds (limited and high clearance), Yellow Rd (BLM south of Moab), and any number of hotels in Moab

Guide services

The Mountain Guides, Moab (Jackson Hole Mountain Guides), Red River Adventures

OREGON

8. SMITH ROCK STATE PARK

THE ORIGINAL SPORT CLIMBING DESTINATION
Ease of access with well maintained hiking trails and bridges straight to the base of most crags with little scrambling
Sport and trad in both single and multi-pitch
Easy access with campground located next to the climbing
Crowded with both climbers and hikers
Not a ton of parking, so arrive early!

Smith Rock State Park is known as the birthplace of American sport climbing. With such a reputation, it’s no wonder the central Oregon spot has gained massive appeal in the last couple of decades (alongside the explosion of rock climbing as a sport). Despite its popularity with visitors, you won’t find it too hard to find a route here — there’s over a whopping 2,000 to choose from.

About 40 minutes north of Bend, OR, Smith Rock is located in a community known as Terrebonne. On its high desert landscape, the massive volcanic tuff towers that rise from the Crooked River offer a sense of majesty that makes it easy to forget about the hikers below as you ascend into an incredible view!

The best spots to get introduced to the area

Morning Glory Wall is the perfect intro climbing spot. Here, you’ll find 5.8-5.10 routes, like the 5 and 9 Gallon Buckets (5.8 and 5.9 respectively). It’s best to arrive early, just after sunrise. On a favorable fall day, this spot gets busy quickly. These routes begin to see sun mid-morning, which is either a blessing or a curse depending on the time of year.

Bring your ropes for the Llama Wall

Another area I enjoy frequenting is the Llama Wall, located just beyond the Phoenix area. It’s another popular spot with amazing 5.9-5.11 climbing. Some stand out routes are Llama Enlightenment (5.10c) and Entering Relativity (5.11a), the latter of which is quite long (30m), so be sure your rope is long enough and knot your ends (as you always should). In fact, the modus operandi of Smith is that often routes are long, protection bolts often spread out, and traditional climbs can require some creativity. A 70m or even and 80m rope will not go unused here!

The best rock climbing spots in Smith Rock State Park

The traditional crack routes — such as Bad Finger and Chouinard’s Crack — can be straight in crack climbs, but routes like Moonshine Dihedral (5.9) can be quite tricky. Many sport lines are delicate, balancing acts that require careful attention to weight transfers. Given the erosion of cliff sides by the increased number of climbers, many of the first bolts are 20ft or more off of the ground, and a long stick clip is a good idea to add to your Smith Rock kit. The basalt cliffs across the river are also a worthwhile endeavor here. And don’t miss the amazing crack climbs offered up at the Cat Walk Wall.

Need-to-know info for climbing in Smith Rock

Smith Rock has some logistics for the first-time visitor to know. When arriving (arrive early!), you may drive down Crooked River Dr and find limited parking along the road, in which case there is an overflow lot closer to the campground. The fee is $5 unless you are staying at the campground (The Bivy), where you can pay the $8 per person fee and count it as your parking and camping pass. There are three fee stations available (one at the turn-around area at the end of the road, one in the main area near the yurt, and one in the RV/bus lot.) The Bivy has its own fee station. You may also purchase an annual pass for $30.

My favorite place to begin climbing in Smith is Morning Glory Wall. It's the place I take my friends to introduce them gently to the unique climbing the area offers.

by Cody Bradford – AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours ambassador

SMITH ROCK STATE PARK - Good to Know

Climbing styles

Sport, Trad

Rock type

Volcanic Tuff, some basalt

Best season

Fall, spring

Best intro areas

Morning Glory Wall, Phoenix, Llama Wall

Guide books

Rock Climbing Smith Rock State Park by Alan Watts

Rest day activities

Mountain biking (Homestead Yrail and others), kayaking the Crooked River, vineyards

Best camping/lodging

$8 per person, per night at the park. Showers included. No sleeping in your car.

Guide services

She Moves Mountains, Chockstone Climbing Guides, Timberline Mountain Guides

WEST VIRGINIA

9. NEW RIVER GORGE

BEST FOR INTERMEDIATE CLIMBERS LOOKING TO UP THEIR GAME
60 miles and more of cliffline offer an escape from crowds
Nearly equal amounts of sport and traditional means variety in your climbing trip
Nuttall Sandstone can be climbed, even when wet
Close proximity to town (Fayetteville)
Not a great beginner area (steep, bolted lines are often further spaced than other areas)
Some cliffs require entry via ladders, so not always dog or kid friendly

Is that banjo music or the clanking of a New River Gorge rack getting ready to race up a splitter crack? Or the yell of a climber flying through space, attempting to send their sport project on the viciously steep, tiered roofs? While the area was classically seen as a boater’s paradise by the locals (often lumping climbers into the same category), the scene is very reflective of other major climbing destinations in the country. Get a taste of Appalachia and give the New a visit!

Situated on a high plateau and cut deeply by the New and Gauley Rivers, the New River Gorge, or NRG, peeks out from the rim with its gold and grey outcrops enticing climbers from afar. I love driving over the NRG Bridge on US-19 and getting that first glimpse at the seemingly endless cliff lines.

Steep, sport, splitter cracks, and just about everything in between

As a lover of all styles of steep climbing and cracks, the New really gets me psyched! The tiered roofs containing a myriad of sport routes give me the chance to work on my endurance, then just around the bend, I can try my hand at a delicate, traditionally protected corner or a splitter hand crack, all at the same crag! Looking to escape the crowds? No problem, as 60+ miles of cliff line offers an escape at any time of year.

A lifetime’s worth of climbing

Typically, approaches take around 15 minutes, although areas like Bridge Buttress are right next to the car; parts of the Endless Wall may take upwards of 45 minutes to approach. While rain can sometimes dominate the forecast, it’s not hard to find shelter under one of the many giant roof features found in some areas. Many of these areas have shorter climbs that end at anchors before extensions continue into steeper sections.
It is not uncommon for many climbers to spend entire seasons living and climbing in the New.

The New River Gorge is one of the few areas on the east coast that offers climbers the chance to really experience a full climbing culture.

by Cody Bradford – AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours ambassador

NEW RIVER GORGE - Good to Know

Climbing styles

Sport, traditional and even bouldering

Rock type

Nuttall Sandstone

Best season

Fall, spring

Best intro area

Junkyard, Sandstonia

Guidebook

New River Rock (2nd Edition) Vol 1 and Vol 2

Rest day activities

Rafting the New or Gauley Rivers. Summersville Lake floating

Best camping/lodging

American Alpine Club Campground

Guide service

New River Mountain Guides

SIERRA NEVADA

10. SIERRA NEVADA

RECOMMENDED FOR CLIMBING VARIETY
A number of areas to choose from means you can easily escape any crowds
Every style of climbing on several different rock types within an hour drive
A lot of public land and free camping. Even the paid camping (The Pit) is only $5/night
Be prepared to drive an awful lot in the Sierra areas and potentially drive on high clearance roads to get to some climbing areas.
With the amount of different land managers, it is imperative you do your research to be sure you are following appropriate norms.

Like California itself, the Sierra Nevada is HUGE. Spanning from the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California to the Cascades in Northern California, few ranges cover this kind of expanse. For climbers, most of us consider the most appealing area to be between the Needles in Sequoia National Forest on the southern end and Lake Tahoe on the northern end. In the middle, areas such as the Alabama Hills, the High Sierra, Bishop, Mammoth, June Lake and Lee Vining all offer their own taste of what the Sierra has to offer! I’ve focused most of my attention on the east side of the Sierra. Typically, this is anywhere from Bishop in the south to June Lake or Lee Vining in the north. My two favorite places to climb in Bishop are easily Pine Creek and the Owens River Gorge!

A great mixture of sport and trad in Pine Creek

Pine Creek contains a myriad of granite climbing that is easily had in the shoulder seasons (and a bit in the summer as well). Sport lines such as Becky Route and Burning Inside are great examples of what Pine Creek can offer as far as clipping bolts. For trad, Sheila is pretty hard to beat!

The walls of the Owens River Gorge

The Owens River Gorge arguably gets most of the attention. Walls such as the Great Wall of China and the Warm Up Wall in the Central Gorge are some main draws here for folks just visiting wanting the best. However, prefer areas on the Upper Gorge, walls like All You Can Eat for warming up, and then over to areas such as the Dihedrals and Gorgeous Towers, where 70 and 80-meter ropes won’t go unused! Park only in designated sites; L.A. County owns the roads and water rights in this area, and you can impede access by blocking roads and gates.

On up the Sherwin Grade to more summertime crags, I love to head over to the Benton Crags for some solitude and fun, moderate climbing. A little further up the hill into Mammoth, I love to run up the beautiful and moderate summit of Crystal Crag. There is a smattering of lines here from 4th class to 5.11, the former of which often summit the formation, making for a quick morning or afternoon romp!

Sport climbing in Clark Canyon

Clark Canyon is my next choice for fantastic, high elevation sport climbing on volcanic tuff. Much of the landscape here was charred by a fire in 2016, and the road can sometimes be impassable by low clearance vehicles, but the effort is well worth the pockety, crimpy, juggy tuff bolt clipping that you will experience on routes such as Wild Will’s Arete, King Spud and even the multi-pitch Pull My Finger. Further north, during the winter months, I can get my ice fix in while most are skiing in Mammoth! June Lakes’ Horse Tail Falls and Lee Vining’s Main Wall have plenty to offer when swinging the sharp things!

Fall Highball Craggin’ Classic

During the first weekend of November, Bishop becomes inundated with climbers from all around the world for the annual Fall Highball Craggin’ Classic, an event prepared by the Bishop Area Climbers Coalition in partnership with the American Alpine Club and others. This event has many of the same features and itinerary as other Craggin’ Classics, but with that quintessential Bishop flavor. Remember to show up to the service day on Sunday and contribute your time and energy to taking care of these places we love so much! Feel free to donate anytime to the local climber’s coalition!

Where to camp (and not to camp)

While in town, my favorite places to stay often change with season and venue; however, some areas remain constant. The Pleasant Valley Pit Campground (The Pit) is the quintessential climber’s venue for camping, and at just $5 per site, it’s a steal if you want a pit toilet and camping with a beautiful view of the mountains. Free camping exists on BLM land just outside of Bishop off of Casa Diablo Rd. In Mammoth, you will find luck camping at Benton Crags and The Ravine, which is great for parking, climbing and camping! Do not camp on the L.A. Dept. of Water and Power (LADWP) land. They own most of the watershed around the Owens River, which includes the many hot springs in the valley, and they can remove the hot tub soaking, fishing and climbing privileges if camping continues on this property. Despite this minor inconvenience with some camping spots, the climbing and lifestyle here in the east-side are genuinely sublime and rewarding. You will find many lifetimes of climbing here that will keep you coming back for more Eastside goodness.

The fantastic and tall Locals Only wall is great for an afternoon or sunset session, especially in the shoulder seasons. This wall sees full sun and is mostly set with all bolted anchors on excellent Quartz Monzonite.

by Cody Bradford – AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours ambassador

SIERRA NEVADA - Good to Know

Climbing styles

Aid, Alpine, Trad, Sport, Bouldering, Ice

Rock type

Granite, Quartz Monzonite, Volcanic Tuff, Basalt

Best season

Year-round

Best intro areas

Owens River Gorge, Alabama Hills, Buttermilks, Sads, Clark Canyon, Pine Creek

Guide book(s)

Too many to choose from. Choose a book specific to the area you’re visitng

Rest day activities

Hot springing near Crowley Lake, trout fishing, skiing

Best camping/Lodging

A large amount of BLM camping around the Alabama Hills and Forest Service land along the White Mountains. The Pit near Bishop is the climber hotspot.

Guide Services

Sierra Mountain Guides

WYOMING

11. DEVILS TOWER (BEAR’S LODGE)

A CRACK CLIMBER’S DREAM
Easy to chase sun or shade any time of year due to the sundial-like nature of the formation
Bolted anchors for descents are abundant
Rock for last 50-100ft of the summit is quite poor

The first recorded ascent of Devils Tower — or Bear’s Lodge, as it’s known by people native to the area — was by two local ranchers in 1893, and it involved pounding large, wooden pegs into the cracks, some of which are still visible today. The history of the area is storied with impressive ascents (including a parachute landing on top, resulting in the individual being stranded in the cold, on the summit for six days).

Where to climb at Devils Tower

Devils Tower is a piece of climbing history that cannot be missed. Standing on the summit is a must — at least once. Climbing a crack in all sizes gives you a great flavor of the Tower.
These days, climbs like Durrance, Walt Bailey, Soler, and Hollywood And Vine are some of the more popular routes. Routes from 5.6-5.8 are generally wide or off-width in nature, while 5.9-5.10 are more hand sizes and 5.10 and harder start to thin to finger sizes.

Stay at the DT Lodge

Staying at the Devils Tower Lodge is the way to go! Frank Sanders, owner of the Lodge, holds the spirit and history of the Tower in his great storytelling. It should be noted, the month of June is a sacred month at the Tower for Native Americans. A voluntary climbing moratorium is in place, and while it is by choice, I highly encourage everyone to recognize this tradition as climbing is a privilege in this area.

Standing out from the prairie, forming a prominent shadow across the vast open grassland, Devils Tower is a unique climbing destination and landmark.

by Cody Bradford – AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours ambassador

DEVILS TOWER (BEAR’S LODGE) - Good to Know

Climbing styles

Traditional

Rock type

Phonolite Porphyry

Best season

Spring, late summer

Best intro area

South and East Faces

Guidebook

Devils Tower Climbing

Rest day activities

Hanging out with Frank Sanders

Best camping/lodging

Devils Tower Lodge

Guide service

Sylvan Rocks Climbing School

NEW HAMPSHIRE

12. RUMNEY

RECOMMENDED FOR SPORT CLIMBING
Short approach time
Instead of climbing mostly open faces like many sport areas, Rumney climbs feature aretes, corners, cracks, etc.
The cliff layout can feel complicated for a newcomer

When you imagine sport climbing on the east coast of the US, places like The Red, The New, or The Obed in mind, as the northeast isn’t exactly known for its bolted areas. However, Rumney breaks the mold. Situated in the center of New Hampshire, Rumney offers a unique experience for the sport climber. 

Challenging formations to be had

With routes from 5.3-5.15, it’s certainly possible to find what you’re looking for. It may come as a surprise to find yourself climbing features like aretes, cracks and corners, all of which may test your free climbing tactics. If you are used to crimp after crimp on an open face, you may be challenged by the nature of the formations here.

Rumney has a very supportive climbers coalition and culture, and so the cliffs are very well taken care of. While you can expect older hardware in some less traveled cliffs, the state of the bolting is very good and offers well-protected climbing. The sheer quantity of routes available means that finding a cliff with fewer people isn’t often an issue.

I’ve been climbing in the northeast for years and consider Rumney to be a gem for its breadth of routes, quality rock and bolting, and accessibility.

by Aaron Gerry, Climber and 57hours contributor

RUMNEY - Good to Know

Climbing styles:

Face climbing

Rock type:

Schist

Best season:

Spring, fall

Best intro area:

Parking Lot Wall / Meadows

Guidebook:

Rumney Rock Climbing by Ward Smith

Rest day activities:

Hiking Mt. Dickey, beer at Common Cafe and Tavern

Best camping/lodging:

AAC Rattle Snake River Campground 

Guide service:

Ragged Mountain Mountain Guides

About the author

Cody Bradford

Cody Bradford

AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours ambassador

Cody began his guiding career with the North Carolina Outward Bound School in 2012 where he received his AMGA Single Pitch Instructor certification in November 2012. Cody gained his AMGA Rock Guide Certification in April 2018. Follow him on Instagram @thecodybradford to see #TechTipTuesday where each week he demonstrates a skill or technique to make your climbing more efficient and fun.

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