No doubt, the U.S. has many exceptional crags for climbers to choose from. So, in order to pinpoint which spots are some of the country’s most well-loved, we turned to a handful of experts—many with extensive climbing experience. We asked them so suggest climbing destinations that are exciting and challenging, but also accessible to beginners. From the North Cascades of Washington all the way to the Catskills of New York, these rocky landscapes are considered among the best rock climbing locales in the U.S.
“Leavenworth is an amazing place to climb that gets little attention outside the region,” says Nathan Pauli a Seattle-based rock climber of 15 years. He said the area offers one of the densest concentrations of rock climbs in the state. “Though there's a long history of progressive traditional climbing it continues to develop as a popular bouldering destination,” he added. According to Pauli, here you’ll find accessible top-roping right off the road and an abundance of granite crags. “It's possible to find whatever level of adventure you're looking for,” he said. “The faux Bavarian-themed town is the icing on the cake, adding a kitschy element to the otherwise pristine natural environment and providing limitless people-watching opportunities on rest days.”
According to James Kaiser, author and photographer of “Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide,” this California-based National Park easily serves as one of the country’s best rock climbing spots. “There are over 8,000 known climbs up the park's famous rock formations,” Kaiser said. “In the winter, when more famous rock climbing destinations are closed due to cold and snow, many climbers flock to Joshua Tree—or ‘J Tree’ as climbers call it—to enjoy mild winter temperatures.” According to Kaiser, peak climbing months are October through April.
This popular climbing destination is nestled amidst the Black Hills of South Dakota. According to Tyler Hayzlett, co-founder of SoDak Clothing (a South Dakota-based clothing company), the area’s climbing experience and breathtaking views are incomparable. “South Dakota's unexpectedly diverse western landscape and variety of rock produce spectacular climbing experiences, especially in the Custer State Park area,” Hayzlett said. “The granite rock of the Needles in Custer delivers over 1,000 granite peaks with up to 300-foot ascents.” What’s more, he noted that the approach hikes are short but still remote, the area is never crowded and the summit views are “something out of this world.”
Referred to by climbers as “The Gunks,” this popular and well-loved climbing area boasts over 1,000 routes and miles of cliff face, according to Jannette Pazer, a veteran climber of 34 years and secretary of the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition. “What makes the Gunks so special is the nature of the rocks,” Pazer explained. “With many horizontal cracks, climbers are offered many high-quality climbs at very easy grades.” However, she did note that many people find grades at The Gunks to be more difficult when compared to other climbing spots. ”Often the moves aren't necessarily much harder, but the exposure and abundance of large overhangs is intimidating,” Pazer added.
North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest is home to a wide variety of exciting ascents that cater to climbers of every level. In fact, it’s such an incredible spot that REI hosts weekend-long “learn-to-rock-climb” trips to the area where participants are trained on everything from climbing technique to gear by expert guides. The beginner-level course allows first-time climbers to put their newly learned skills to the test on both Looking Glass Rock and Cedar Rock—popular spots within the park that are ideal for beginners.
Euan Cameron, Sierra Eastside area administrator for Mountain Project, says the Eastern Sierra of California, specifically the Mammoth area in Mono County, is one of the best climbing areas in the U.S. because it offers a wide variety of climbs to choose from. “From multi-pitch alpine granite to boulder problems on volcanic tuff, Mammoth has it all,” Cameron said. “And all within 20 minutes of town and accessible 12 months out of the year.” One of his favorite climbs in the area: Crystal Crag (pictured here). “Crystal crag sits high above the Mammoth Lakes basin and hosts a number of fine one pitch sport routes,” he added.
According to Ted Taylor of the Central Oregon Visitors Association, this climbing locale is home to more than 1,000 bolted climbing routes that accommodate climbers of every level, including options for sport climbing, traditional climbing, multi-pitch climbing and bouldering. The most famous route here, Taylor says, is called “Monkey Face,” and in addition to climbing, the park offers many more outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing and horseback riding.
Part of Utah’s Wasatch Range, Logan Canyon cuts through the Bear River Mountains and offers climbers of all abilities more than 400 bolted routes to choose from. According to Mountain Project, the area is mainly comprised of sport routes and because it’s a “cool canyon,” the only downside is that winter rock climbing is essentially impossible here.
Dale Cody, a creative design director by trade and a self-proclaimed adventure sports enthusiast who has experience climbing all around the world, highly recommends Mazama in the North Cascades of Washington for both the quality and variety of rock that the area has to offer. "It's close enough to Seattle for a weekend drive on good highways, but far enough away that it's not completely packed like some areas,” he said. “The quality and variety of the rock is fantastic and all difficulty levels are generously represented.” Cody said that most routes are of the sport variety, including the longest multi-pitch sport route in the nation: Prime Rib—11 pitches and 5.9. “Mazama has really only recently found its way onto most climbers’ radar so it's not a complete scene,” he added.
Situated about 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip, Red Rock Canyon boasts 195, 819 acres and is home to the Red Rock Rendezvous climbing festival—a weekend-long gathering that welcomes climbers of all abilities. According to Travel Nevada’s visitor’s guide, Red Rock features more than 2,000 climbing routes and is one of the top five climbing destinations in the U.S.