The 15 Best Places in the U.S. to Go Rock Climbing

A rock climber ascends a red rock face in Nevada.
Jared McMillen / Getty Images

From horizontal crack climbs on the East Coast to the multi-pitch granite spires of Central California, the U.S. has some of the best rock climbing in the world. Different types of climbs, rocks, ratings, and surrounding landscapes can all be found here, whether you want to climb in the limestone cliffs of Wyoming or deep solo above Texas’ lakes. Give yourself time to adjust to the
temperature, elevation, and rating systems of each place, and consider hiring a guide, especially if you're a beginner.

01 of 15

Yosemite National Park

Two rock climbers on portaledges on triple direct, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California, USA
Alex Eggermont / Getty Images
California, USA
Phone +1 209-372-0200

The birthplace of modern American rock climbing, Yosemite National Park offers historic routes and just about every type of climbing imaginable. Pitch a tent in historic Camp 4 then hit the crags: big wall climbing on El Captian and Half Dome, crack climbs in the Merced River Canyon, and easier trad climbs on Tenaya Peak’s Northwest Buttress. Grades here range from 5.6 to 5.14. In recent years, Yosemite’s become extremely crowded, especially since Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson made their record-setting free climb ascent of the Dawn Wall in 2015. Go on weekdays instead of weekends and head to Yosemite High Country instead of Yosemite Valley to avoid the influx.

02 of 15

Bishop, California

Climber on top of the boulder in Bishop, California
Evgeny Vasenev / Getty Images
Bishop, CA 93514, USA

Rife with highball problems, the granite and volcanic rock of the multiple bouldering areas around the city of Bishop, California. Rated V0 to V15, Bishop's thought to be one of the top two bouldering areas in the country. Explore its 2,000 recorded problems and optimal climbing weather from October to May. Happy Boulders has fun traverses, while Sad Boulders has plenty of cave walls to scale. On hot days, go to Rock Creek to climb in the cool of the forest. Most routes are graded accurately and the bouldering areas are easy to access. For sleeping, stay in town or camp at one of the many campsites, like the Buttermilks or the Pit.

03 of 15

Indian Creek

Low Angle View Of Man Rock Climbing Against Blue Sky
Benjamin Wu / EyeEm / Getty Images
Indian Creek, CA 95247, USA

Just 70 miles outside of Utah’s adventure sports mecca Moab, Indian Creek’s sandstone cliffs draw climbers looking for the country’s best splinter cracks. The crack routes combined with the areas many arêtes bring the total of listed climbs here to 1, 456. Rated between 5.6 and 5.15, with most being trad climbs, the routes famously require an insane amount of cams, making sharing gear common here. Rather than lead climbing, many climbers focus on top roping to fine-tune their crack climbing technique. Since the Creek’s on Bureau of Land Management land in the middle of the desert, take advantage of the tent camping, and enjoy the starry night sky sans light pollution.

04 of 15

Hueco Tanks State Historic Site

Rock climbers, Hueco Tanks State Park, Texas
Aaron Black / Getty Images
6900 Hueco Tanks Road No. 1, El Paso, TX 79938, USA
Phone +1 915-857-1135

Rocks sprouting cactus and adorned with indigenous pictographs make for a bouldering playground of roof climbs, highballs, crimps, and overhangs at Hueco Tanks State Historic Site. Located 30 minutes from El Paso, Texas, Hueco Tanks has some of the top bouldering in the world (rated V0 to V14). Due to the Native American artifacts on site, the Texas Parks departments only allows 70 people per day on the North Mountain (the only self-guided option). Call at least 90 days before to ensure your spot, or camp inside of Hueco Tanks State Park to get one of 10 the coveted walk-in permits issued daily. You can climb at the other three mountains at well, but you must book a guide through Hueco Tanks or with a private climbing outfit.

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05 of 15

The Shawangunks

Rock Climber Overhang
chris_vultaggio / Getty Images
Shawangunk Mountains, Gardiner, NY 12525, USA

Only 85 miles from New York City, The Shawangunk Mountains, also known as “The Gunks," makes for a great weekend trip of horizontal crack climbs, roof climbs, and beginner to advanced one-to-three pitch climbs. One of the oldest climbing areas in the country, The Gunks began when Fritz Wiessner first climbed here in the 1930’s starting what would become the strong climbing community it has today. Expect well-maintained routes but consider climbing at a grade or two lower in your first leads here. (Routes are rated 5.6 to 5.13 but most climbers need some time to adjust to the rock and the horizontal cracks.)

06 of 15

Red River Gorge

A rock climber climbs in the Red River Gorge
Marc Pagani Photography / Getty Images
Red River Gorge, Kentucky 40387, USA

Single-pitch sport routes with amazing holds populate the Corbin Sandstone of Red River Gorge in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. A mere 60 miles outside of Lexington, it contains 3,000 routes spread over a wide swath of the Daniel Boone National Forest, including the climber-run nature preserve, Muir Woods, and the legendary Miguel’s Pizza where you can camp, stock up on gear, and get to know climbers from the local and international scene over dinner. Go in fall, the dry season, for the best climbing weather and get a 4WD car to reach some of the routes.

07 of 15

Joshua Tree

A female climber rappels off of Headstone Rock in Ryan Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, California.
Cavan Images / Getty Images
California, USA
Phone +1 760-367-5500

Campsites tucked right next to routes, an otherworldly desert landscape of big-horned sheep running between cacti and Joshua Trees, and over 10,000 routes, all have made Joshua Tree one of California’s most famous climbing spots. About 40 miles outside of Palm Springs, most of the climbs here are trad and fairly short. While many are beginner-friendly, there’s plenty of advanced climbs like the crack of the Jerk 5.10c or the crazy overhang of Big Moe (5.11a). Be prepared to use every type of technique you know here: smearing, hand jamming, overhanging, and more.

08 of 15

Devil's Tower National Monument

Low Angle View Of Devils Tower National Monument Against Cloudy Sky
Stan Strange / EyeEm / Getty Images
WY-110, Devils Tower, WY 82714, USA
Phone +1 307-467-5283

Devil’s Tower, a 4,357 foot-tall rock monolith stands in the Wyoming grasslands, a national monument full of crack climbs. Some cracks you can fit your whole body into, while with others, only hand jamming will suffice. The over 200 climbing routes range from 5.7 to 5.13, with most being free, multi-pitch trad routes. The best time to climb here is spring and late summer. Native Americans call Devil’s Tower “Bear’s Lodge”, and believe June to be a holy month. For this reason, there is a voluntary climbing moratorium for the whole month. Stay at Devil’s Towers Lodge to hear proprietor Frank Sander’s many stories about the area, or rent a room in Sundance, about a 30-minute drive away.

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09 of 15

Pace Bend Park

Lake Travis Promontory
Dave Wilson, WebArtz Photography / Getty Images
2805 Pace Bend Rd N, Spicewood, TX 78669, USA
Phone +1 512-264-1482

The white and gray limestone of Lake Travis offer plenty of short cliff climbs, perfect for free water soloing and cliff jumping. A 45-minute drive from Austin, Texas, Pace Bend’s most popular climbing spot is Giles Cove, with cliffs ranging from 15 to 40 feet. One of the best things about climbing here is how little equipment you need: just a swimsuit. You can bring climbing shoes, but plenty of climbers go barefoot. Check the water for any submerged objects before jumping, and make sure water levels are deep enough by checking There’s one big traverse, overhung caves, vertical walls, and opportunities to start pulling underwater if you can find the footholds.

10 of 15

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Climbing in Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, USA
Andrew Peacock / Getty Images
Mountain Springs, NV 89161, USA
Phone +1 702-515-5350

Those itching to free climbing, should head up the red sandstone of Red Rock’s Mount Wilson (several of whose routes are rated below 5.12). Though a good place to begin free climbing, there’s nearly 2,900 routes here of every rating and plenty of sport and trad routes. Kraft Mountain’s bouldering routes range from V0 to V12, while Calico Hills is the main sport for trad and sport climbing. The biggest safety concern here is to not climb on wet rock, as the sandstone can break off, pulling a key hold or your protection with it. Only a 20-minute drive from Las Vegas, you can climb most of the year here, as the season runs September through May.

11 of 15

New River Gorge

Cliff Aerial Long Wall
EntropyWorkshop / Getty Images
West Virginia, USA
Phone +1 304-465-0508

West Virginia’s enormous New River Gorge has trad climbs, sport climbs, and bouldering spread throughout its 60 plus miles of sandstone cliffline. With over 3,000 established routes, it’s easy to spend an entire season here exploring splinter cracks, arêtes, traditionally protected corners, tiered roofs, and technical faces. Far apart bolts and smaller handholds are the norm (and not beginner-friendly), but if you need something more moderate, go to Junkyard which has routes starting at 5.7, or Sandstonia with routes starting at 5.6. Camp in the New River Gorge Campground or book a room in nearby Fayetteville, West Virginia.

12 of 15

The Needles

The Needles rock formations in Sequoia National Forest, California, USA
Andrew Peacock / Getty Images
The Needles, California 93265, USA

Magical, mythical, and secluded, the Needles jut into the blue sky of Central California, granite spires of perfect rock above Sequoia National Forest. To reach here, you must hike 3 miles along a ridgeline to arrive at the climbing area, where nearly 100 routes (rated 5.6 to 5.13b) await you. Though a small climbing area, the difficulty of the approach and the abundance of highly technical climbs mean that the Needles never get crowded, making for an ideal trad climbing haven. Most of the classic big-exposure, multi-pitch climbs are located between the Witch and the Sorcerer towers.

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13 of 15

Rifle Mountain Park

Lone rock climber in the mountains with goat, Colorado Rockies
robertcicchetti / Getty Images
13885 Co Rd 217, Rifle, CO 81650, USA
Phone +1 970-665-6570

In the Colorado Rockies less than 20 miles from Rifle, Rifle Mountain Park offers some of the best limestone sport climbing in the country. Over 400 established routes of cave climbing, tons of overhang, and power routes make Rifle a climbing paradise. Its year-round climbing season means there’s always people on the crags, and in winter, ice climbers scale its walls. While moderate climbs exist here (routes range from 5.6 to 5.14c), the prime climbing really exists from 5.11a and up, especially as the area hosts one of the largest concentrations of 5.13 to 5.14c sport routes in U.S.

14 of 15

Smith Rock State Park

USA, Oregon, Deschutes County, Smith Rock State Park at Crooked River, rock climbers at Smith Rock
Westend61 / Getty Images
Oregon 97760, USA
Phone +1 800-551-6949

Thirty miles outside of Bend, Oregon lies the birthplace of American sport climbing: Smith Rock State Park. With easy to access crags located just off well-maintained trails and nearly 2,000 routes on volcanic tuff and basalt cliffs, beginners to advanced climbers come from all over to climb sport and trad routes. Beginners flock to Morning Glory Wall or Llama Wall, while advanced climbers go to the most difficult routes in the park at The Dihedrals. A lot of the first bolts here are 15 to 20 feet up, meaning you’ll need to pre-clip the quickdraw to avoid a potentially nasty fall.

15 of 15

Wild Iris

Caucasian climber rappelling on mountainside
Don Mason / Getty Images
Wild Iris Rd, Wyoming 82070, USA

Sport climbing tucked into white dolomite hills above Aspen forests and sprays of wildflowers make Wyoming's Wild Iris one of the most picturesque climbing spots in the U.S. Over 300 bolted sport climbs, characterized by clean limestone pockets, range from ratings of 5.6 to 5.14. Beginners tend to stick to the Main Wall, while OK Coral has the highest concentration of mid-level climbing routes. Advanced climbers head to Aspen Glade for nice long lines, but more advanced routes can be found all over Limestone Mountain. Be aware of grizzly bears and rattlesnakes in the area, as well as extremely cold, windy storms, even in summer.

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The 15 Best Places in the U.S. to Go Rock Climbing