Thanks to the meteoric rise in popularity of climbing gyms across the country, combined with the recent success of the film "Free Solo," rock climbing has seen renewed interest with the general public. Requiring both physical and mental focus, the sport is luring more outdoor athletes than ever before, with many intrigued by its mix of strength, agility, and concentration. It also doesn't hurt that some of the best rock climbing also happens to take place in some breathtakingly beautiful settings. So, if you're planning a climbing-focused trip—or just want to work in some time on the rock on your next vacation—we have some suggestions on where to go. These are our picks for the best climbing destinations in the world, any one of which will leave you blown away with their amazing and dramatic landscapes.
Rock climbing can be a dangerous activity and should only be undertaken by those who have the experience and skills necessary to attempt the sport. Beginner climbers should always go with an experienced guide and have all of the proper equipment they need to climb safely.
Yosemite National Park (California)
Any list of great rock climbing destinations has to include Yosemite National Park near the top. For many climbers, Yosemite is the place to go for big wall climbing in the entire world, literally offering thousands of routes to choose from. The park also happens to be home to El Capitan, arguably the most famous vertical rock formations on the planet, though Half Dome is also a major draw. These well-known landmarks are just scratching the surface of what Yosemite has to offer however, making it a must-visit place for any dedicated climber.
If there is a place that rivals Yosemite in terms of great climbing, it just might be the town of Zermatt in Switzerland. Often regarded as the birthplace of alpine climbing, Zermatt offers access to 38 peaks of 13,000 feet in height or more, all within close proximity. Amongst the mountains that are accessible from here are the famous Matterhorn and the infamous Eiger, which both present interesting challenges for climbers and make valuable additions to any climbing resume.
Red Rocks (Nevada)
Not everyone knows it, but just a short drive outside of Las Vegas sits one of the absolute best climbing locations in the entire world. In fact, in less than an hour you can leave the glitz and glamour of the strip behind and be tied in on a rope on some truly iconic routes. The sandstone cliffs of Red Rocks are accommodating to beginners and veteran climbers alike, with an amazing setting that feels like it is miles away from civilization. This makes it perfect for those who want to climb a few pitches before lunch or spend the entire day working multiple routes. There is even excellent bouldering in this desert oasis, which is so good that it even convinced "Free Solo" star Alex Honnold to move there.
Europe's other rock climbing epicenter can be found in Kalymnos, Greece, a place that offers an amazing blend of sun, sea, and history to go along with its amazing limestone. With hundreds of routes to choose from, climbers will find options for every skill level, making this a fantastic choice for both experienced and beginning climbers alike. And with its steady Mediterranean weather, the rock walls are accessible all year round, something that can't be said for most of the other locations on this list.
Rocklands (South Africa)
For some of the best bouldering in the world, head to the Rocklands in South Africa. A subset of rock climbing, bouldering involves scaling large rocks (a.k.a. boulders), as opposed to large rock walls. The routes tend to be shorter and closer to the ground, but they are still intense, challenging, and physically demanding. That's exactly what climbers find in this outdoor playground, where the desert landscape, punctuated with hundreds of boulders to climb, make for an amazing place for newbies and the highly experienced alike. Sport and traditional climbers will still find routes to challenge their skill sets too, making this a well-rounded destination for those looking for a climbing outlet to put their skills to the test in Africa.
The Dolomites (Italy)
Often compared to Yosemite National Park in the U.S., the Dolomites of northern Italy offer everything a rock climber could ask for. Here, you'll find dramatic landscapes, amazing history and culture, and countless climbing routes to choose from. It isn't the large number of routes that makes this place such a great option for climbers, but rather the variety of options that are available. Experienced alpine climbers will marvel at the towering spikes that rise 8,000 to 9,000 feet into the air, while sport climbers can enjoy shorter, but no less challenging, pitches down below.
Thailand isn't a country that leaps to mind when it comes to great rock climbing, but the country is blessed with some fantastic locations nonetheless. Of those, Tonsai is arguably the best, offering an excellent blend of sun, beach, nightlife, and outstanding limestone walls to explore. From towering cliffs to shorter sport routes—not to mention some excellent bouldering—Tonsai has it all. The tropical setting means climbing all year round is a possibility too, though the heat and humidity may require a splash in the ocean afterwards. Best of all, climbing in Tonsai is very affordable, making it accessible for visitors looking for just a day or two on the rocks, or who are centering their entire vacation around climbing.
Patagonia (Chile and Argentina)
Stretching across the southernmost tip of Chile and Argentina, Patagonia is another outstanding destination for climbers. Often described as one of the most spectacular wilderness regions on the planet, Patagonia is home to some of the most famous climbing walls and towers in the world, even rivaling those found in Yosemite. The most prominent of these is the Torre Egger and Fitz Roy, both of which should be left to the more experienced athletes. But there are plenty of easier routes to test your skills on, not to mention great bouldering, too. And because Patagonia is such an expansive place, it is easy to find peace and solitude at the crag for those looking to escape the crowds that are common elsewhere.
The Bugaboos (Canada)
Located in Britisch Columbia, Canada, the Bugaboos are a small mountain range that is big on rock climbing. Offering a smilier experience to the French Alps in Europe, this amazing location has a number of world-renowned routes that lure in top climbers from across the globe. But it also has a stunning variety of climbing options, making it a good choice for those who are just learning the sport as well. The gorgeous scenery doesn't hurt either, offering plenty to look at while both on and off the wall.
The Peak District (United Kingdom)
With a name like "the Peak District," you know that a place has to offer outstanding climbing. That's exactly what you'll find when you visit England's premiere destination for rock climbers, which is located in the north-central part of the country. In this national park, visitors will discover plenty of great hiking, with trails often leading to some excellent climbing walls, too. The routes vary in size and complexity, with something to offer just about any type or experience level of climber.
Red River Gorge (Kentucky)
Kentucky's Red River Gorge is a haven for sport climbing, which favors the use of permanent bolts and anchors over more traditional (or "trad") climbing, which sees individuals placing and removing the safety equipment as they go. Known for its amazing scenery, the gorge is massive in size and scope and is home to a seemingly endless supply of routes. It is safe to say that a beginner could learn the sport of climbing here and perfect their skills, all without ever completing all of the different routes in their lifetime.
Hueco Tanks (Texas)
North America's answer to Rocklands is Hueco Tanks. Often ranked as the best bouldering site in the entire world, this place can be found a short drive from El Paso, Texas, and is surrounded by a high-altitude desert that is as beautiful as it is stark and rugged. Hueco Tanks draws climbers in from around the world, many of which come to attempt some of the park's more challenging and well-known routes. The place has become so popular however, that now just 70 people per day are allowed inside. This move was made to protect the fragile environment, so if you're planning on going, be sure to get a reservation early.
The Spanish Mediterranean island of Mallorca is yet another location that blends warm weather, lovely beaches, and excellent opportunities for climbing. The limestone cliffs found on the island provide excellent opportunities for climbing of all types and difficulties, with well established routes that are among the very best in Europe. Mallorca is also one of the top destinations for "deepwater soloing," which involves climbing up rock cliffs and towers that are found along the coastline. Deepwater soloists don't use ropes or other safety devices, so when they fall they land safely in the water below. This provides a measure of safety that isn't found in other types of soloing and opens the door to new possibilities for the sport.
Fiordland National Park (New Zealand)
It's hard to top New Zealand when it comes to amazing outdoor landscapes and adventure activities, and that is true for rock climbing, too. There are numerous places across both the North and South Island to climb, but for our money, Fiorldand National Park on the South Island is the best. Much like Yosemite, it has hundreds of different routes to choose from with options for all levels of experience. Those looking for especially challenging climbing should head to the Babylon Crag, which is home to what might be the hardest climbing opportunity in the entire country.
Verdon Gorge (France)
The climbing routes found in the Verdon Gorge of France require not just skill, but also finesse and athleticism. Here, it's all about being able to move your entire body, requiring climbers to be well-rounded in their skill set and approach. The gorge has been a popular destination for outdoor athletes since the 1970s and one look around will tell you why. It offers an amazing blend of epic rock climbing and unbelievable scenery, with a tremendous support community, too. All of these elements come together to make Verdon a truly magical place for climbers of all ages.