Yosemite, Zion, Joshua Tree – for climbers, these names are synonymous with the best. Federal lands host some of the most visually spectacular, challenging and exciting climbing areas in the world. Check out this list of climbing hot spots – whether you prefer bouldering, top-roping, lead climbing or just observing with your binoculars, these horizons will not disappoint.
Search by state: Arizona, California, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming
Head south and east of Winslow, Arizona, and you will be on your way to some serious sport climbing. More than 300 routes are found at Jack’s Canyon in the Coconino National Forest and include vertical to overhanging routes ready to challenge the experts in your group. Not an expert? The canyon and its steep, highly pocketed limestone and sandstone mixed cliffs offer a variety of routes for the intermediate climber as well. The camping is free and unimproved at the canyon rim, where a ten-minute trail gets you to the routes.
With more than 400 climbing formations, Joshua Tree National Park appeals to a wide range of climbers, beginners to experts. This surreal desert environment offers fall, winter and spring climbers glorious, mild weather before the heat of summer sets in. From October to April, climbers are encouraged to stop over for a cup of coffee and meet with the climbing ranger to discuss the climbing opportunities throughout the park. Because Joshua Tree is a climbing mecca, visitors must take special care to follow good climbing practices to protect this fragile desert environment.
Joshua Tree National Park has nine campgrounds, four with advanced reservations. Try Black Rock Campground and Indian Cove Campground for RV and tent camping. If you’re traveling with a group, try Sheep Pass Group Campground or Cottonwood Group Campground.Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, California
National Park (NPS)
The world-class climbing at Yosemite National Park is complemented by the dramatic geology of its southerly neighbor Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park. With fewer crowds than Yosemite and stellar climbing, Sequoia & Kings Canyon offer a diverse repertoire for novice to expert climbers. Those seeking a moderate to challenging climb will want to try their hand at Chimney Rock. With several granite formations in this area, there’s surely something here to please all.
Climbers are asked to respect closures within the park and play an active role in the conservation of the nesting Peregrine falcons – known to be sensitive to human activity.
Stay a while… With its big trees, high peaks and deep canyons, climbers visiting the park will be impressed with the scope of climbing opportunities. Take them all in as you set-up a base camp at one of the many campgrounds within the park (first-come, first-served and advanced reservations available).
Designated a Geological Area, Red River Gorge draws climbers from around the world to climb the sandstone cliffs of this eastern Kentucky gem. Overhanging rock faces will test experienced climbers, yet the sheer volume of climbing in the area will offer something for everyone. The best time to climb the gorge is spring and fall, although climbers can be found here year-round. Watch for climbing and rappelling closures in the area. A permit is required for anyone visiting the Red River Gorge Geological Area north of Kentucky State Highway 15 and planning to backcountry camp. Those looking for a few more amenities might try camping at Koomer Ridge Campground, available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Sculpted by glaciers, the granite of Acadia National Park lends itself to climbing for all abilities. From Otter Cliff to South Bubble, climbers can expect crack and face climbing, as well as sea cliff climbs, beginner routes and seasoned 5.12 routes. Good bouldering can be found along the ocean between Sand Beach and Otter Cliff and near Blackwoods Campground. Visit the park website to learn the handful of climbing locations found in the first eastern national park.
Steeped in rich history, the rocks of Catoctin National Park are surrounded by the hardwood forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once volcanic lava flows and deposited sediment layers, the resulting geology of Wolf Rock is now ideal for beginning climbers. Although experts will appreciate the 5.0 to 5.3 level of difficulty climbs to hone their skills. Wolf Rock requires a climbing permit through advanced reservation and is the only site in the park allowing rappelling, top-roping or any form of climbing involving ropes or technical equipment.
Stay a while and camp at any of Catoctin’s campgrounds and cabins including: Camp Misty Mount, Catoctin Mountain Park Adirondack Shelters, Owens Creek Campground and Poplar Grove Youth Group Campground.
River (Mark A. Large)
The “Obed” truly has something for everyone. Climbs along the Obed Wild and Scenic River range from 5.7 to 5.14, and include traditional, sport and bouldering. Picture a route that extends up a vertical face for forty feet, then out a horizontal roof for the same distance – hence the names “Stephen King’s Library,” “Pet Sematary,” and “Maximum Overdrive.” These are some of the more than 300 routes the Obed offers, including more than a dozen sandstone rock boulders to scale in the park’s Boulder Field. Enjoy all the area has to offer and stay a few days at Rock Creek Campground. Located within the park, this small campground offers 11 sites on a first-come, first-served basis.
Jutting up through the scenic forest of West Virginia are Seneca Rocks – comprised of Tuscarora sandstone, the formation offers rock climbers a unique opportunity found nowhere else in the east. Part of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, this climber’s haven boasts over 375 major mapped climbing routes. Climbers can partake in the easiest (5.0) to most difficult (5.12) routes, then head to Seneca Shadows Campground for a hot shower and a night under the stars.New River Gorge National River, West Virginia
Known in climbing circles as “the New,” New River Gorge climbing is extensive and challenging. Route ratings in this area range from 5.9 and up. With more than 1,400 established climbs, the Nuttall sandstone offers climbers some of the finest quality climbing rock in the U.S. Most climbs are crack and face routes, but some bouldering is also available. After a day of climbing, cool off in New River and find a bite to eat in one of the numerous markets and eateries in the area. There are many private campgrounds located within easy driving distance from “the New.” Primitive camping is allowed on park property, but is prohibited within 100 feet of parking areas, water sources, historic sites or the top rim of the cliffs.
Please note: there are many areas of private property within the New River Gorge, including some within the park boundary. Be aware of your surroundings and please do not trespass on private property.
With hundreds of parallel cracks, Devils Tower is the pinnacle of crack climbing. Routes at the Tower range from 5.7 to 5.13, with rappels requiring a minimum of two ropes. The National Monument maintains a climbers registration for those planning on scrambling beyond the boulder field. Climbers should register before, and immediately after climbing each day – used for both safety and as part of the Monument’s historical database.
During June, the National Park Service asks climbers to voluntarily refrain from climbing on the Tower. The National Park Service advocates this closure in order to promote understanding and encourage respect for the culture of the closely affiliated American Indian tribes who consider the Tower as a sacred site. Please strongly consider the closure when planning a climbing trip to Devils Tower.
Camping is available on a first-come, first-served basis during the summer season at the Belle Fourche River Campground.