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 rock 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 locations will not disappoint.
Outstanding climbing and bouldering locations for all ability levels
Joshua Tree National Park (Juliette Jones, Share the Experience)
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 rock climbers mild weather before the heat of summer sets in. From October to April, climbers are encouraged to stop by Hidden Valley Campground 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.
Coconino National Forest (Deborah Lee Soltesz, USFS)
Head south and east of Winslow, 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 climbing 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 at Jack’s Canyon is free and unimproved at the canyon rim, where a ten-minute trail gets you to the routes.
Grand Teton National Park (Nick Woolard, Share the Experience)
Climbing and mountaineering is one of the most thrilling ways to experience Grand Teton National Park’s iconic peaks. Most routes are moderate to challenging in difficulty, providing many opportunities for climbers of various skill levels. Take note: a climbing permit is not required for mountaineering, but climbers on overnight trips must have a backcountry camping permit to camp or bivouac. Visit the Jenny Lake Ranger Station from June to early September and meet with a climbing ranger for current information on the seasonality and condition of climbing routes as well as equipment and experience considerations.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (Aaron Kissel, Share the Experience)
The world-class climbing at Yosemite National Park is complemented by the dramatic geology of its southerly neighbor Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. With fewer crowds than Yosemite and stellar climbing, Sequoia and 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 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.
Acadia National Park (Winston Shaw, Share the Experience)
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 rock climbing locations found in the first eastern national park.
Monongahela National Forest (Jeffrey Davis, Share the Experience)
Jutting up through the scenic forest of West Virginia is the iconic 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 including the easiest (5.0) to most difficult (5.12) routes.
Bears Ears National Monument (Sean Smith, Share the Experience)
Indian Creek Special Recreation Management Area contains the northern portion of Bears Ears National Monument. Rock climbers come to test their skills on world-class crack climbing routes, but routes are not for the faint of heart. Popular routes range from 5.9 to 5.12. Maximize the fun and stay overnight at one of Indian Creek’s established or dispersed campsites, offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons call the cliffs of Indian Creek home, so be sure to check the latest closures and avoidance areas before picking your route.
New River Gorge National Park & Preserve (Dave Bieri, National Park Service)
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.
Catoctin Mountain Park (National Park Service)
The rocks of Catoctin Mountain 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. Routes at Wolf Rock span 5.0 to 5.3 level climbing. The site is the only area in the park which allows rappelling, top-roping or any form of climbing involving ropes or technical equipment. If bouldering is more your scene, check out areas located within corridors of the Gateway Trail east of the Catoctin Mountain Park Headquarters and along the Hog Rock Trail west of the Visitor Center at a variety of difficulty levels.
Daniel Boone National Forest (US Forest Service)
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.