Healthy Outdoor Living

Ten Best Places to Go Rock Climbing

More from Outdoor Living Newsletter August Outdoor Living Newsletter

Rock climbing is the ultimate outdoor adventure. It is a sport that tests your strength, endurance and resolve. It requires you to develop a form of finesse that can be acquired only through learning certain skills and techniques. It is a sport that creates a huge adrenaline rush in your body and gives you an unimaginable sense of fulfillment once you complete your climb and reach your destination.

Are you planning to go rock climbing on your next camping road trip? Here are ten great rock climbing destinations listed by state you should check out.

1.  Denali National Park, Alaska

To climb Mt. McKinley - or Mt. Denali, as most climbers and locals prefer to call it - is the pinnacle for many rock climbers. This centerpiece of Denali National Park is the highest mountain in North America, and has rather treacherous alpine conditions. You should never attempt Mt. Denali without leveling up your climbing skills first.

Two-thirds of climbers up Mt. Denali use the West Buttress route. The West Buttress route is theoretically an easy climb because it is just a steady rise, without a lot of obstacles or technical elements. However, a simple misstep can be fatal. Only 50% of climbers attempting West Buttress actually reach the summit; most of the time, people give up from exhaustion or require rescue. The best time to climb Mt. Denali is from May to June.

Climber on a rock with background scenic view
Rock climbing is a test of strength, endurance and character

You can find guides and lessons with RMI Expeditions.
Find campgrounds and RV Parks in Denali National Park.

2.  Joshua Tree National Park, California

Rock climbing at Joshua Tree National Park began when climbers needed a winter practice ground for climbing the granite faces of Yosemite. Joshua Tree NP was the best they found. These climbers found out soon enough that climbing at Joshua Tree NP presents unique challenges. The rock formations here may not be as tall as those found in Yosemite NP, but the granite making them up is much rougher, unpolished by snow.

There are around 8,000 rock climbing routes you can choose from in Joshua Tree. The best and the most popular, though, are found on Intersection Rock, Hemingway Buttress, and Echo Rock.

Intersection Rock is the most recognizable rock formation on the Hidden Valley section of Joshua Tree. The climbing routes up here are generally very easy, with an average difficulty of 5.7. You can find Intersection Rock nine miles north of Quail Springs Road, right where it crosses Barker Dam Road.

Hemingway Buttress offers moderate climbing opportunities. Hemingway Buttress is also in the Hidden Valley Section, two miles north of the Quail Springs Road parking area. Hemingway's east face is the best for climbing, and the difficulty ranges between 5.7 and 5.9.

If you want an honest-to-goodness adrenaline rush, you should go to Echo Rock. Climbing Echo Rock is a test of balance over steep slabs with very minimal protection. You can expect routes here to have anywhere between a 5.8 to a 5.11 difficulty rating. Echo Rock is near Key Ranch Road past Intersection Rock.

Whatever rock you choose to climb at Joshua Tree NP, the best time to do your climbing is from October to December and from March to April.

You can find guides and lessons with Vertical Adventures Rock Climbing School.
Find campgrounds and RV Parks near Joshua Tree National Park.

3.  Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

If you don't feel like hobnobbing with the crowds trying to climb El Capitan in Yosemite, you can find some peace and quiet by rock climbing in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. These parks in the Sierra Nevada region don't get as much traffic as Yosemite. It doesn't mean that the rocks here are not good enough to climb, though. You can have your rock climbing challenge here too.

One rock you can try climbing is Chimney Spire in Sequoia NP. This rock has a lovely granite face. The routes here have an average difficulty of 5.8, the most popular of which is Duets. Chimney Spire is located a short hike from San Joaquin.

Another rock you can attempt in this area of California is the Grand Sentinel, considered to be Kings Canyon's biggest big wall. It is a rather difficult climb, though, with the easiest route being 5.10. But it's off the beaten path; you don't have to worry about crowds or tourists here.

If you're going rock climbing at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, you should do so in the early winter or late spring, when the weather is most mild. Chimney Spire and a few other rocks are closed to climbers from April to August, however. The National Parks System has imposed this closure to allow peregrine falcons to nest undisturbed there.

You can find guides and lessons with California Alpine Guides.
Find campgrounds in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

4.  Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park is heaven for rock climbers; it is one of the greatest climbing sites in the world. In Yosemite NP, you have a lot of options available to you depending on your skill level, the style of climbing you prefer, and the amount of time you have set aside for climbing. But no matter what climb you choose, you are sure to be treated to some of the most beautiful sights in the world once you reach your destination.

If you really want to test your mettle, you must not miss a climb up El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. The challenge to climbing El Capitan is the fact that it's made of smooth and solid granite with almost no joints. People even used to think El Capitan can't be climbed. There are over 70 routes to El Capitan's summit, but the ones most favored by rock climbers are Salathe Wall and The Nose. Salathe Wall on the southwest face is a classic climb with a 5.13 difficulty rating. The Nose, on the other hand, follows the prow between the southwest and southeast faces of El Capitan. Another classic climb, The Nose also has a 5.13 difficulty rating.

It takes at least a week for fit climbers to reach the summit of El Capitan on a leisurely pace. If you don't have that much time for climbing, you can try exploring the climbs at Tuolumne Meadows. One very short but very satisfying scramble would be up the face of Lembert Dome, accessible from Tioga Road.

Rock climbing at Yosemite is open all year-round. However, you should check the NPS site first for closure advisories. Some rocks are also closed to climbers from April to August to allow peregrine falcons to nest undisturbed.

You can find guides and lessons with DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite.
Find campgrounds in Yosemite National Park.

5.  Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The snowcapped peaks of the Rocky Mountains are lovely to look at from any direction. They also provide some of the best alpine rock climbing in the U.S. So if you're in the mood to climb through ice or snow, Rocky Mountains National Park is the place to go.

The best climb at Rocky Mountain NP is The Diamond at Longs Peak. The Diamond is not for beginners, though. It rises 13,000 feet with an average difficulty of 5.11. If you want a slightly easier climb, you can try Hallett Peak using the Great Dihedral route, which has a 5.7 difficulty rating. There is also the 5.8-rated South Face route of Petit Grepon.

While you can go rock climbing at Rocky Mountain NP any time of the year, the weather here is very unpredictable. You can experience a sudden thunderstorm in the height of summer while you're climbing, or you can have a mild and pleasant climb in winter. It's best to check out the weather forecast for Colorado while planning your climb. Check out the NPS advisory for climbing closures, though. Some areas in Rocky Mountain NP are typically closed to climbers from early spring to late summer so that raptors - prairie falcons, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, kestrels and turkey vultures - can nest.

You can find guides and lessons with Colorado Mountain School.
Find campgrounds and RV Parks near Rocky Mountain National Park.

6.  Acadia National Park, Maine

The rock formations in Acadia National Park are solid granite, and their craggy faces often face the sea.

If you're going rock climbing at Acadia NP, you should head for the Otter Cliffs on the southeastern side of Mount Desert Island. These seaside cliffs rise 60 feet from the water and are best approached by rappelling to the base and then making the climb up. The difficulty rating for the Otter Cliffs is pegged at 5.12, but many routes are gentle enough for newbie rock climbers to attempt.

Another easy climb would be The Precipice, which is the south wall of Champlain Mountain. Routes here range between 5.4 and 5.12 in difficulty, great for beginners and challenging enough for advanced climbers. The Precipice is found north of Otter Cliffs.

You can go rock climbing at Acadia NP anytime from April to October. The best months, however, are from September to early October. Make sure to check with the park rangers before you climb, though. Some areas are closed at certain times of the year due to weather, as well as to allow birds to nest in the area.

You can find guides and lessons with Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School.
Find campgrounds and RV Parks near Acadia National Park.

7.  Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, Texas

This state park lies some 30 miles east of El Paso, Texas. Most rock climbers who have been there all say that Hueco Tanks is one of the best bouldering sites in the world. The formations here are low enough to climb without ropes, so it's a good practice ground for beginners. However, the locals have raised concerns about the impact climbing has on these formations and their ecology, so the Texas Parks and Wildlife have limited the access to the park. To go rock climbing at Hueco Tanks State Park, you have to join a guided group. But if you don't want the hassle of group climbing, you can try getting permission to climb the North Mountain, which is the only rock formation open to unguided climbs in Hueco Tanks State Park. North Mountain is a very easy climb with a couple dozen possible approaches. October to April is the best time for climbing at Hueco Tanks State Park.

You can stay at the campground in Hueco Tanks State Park or at any campgrounds and RV Parks nearby.

8.  Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

For Native Americans, Devils Tower is sacred ground where they hold summer ceremonies and vision quests. For rock climbers, Devils Tower is an irresistible climb that probably sits on the top of their rock climbing bucket list.

There are 150 established routes to the summit of Devils Tower. These routes range between 500 to 600 feet in height and have a difficulty rating of anywhere between 5.7 and 5.13. The most popular of these routes is the Durrance Route, a relatively easy 5.7 climb on the southwest shoulder of the Tower's Leaning Column. Another popular but more challenging route is the Wiessner Route, which also starts on the southwest shoulder but moving towards the Meadows Rappel Bolts. Weissner has a 5.8 difficulty. Climbing can be fine year round, but the park encourages a moratorium in June when Native Americans hold ceremonies. The best time to climb Devils Tower is in May, when the weather is mildest and the days are longest.

You can find guides and lessons with Sylvan Rocks.
Find campgrounds and RV parks near Devils Tower National Monument.

9.  Arches National Park, Utah

The rock formations at Arches National Park - the ones that the National Park Service allows climbers to get near to, that is - scare even the most experienced climbers. That's because the entrada sandstone making up these formations are soft and not so sturdy. The dry desert conditions also make rock climbing at Arches National Park physically punishing.

Nonetheless, many people find Arches NP an alluring destination for rock climbing. Tonka Tower and Dark Angel are the most popular. Tonka Tower is located southwest of Turret Arch, the middle tower in a collection of small turrets. The route to its summit rises 150 feet and has a 5.8 difficulty. The only approach up Tonka is on the left side of its west face. Dark Angel, on the other hand, is an isolated spire located just past the Double O Arch trail. While its route is shorter than Tonka Tower with a height of 120 feet, it is no less difficult with its 5.9 rating.

If you're just a beginner to desert rock climbing and don't feel confident taking on Tonka and Dark Angel just yet, you can try Owl Rock instead. The height of the route is only 110 feet with a 5.8 rating. The route is well-protected, though it can get crowded. You can find Owl Rock east of Garden of Eden parking area.

Late autumn to early winter is the best time for rock climbing at Arches NP. Some rocks, like Bubo and Devils Dog Spire, are closed from January to June. Additionally, please take note that all arches and natural bridges named in the topographical maps of the US Geological Survey for Arches NP are prohibited to climbers.

You can find guides and lessons with Moab Cliffs & Canyons.
Find campgrounds and RV Parks near Arches National Park.

10.  Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park is another rock climbing dream destination. The two sections of this park - Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyons - both offer some great big wall challenges. Rock climbing at Zion is not for the fainthearted or for the beginner, however. Scaling these smooth granite and sandstone faces require an expert's touch.

Perhaps the best climb at Zion is Moonlight Buttress. The route is 1,200 feet high and has a climbing difficulty of 5.12. From the top you can enjoy an amazing view of Angels Landing and the Great White Throne. Moonlight Buttress is located across the Virgin River near Angels Landing. If you want a relatively easier climb compared to Moonlight Buttress, you can attempt the Angels Landing's Prodigal Sun route. Its climb difficulty is only 5.8.

May and October are the best months for rock climbing at Zion National Park. Check out the NPS website for closure advisory before you go climbing, though. Some cliffs are closed to climbers to allow raptors to nest undisturbed.

You can find guides and lessons with Zion Adventure Company.
Find campgrounds and RV Parks near Zion National Park.

Rock climbing is a great outdoor adventure. Not only does it make you appreciate the beauty of nature from up above, you also get a deeper appreciation for yourself and your ability to overcome great obstacles. Thankfully, the US has a lot of great rock climbing destinations, and you should try them out soon.

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