Maybe you were inspired by Free Solo. Or maybe you’ve joined a local climbing gym. Or your friends are trying it out, so why not?
There’s always a gateway that gets people excited to try rock climbing. And we all have to start somewhere. So if you’ve been bitten (or scraped?) by the rock climbing bug, grab your climbing shoes, chalk bag, and your sense of adventure.
Here are our favorite places to try rock climbing around the United States so you can get your hands (and feet) connected to real rock this season.
1. Red River Gorge, Kentucky
If you’ve been around seasoned climbers, you’ve probably heard mention of “The Gorge.” Mainly located within the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Red River Gorge is consistently ranked among the top destinations in the world for climbers. This geological marvel has been a climbing destination for decades and continues to attract climbers from all over the world. The area contains the highest concentration of natural sandstone arches east of the Rocky Mountains: perfect photo opportunities for “The Gram” and tryly gorgeous visuals to add to your memory bank. Affectionately called “The Red,” the region provides climbers of all levels the opportunity to experience some of the best rock climbing that the east coast has to offer. With over 1,500 routes located within the gorge, the hardened sandstone cliffs can be climbed in single-pitch routes. Heads up: Due to its popularity, weekends during the warmer months can get crowded.
2. Rumney, New Hampshire
Known as one of the premier climbing destinations in New England. Located in southern New Hampshire, this world-class crag is considered one of the best sport climbing sites in the Northeast.
Comprised of schist—a type of metamorphic rock– the mountainside cliffs of Rumney are spread across the slopes of Rattlesnake Mountain. The rock gives the rock a uniquely grainy quality. The area provides opportunities for all levels of climbers from beginner to expert. The Baker River flows below the cliffs for a perfect camping location for your climbing adventure. Once a sleepy climbing destination, the area is now one of the most popular in the Northeast and can be heavily populated one weekends and holidays.
3. Joshua Tree National Park, California
The otherworldly landscape of Joshua Tree National Park make it an iconic destination for climbers, backpackers, and campers. Located in the high desert region of California, the mild winter temperatures make it ideal for year-round climbing.
The park’s namesake, the Joshua Tree, is a member of the Agave family. This paired with the other unique, high desert plants and rock formations give the landscape a surreal look. It will feel as if you stepped into another world.
There are literally thousands of routes comprised of hard granite within the park with something for climbers of all levels. Some campsites within the park provide easy access to climbing routes, which can be seen straight from your tent. And the bouldering options are endless.
4. New River Gorge, West Virginia
People come to the wild and wonderful state to experience world-class activities including: white water rafting, mountain biking, and rock climbing. While the mountain state has no shortage of climbing opportunities, many climbers flock to the tiny town of Fayetteville to climb in the shadow of the iconic New River Gorge Bridge: the longest single-span arch bridge in the western hemisphere, while overlooking the New River. Despite its name, the New River is actually one of the world’s oldest rivers. Ironic, huh?
There are over 1,400 established routes located within the 63,000 acres of the New River Gorge National River. The cliffs are comprised of very hard sandstone and routes can range from 30 to 120 feet in height. While year-round climbing is possible, spring and fall are typically the best times for experiencing the ‘New’. Endless Wall is a popular climbing spot in the gorge and is easily accessible by a short hike from the trailhead.
5. Acadia National Park, Maine
Unlike other destinations on this list, most don’t come to Acadia National Park for climbing. Visitors come to the the park for its unique rocky coastline, granite peaks, and Cadillac Mountain, one of the few places Maine claims that the sun first shines each day in the United States.
But don’t underestimate this park, which provides a unique and unprecedented climbing experience in the United States. Otter Cliff and Great Head both provide sea cliff climbing, a whole different type of adventure that begins right as you rappel down to the water’s edge before climbing back up the cliff face. Climbing at both are weather and tide-dependent. The park service maintains anchor points topside but it is always advisable to check prior to climbing. Other opportunities exist within the park that are unaffected by the tides.
Along with climbing routes for all levels of climbers, there are also good bouldering options available here. Thanks to Maine’s extreme winters, climbing is limited to three seasons each year, primarily May until late September.
Clay Abney is freelance writer living in the wild and wonderful state of West Virginia, where he spends his days trail running, mountain biking, kayaking, and traveling as often as possible. At 49 (the new 29), he still competes in multi-day adventure races, loves abusing gear, and traveling to remote off the grid locations around the globe.