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10 Thrilling Rock Climbing Destinations

By Kristi Bray, Recreation.gov

A young climber makes her way up Pine Line in Yosemite National Park. (Alyssa Erickson, Share the Experience)
A young climber makes her way up "Pine Line" in Yosemite National Park. (Alyssa Erickson, Share the Experience)

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.

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Arizona

Jack's Canyon, Coconino National Forest

Coconino National Forest (Rebecca Wilks, Share the Experience)
A possible addition to your climbing adventure might include a stop at the nearby Mogollon Rim -- pictured here at first light. (Rebecca Wilks, Share the Experience)

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.

California

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park (Sierra White, Share the Experience)
On approach to climbing and bouldering in Joshua Tree National Park. (Sierra White, 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.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Leading the second pitch on a climb in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. (Matthew Davis, Share the Experience)
Leading the second pitch on a climb in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. (Matthew Davis, Share the Experience)

The world-class climbing at Yosemite National Park is complemented by the dramatic geology of its southerly neighbor Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. 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 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.

Kentucky

Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest

Daniel Boone National Forest (Billy Simek, Share the Experience)
Friends explore and climb at Red River Gorge. (Billy Simek, Share the Experience)

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.

Maine

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park (Ed Silver, Share the Experience)
Climbers on Otter Cliff, Acadia National Park. (Ed Silver, 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.

Maryland

Catoctin Mountain Park

Catoctin Mountain Park (Erik Goodman, Share the Experience)
Sunset from the top of Wolf Rock, Catoctin Mountain Park. (Erik Goodman, Share the Experience)

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.

Tennessee

Obed Wild and Scenic River

Obed Wild and Scenic River (Ralph Troutman, Share the Experience)
Obed Wild and Scenic River (Ralph Troutman, Share the Experience)

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 climbing routes the Obed offers, including more than a dozen sandstone rock boulders to scale in the park’s Boulder Field.

West Virginia

Seneca Rocks, Monongahela National Forest

Monongahela National Forest (Jeffrey Davis, Share the Experience)
Walking the ridge of the South Peak, Seneca Rocks. (Jeffrey Davis, Share the Experience)

Jutting up through the scenic forest of West Virginia is 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.

New River Gorge National River

New River Gorge National River (Michael DeSocio, Share the Experience)
Climbing a rock face at the New. (Michael Desocio, Share the Experience)

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.

Wyoming

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument (Ben Pelta-Heller, Share the Experience)
Climbing the immense Devils Tower. (Ben Pelta-Heller, Share the Experience)

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 climber 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.

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