The Best Outdoor Rock Climbing and Bouldering Places in the United States
Some of the best rock climbing destinations are often in regions with freezing winters and oven-like summers; think of our testing grounds of Colorado or Nevada. That means the best times to climb these places are in the spring when things are warming up and the fall when things are cooling down. Although these two seasons are both ideal times to go climbing in these areas, the similarities mostly stop there.
With its longer days, abundant new life, and extra-fresh air, the spring season makes for a special climbing experience at some of the nation’s best rock climbing and bouldering destinations. To make choosing your next climbing destination easier, take a look below at our list of the best outdoor rock climbing destinations in the United States during the spring season:
Essential Rock Climbing Gear List
Whether you’re looking to boulder, clip bolts, or plug cams, you’ll need basic rock climbing essentials to make sure you’re prepared for anything. Here’s a quick list of what you should bring with you:
- Climbing Shoes
- Belay Device
- Layers of Clothing
- Climbing Protection
Rock Climbing Grades Explained
After you’ve nailed down all of your gear, you’re ready to pick your destination. You should take into account the type of climbing you prefer (bouldering, sport climbing, trad, etc.), your skill level, and the difficulty of the terrain. The difficulty of a climb is referred to as a climbing grade and are ranked using the Yosemite Decimal System on a scale of 1 (hiking on trails) to 5 (technical rock climbing), with up to 15 different sub-grades dedicated to the technical rock climbing level. Here’s a breakdown of each level:
- Class 1: Hiking
- Class 2: Scrambling with possible use of hands
- Class 3: Scrambling with possible use of a rope
- Class 4: Simple climbing, usually with a rope
- Class 5: Serious climbing with the use of a rope, belaying and protection
- 5.0-5.7: For novice climbers
- 5.8-5.9: For experienced climbers with special skills
- 5.10: For advanced climbers
- 5.11-5.15: For expert climbers with extensive training only
Best Outdoor Rock Climbing Places in Spring
Climbing grades can vary in accuracy due to many different factors, so they should certainly not be your only selling point when choosing a rock climbing destination. For example, you could regularly and comfortably ascend a route with a rating of 5.7, but depending on the part of the country and age of the grade, a similarly rated climb could be much more difficult than what you are used to.
Because of this, it is important to take into account local knowledge and other online information before picking a location while making sure to warm up on the easy routes of a new area until you get a feel for the local grading. Here’s our selection of the best climbing and bouldering places in the US for the spring season:
Indian Creek - Utah
“The Creek” is home to more than 1,250 climbs with a majority of them being traditional. According to Climbing, the area’s grades should be taken with a large grain of salt as they were established based on hand size. “If you have smaller hands, you’ll find the 5.11s much easier than the 5.10s, vice versa for larger hands—many people dislike Indian Creek because it’s so size-dependent.” There’s such a vast array of cracks available though, it won’t be hard to find a route that works for you. When planning a trip to the Indian Creek climbing area, use this guide to get the most of your climb.
Rocky Mountain National Park - Colorado
With more than 265,000 acres to explore, Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of different walls and crags for you to try your hand at scaling. Whether you’re into sport climbing, trad, or bouldering, you’ll definitely find a route that you like. The area between Estes Park and Grand Lake has some of the best climbing in the region and a wide selection of guides and tour outfits for those that are less experienced.
The spring season in Rocky Mountain National Park brings with it an overwhelming amount of life, beauty, and stunning scenery. You’ll also encounter snow in shaded areas of trails until the early summer months due to higher elevations and cooler temperatures. Lastly, with an average elevation of 7,800 feet, you’ll want to know the symptoms of altitude sickness and higher altitude effects on the body.
City of Rocks National Reserve - Idaho
Known as the “Silent City,” the City of Rocks in Idaho is famous for its many massive, free-standing rocks resembling large buildings and as a popular passage for pioneers moving west along the California Trail in the mid to late 1800s. Today, the City of Rocks is known for its world-class technical climbing options including more than 500 established routes throughout the area.
On top of the almost endless trad and bouldering options, the numerous granite domes, wings, and pinnacles offer more than 200 bolted routes to choose from. Better yet, the spring season brings this majestic valley to life with blooming wildflowers, migrating birds, and camping groups of climbers eagerly awaiting their turn to ascend this city’s towering “buildings.”
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area - Nevada
Nevada rock climbing calls for a pit stop in nearby Las Vegas for a little fun. After you get your fill of gambling and partying, take the 17-mile drive out to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area for some of the nation’s best rock climbing and bouldering. As the name suggests, climbing in Red Rock Canyon allows you to experience beautiful, red sandstone that was, and continues to be, shaped by millions of years of wind and rain to become a climber's wet dream.
Upon your arrival at Red Rock Canyon, you’ll find more than 2,000 different routes, 700 of which are protected sport climbs. While it's possible to explore this area year-round, Red Rock Canyon’s location in the Mojave Desert makes the spring season ideal with average temperatures in the mid-70s during the day.
Yosemite National Park - California
This list certainly wouldn’t be complete without California’s Yosemite National Park. Although its fair climate makes Yosemite’s famous cliffs and rock formations climbable year-round, the spring season adds an unmatched level of beauty. Spring brings powerful waterfalls and rivers, blooming flowers, crisp, fresh air, an abundance of wildlife, and smaller crowds as an added bonus.
Yosemite rock climbing is often referred to as the best climbing in the United States. With almost 1,200 square miles to explore, you’ll find everything from strenuous multi-day ascents to world-class crack climbs and intermediate single-pitch climbs so you can easily try something new or stick with what you know. The El Capitan Yosemite climb is the ultimate multi-day climbing goal for many climbers in the area.
Whether you’re trying to push yourself past single-pitch climbs or you’re looking to deploy your bivouac on a challenging multi-day ascent, the climbing destinations listed above offer everything you need to have a memorable trip. Just make sure to pack all of the rock climbing essentials and do your research before heading out to get the most out of your trip. Also, check out our selection of men’s and women’s climbing apparel for ultimate comfort when scaling even the most technical pitch.