Sport climbing routes are available for every level of rock climber to throw on the harness and practice their skills. While rock climbing meccas like Joshua Tree and Yosemite National Park are always a good bet, it might be worth the chalk in your bag to check out some alternative locations with plenty of sport climbing routes available.
Smith Rock—Terrebonne, Oregon
Located in the high desert of central Oregon, Smith Rock State Park stands proudly against the landscape as one of the Nation’s top rock climbing destinations. Comprised of basalt spires and volcanic-created tuff cliff sides, it’s easy to spot the prominent rock features of this State Park, almost as easy as it is to see the legions of climbers traveling from nearby Portland and beyond. Smith Rock is a popular place; with over 1,000 bolted routes ranging from step ladders to finger-cramping cracks, there are a lot of routes to choose from. Overnight camping is allowed where permitted in Smith Rock State Park, making this fabled sport climbing spot perfect for a long holiday.
City of Rocks National Reserve—Malta, Idaho
Located just across the Utah border in Southern Idaho, City of Rocks National Reserve has gone by many different names over the years, and today stands as a climbing mecca in an otherwise rural part of Idaho. With over 200 bolted, sport routes to choose from, and just as many trad options, it’s no wonder that these majestic granite pinnacles, fins, and domes have garnished a lot of attention, including some early pioneers who noted the features as their wagon-trains passed by the prominent peaks in the 19th century. For even more climbing options, the nearby Castle Rocks State Park also has plenty to offer for every level of climber.
Frenchman Coulee—Quincy, Washington
Sometimes referred to as “Vantage”, and located just down the road from the Gorge Amphitheater in George, the Frenchman Coulee is one of the top winter rock-climbing destinations in the nation. Featuring large columns of basalt that stick out of the earth, it’s definitely a sight to behold. The unique landscape of the Frenchmen Coulee is located in the high desert of Eastern Washington, making for some soaring summer temperatures but the perfect conditions for colder months and the shoulder seasons.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial—Keystone, South Dakota
While some might associate Mount Rushmore with the gigantic four faces carved into the rock, climbers also know this area as a quality place to find some sport climbing. There are over 200 bolted routes available on the granite cliffs, plus an additional 150 recognized trad routes, all with a median rating of 5.10. Not only is the area encompassed by the Mount Rushmore National Memorial stacked with sport climbing, but the surrounding Black Hills area including the Needles in Custer State Park is great for trad climbing, and the nearby bouldering mecca surrounding Mount Baldy is great for ropeless adventures, thought be advised to climb at your own risk.
Horseshoe Canyon Ranch—Jasper, Arkansas
Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Arkansas has a lot going for it. Not only are there over 300 bolted routes to be found on this privately owned dude ranch, making the sandstone cliffs some of “the best climbing east of the Rockies”, but the 4-star dude ranch itself makes this sport-climbing site one of the best in the nation. With routes ranging from 5.5–5.14, and plenty of trad options, there is enough climbing at Horseshoe Canyon Dude Ranch for any level of climber, and with overnight options ranging from $5 campsites to fully furnished cabins, there are also accommodations for every type of outdoor enthusiast.
Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon—Utah
Both the Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon are less than a half-hour drive from Salt Lake City, and both spots cater towards all types of climbing. While you can find plenty of trad routes and bouldering projects to work on, many climbers utilize the hundreds of different bolted routes found throughout the canyons. While the weekends can be a busy time to hop on the wall, with so many routes to choose from, not to mention all the access to other activities including biking, hiking, and skiing in the winter, it should be no trouble at all finding your own personal mecca within the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons of Utah.
Red River Gorge—Stanton, Kentucky
Not only is the Red River Gorge in Central Kentucky a sport climber’s dream come true, with 1,000+ bolted routes, sandstone cliffs & Miguels Pizza, but this prominent and popular climbing area is also a textbook example of climbers who step up to save the crag. When special interest groups and the Forest Service jeopardized access to climbing in the Red River Gorge, the grassroots Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition (RRGCC) was formed to keep the land within the climbing community. Since 1992, the RRGCC has purchased over 1,000 acres within the gorge, ensuring access for generations of climbers to come.
New River Gorge—Fayetteville, West Virginia
With over 3,000 bolted routes to choose from, the greater New River Gorge, including with it the New River Gorge National River, has enough routes for any climber to explore the rest of their life. It might just take that long to hit all those routes too, because the New River Gorge isn’t exactly a beginner’s paradise, with the bottom level of difficulty sitting around 5.9 or 5.10. With miles of amazing hiking trails, seasonal opportunities for kayaking and rafting, and not to mention all the fun there is to be had in the adventure town of Fayetteville, there is definitely something for everyone at the New River Gorge.
Rifle Mountain Park—Rifle, Colorado
One of the biggest concentrations of hard routes anywhere in the U.S. is located in the city-owned Rifle Mountain Park in Rifle, Colorado. With the base difficulty somewhere around 5.11 or 5.11a, Rifle Mountain isn’t exactly the best place to take beginners; but if you’ve spent your time pumping away on handholds and technique, then you are already probably aware of the slopey, limestone slabs at Rifle Mountain Park. For details on the 300 different routes available at Rifle Mountain Park, the Rifle Climber’s Coalition has a lot of good information available, including the easy-to-follow guidelines for being a good climbing ambassador on your next visit to Rifle Mountain.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area—Nevada
Located in the Mojave Desert, mid-summer is not necessarily a popular time to climb Red Rocks Canyon in Nevada. Come shoulder season and throughout the winter however, and this National Conservation Area blossoms with world-traveling rock climbers on its steep sandstone walls. With every difficulty of route found throughout the extensive guidebooks of Red Rock Canyon, and over 700 protected, sport-climbing routes to choose from, there’s something for everyone. Be sure to read up on the access and parking situation dealing with the 13-mile scenic drive that leads into the canyon, and always remember the desert can be a harsh environment, but with the proper planning, Red Rock Canyon could be the best climbing trip you have ever taken.