Year-round climbers don’t let a little winter get in their way. Instead, they head for the ice and begin their vertical ascents. Alongside experience and knowledge, with a little assistance from crampons, ice axes and a strategically placed ice screw or two, ice climbing is a popular winter activity that keeps its patrons warm throughout the season. Across the colder part of the nation, both man-made and natural ice falls are waiting to be climbed, and whether you find yourself looking for ice climbing in New England, the Upper Midwest or the American West, you’ll find plenty of routes worth your winter attention.
Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, Colorado
When speaking about ice climbing in North America, Ouray Ice Park is always a part of the conversation. Featuring frozen waterfalls lining the Uncompahgre Gorge of the San Juan Mountains, Ouray earns the top spot with over 200 named routes, an abundance of guiding companies to show you the ropes and a community that has really come together to enjoy the adventure. Built by ice farmers and sprinklers each winter, Ouray is an ice-mecca thanks to collaborative efforts between the city, the Ouray Ice Park non-profit group and local landowners. One of the best ways to enjoy the Ouray Ice Park is the annual Ouray Ice Festival, which shines a spotlight on the friendly community that surrounds these ice walls.
Sandstone Ice Climbing Park, Sandstone, Minnesota
Just over an hour north of the Twin Cities along Interstate 35 en route to Duluth, Sandstone is a real hotspot for Midwesterners and beyond for ice climbing. Serving as Minnesota’s first farmed Ice Park, Sandstone Ice Climbing Park is situated within Robinson County Park and a former sandstone quarry. These dug-out canyon walls provide the perfect place to freeze with water, effectively creating an ice-climbing mecca in Minnesota. The season at Sandstone really kicks off each year with the Sandstone Ice Festival in January, and lends access to all abilities and interest levels throughout the winter.
Keystone Canyon, Valdez, Alaska
Situated on the southern shore of Alaska, surrounded by the Chugach National Forest to the east and Wrangell St. Elias National Park to the west, Valdez is a half-kept secret for adventure in Alaska. Located on the aptly named “Adventure Corridor” of Alaska, Valdez is home to a lot of alpine action, including some of the best ice climbing around. Of particular note, Keystone Canyon draws experienced climbers from around the world, offering deep-blue waterfall routes that require multiple pitches to climb. Much like everything in Alaska, Keystone Canyon takes the adventure to a whole new level, requiring dense logistics to get to the trailhead, a self-supported endeavor and a wilderness experience to always remember.
Frankenstein Cliff, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire
Among the many New Hampshire State Parks to visit this winter, Crawford Notch State Park should be on the top of the list. A picturesque destination set against the White Mountains, Crawford Notch provides cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and quality ice climbing. Featuring a wide-variety of ice routes for most skill levels, one of the more popular roadside spots to climb in Crawford Notch is Frankenstein Cliff. With easy access and multiple route options to sharpen your skills, every ice climber in the Northeast has heard tale of Frankenstein Cliff.
Provo Canyon, Wasatch Mountains, Utah
Besides providing a great setting for automobile touring, Highway 189 out of Provo, better known as the Provo Canyon Scenic Drive, also lends to a burgeoning selection of ice climbing routes. Regarded as some of the best ice climbing in Utah, Provo Canyon lends to roadside access and steep pitches, as well as a smattering of different gradings to develop new skills. An ambitious and impressive ascent to aim for at Provo Canyon is the Stairway to Heaven, a 10-pitch picturesque route you’ll have to work for.
Lake Willoughby, Willoughby State Forest, Vermont
The Northeast Highlands of Vermont are always a great winter getaway, and one of the best ways to enjoy the cold season is to climb high onto the ice of Mount Pisgah near the shores of Lake Willoughby. Located less than two hours north of Frankenstein Cliff and Crawford Notch State Park in New Hampshire, Lake Willoughby ice climbing is rated as more difficult, and can provide the right kind of challenge for experienced climbers. Longer approaches, harder ascents and more pitches, that’s the name of the game at Lake Willoughby, including one of the largest concentrations of difficult ice climbs in the nation.
Peabody Ice Climbing, Fenton, Michigan
Featuring two iced-over towers on a retired apple orchard, Peabody Ice Climbing provides a cool way to stay active this winter. Ideal for ice-climbers looking for training and practice, or beginners taking a first interest in the sport, the two eye-catching frozen towers at Peabody are also accompanied by a warming hut, gear rentals and a heated bunk house for overnight adventures. Throughout all seasons at Peabody Ice Climbing, ice climbers can continue to get some vert with the indoor dry-climbing wall and a simulated high-altitude workout chamber.