Ten of the Best Sport Climbing Destinations Across the Nation

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 ParkSmith 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 couleeFrench­man 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 to be advised to climb at your own risk.

hoseshoe canyonHorse­shoe 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.

new river gorgeRed 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 & Miguel’s 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 gorgeNew 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 rockRed 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.