The Ultimate Cross-Country Climber Road Trip

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Yosemite is an iconic destination that should be on every climber’s list.

America’s love affair with the road trip began to blossom in the late 1930s. As the network of interstate highways expanded (like the iconic Route 66), and vehicles became better suited for leisurely travel, more and more people started packing up their cars or vans and hitting the open road.

Just a decade later, America’s rock climbing scene began to explode with historic ascents of big walls in Yosemite Valley. Many of these prolific ascensionists were vehemently straddling the thin line between societal living and nomadic vagabonding, but some of them had cars. It was only a matter of time before the original dirtbags combined the two pastimes, launching an epic adventure that is now a rite of passage for any climber in the United States.

With so many amazing crags spread throughout America, it can definitely be a daunting task to plan such a trip. We’ve identified 11 must-visit destinations to guide your route, so grab your gear, pack up the van, and prepare to hit the road with our crucial beta for the ultimate east-to-west climbing road trip.

The Gunks

New York

Routes at the Gunks are known for their stout grades, so be prepared for a slice of humble pie.
Routes at the Gunks are known for their stout grades, so be prepared for a slice of humble pie.

G B

Kick off your epic tour with a salute to the original trad masters by plugging gear in New York’s storied Shawangunks. The quartz conglomerate of the Gunks features horizontal cracks and steep, airy climbing that will make you question your decisions as you pull that 5.6 roof. Famous for its moderate single- and multi-pitch classics and infamous for its notoriously stiff grading, a stop at the Gunks is requirement for all climbers (yes, even boulderers!).

The Classics:

High Exposure (5.6)

Son of Easy O (5.8)

Bonnie’s Roof (5.9)

Directississima (5.10b)

The Yellow Wall (5.11c PG13)

Suzie A (V1)

The Gill Egg (V4)

The Buddha (V7)

New Pair of Glasses (V7)

New River Gorge

West Virginia

The NRG area has enough routes to project for a lifetime.
The NRG area has enough routes to project for a lifetime.

Dylan Jones

Make your way down to wild and wonderful West Virginia and sample the bullet-hard Nuttall sandstone of the New River Gorge. With features like splitter cracks, tiered roofs, technical faces, and screaming slopers—all in a brilliant array of colors—the New boasts stellar trad and sport lines. Moderate climbers will find plenty to do, but if you climb 5.11 and up, you’ll have a field day here. U.S. Climbing Team and Youth National Champion Bimini Horstmann is a fan of the "beautiful white rock with almost the gym-like hold sequences." With more than 3,000 routes from 5.6 to 5.14 between the New River Gorge, Meadow River Gorge, and Summersville Lake, you may never make it past the Ohio River. “A day at Summersville Lake is a truly unique climbing day that I haven't experienced anywhere else,” Horstmann says. “You can get on routes all day as if you were in the gym, and there's a beautiful lake right next to you, which is so much fun to jump in.”

The Classics:

Four Sheets to the Wind (5.9+)

Strike a Scowl (5.10b)

Legacy (5.11a)

Leave it to Jesus (5.11c)

Freaky Stylee (5.12a)

Apollo Reed (5.13a)

Red River Gorge

*Kentucky *

Rehash the day’s sends with the rest of the climbing community at Miguel’s Pizza.
Rehash the day’s sends with the rest of the climbing community at Miguel’s Pizza.

David Sorich

Ready for the thuggiest, steepest, and pumpiest climbing east of the Mississippi? Then it’s time to get lucky in Kentucky. With seemingly endless crags spread throughout its winding network of box canyons and intimidating amphitheaters, the Red attracts the world’s strongest climbers looking to test their endurance. While there is plenty of trad in the North Gorge to entice those with a rack, the epic steeps of the South Gorge are prime territory for clipping bolts. Test your endurance on 45-degree walls up to 120 feet, then go refuel your blown forearms with a pie at Miguel’s Pizza.

The Classics:

Rock Wars (5.10a)

Breakfast Burrito (5.10d)

Amarillo Sunset (5.11b)

Twinkie (5.12a)

Jesus Wept (5.12d)

Table of Colors (5.13a)

Chattanooga

Tennessee

If you are psyched on pulling on sandstone, Chattanooga is the place to go.
    Jake Wheeler
If you are psyched on pulling on sandstone, Chattanooga is the place to go.
Jake Wheeler

If the southeast is a sandstone kingdom, Chattanooga is its Mecca. The jump-off point for any Dixie cragger, this modern city is quickly becoming a permanent home for sandstone lovers of all skill levels. You’ll experience the trifecta of bouldering at Stone Fort, steep sport climbing in the Obed River, and unforgettable trad on The Tennessee Wall. Just be sure to bring some skin salve—all that sandstone is bound to push your tips to their limits.

The Classics:

Stone Fort

Crack of Doom (V4)

El Camino (V5)

Deception (V7)

Obed

Tarantella (5.10a)

Whipper Snapper (5.11a)

Tieranny (5.12a)

T-Wall

Open Casket (5.9)

Stepping Stone (5.10 a/b)

Sugar in the Raw (5.11a)

Horseshoe Canyon Ranch

Arkansas

HCR has a solid range of difficulties from 5.5 to 5.14a.
HCR has a solid range of difficulties from 5.5 to 5.14a.

Emily Camp

Get one final sandstone fix before you make the trek across the Plains toward the promised land of Colorado. Sport and trad classics await the hungry road tripper, set among the beauty of Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains. Home to the famous 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell endurance climbing extravaganza, HCR’s lineup of routes (and about a hundred boulder problems) will keep you climbing from dawn to dusk. With plenty of options for climbers at any grade, the thing to do at HCR is tick as many classics as you can (but you may want to take a break to sleep at night).

The Classics:

Commodus (5.10b)

Crimp Scampi 5.10 c/d)

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades (5.11a)

Boroncus (5.11b/c)

Maximus (5.12a)

Cradle of the Deep (5.13a)

Old English (V3)

Warbonnet (V5)

Kung Fu (V8)

Rocky Mountain National Park

*Colorado *

Endo Valley is one of the many bouldering areas within Rocky Mountain National Park.
    Eric Lang
Endo Valley is one of the many bouldering areas within Rocky Mountain National Park.
Eric Lang

Congratulations—you’ve survived drive across the Great Plains, and now it’s time to get Rocky Mountain High in Colorful Colorado. While there are a myriad of climbing options in the Front Range, you’ll go big at Rocky Mountain National Park. "Rocky Mountain is the place to put everything together, you’ll use every trick in the book," says alpinist and Colorado-based teacher Jon Bernhard.

To flourish (and survive) the alpine classics in RMNP, knowledge of mountain weather, navigation, ascent, and escape planning are a must. "I think for me personally, the whole part about a road trip is to walk the footsteps of the history makers of climbing," Bernhard says. “There are so many ascents here that were done by the visionaries of the sport 50 years ago. That part of that journey—walking in the footsteps of and climbing the routes of history. That’s what climbing is about.”

The Classics:

Northeast Ridge (5.6)

Casual Route (5.10a)

Pervertical Sanctuary (5.11a)

Ariana (5.12a)

Autobot (V5-)

The Kind (V5)

Skipper D (V8)

Whispers of Wisdom (V10)

Joe’s Valley

Utah

The Angler is only V2, but its height and the water below makes it a proud send for beginner-level climbers.
The Angler is only V2, but its height and the water below makes it a proud send for beginner-level climbers.

Owen Summerscales

Give your ropes and lungs a rest, grab a sixer of some 3.2, and kick back for a Utah bouldering vacation. Joe’s Valley is world-famous for its highly-featured and skin-friendly sandstone boulders, and approaches of about five minutes give a laid-back feel to your sends. With dry desert weather and bouldering areas facing different directions, year-round climbing in Joe’s is totally possible. Free camping in the Manti-La Sal National Forest makes it dirt-bag friendly, too. Boulder problems from V0 to V13 provide enough projects to keep everyone in your crew busy.

The Classics:

The Angler (V2)

Self Service (V4)

Frosted Flakes (V5)

Planet of the Apes (V6+)

Jitterbug Perfume (V10)

Black Lung (V13)

Bishop

California

The Happies are known for having an abundance of problems with finger pockets.
    hoto courtesy of Gramicci/Drew Smith
The Happies are known for having an abundance of problems with finger pockets.
hoto courtesy of Gramicci/Drew Smith

Situated in the heart of Owens Valley, the hip mountain town of Bishop is the gateway to adventure in the Eastern Sierras. Although the towering peaks of the surrounding alpine kingdom dominate the skyline to the east and west, the Bishop climbing experience is best known for its stellar bouldering and long roped routes in the Owens River Gorge. Stock up on crash pads and test your head on the highball granite erratics in Buttermilk Country, then go test your technique on the volcanic tuff at the Happy and Sad Boulders. After your skin grows back, tie in and enjoy some verticality on long single- and multi-pitch routes in the Owens River Gorge. The variety of scenic camping options in the Owens Valley is perfect for van lifers.

The Classics:

Buttermilks

The Hunk (V2)

King Tut (V3)

Iron Man Traverse (V4)

High Plains Drifter (V7)

Soul Slinger (V9)

Happy and Sad Boulders

Heavenly Path (V1)

Rio’s Secret Arete (V3)

Molly (V5)

Toxic Avenger (V9+)

Owens River Gorge

Gorgeous (5.10b)

Hardy Wallbanger (5.10c)

Pick Pokcet (5.11a)

Darshan (5.12b)

Looney Binge (5.12c)

Yosemite

California

The Yosemite Valley, and the old schoolers who climbed there, set the standard for modern rock climbing.
    Photo courtesy of Gramicci/Benjamin Ditto
The Yosemite Valley, and the old schoolers who climbed there, set the standard for modern rock climbing.
Photo courtesy of Gramicci/Benjamin Ditto

El Capitan. Camp 4. The Dawn Wall. Warren Harding. Tommy Caldwell. Alex Honnold. These names are synonymous with the birthplace of American rock climbing. The Valley is the pantheon of rock gods, and you’ll pay your respects to the monolithic deities when you ascend its epic walls. Steep, smooth granite trad climbing is the name of the game—you’ll need to be on point with your multi-pitch systems and jumaring technique.

You’ll understand why countless climbers have made the pilgrimage after topping out and gaining a commanding view of the the place that John Muir claimed was "the most grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter." Known for his impressive big wall ascents, Brad Gobright spent almost eight years of life in The Valley. “It’s considered to be the best rock climbing area on the planet, I’m just inspired by those huge walls,” he says. “It’s in the middle of California, the weather is amazing, and the climbs are easily accessible. On any given day you’ll meet people from all over the world. Because it’s carved by glaciers, the rock quality all the way to the top is perfect.”

The Classics:

Snake Dike (5.7R)

Nutcracker (5.8)

Salathe Wall (5.9 C2)

Astroman (5.11c)

Free Rider (5.12d PG13)

Once Upon a Time (V3) Cocaine Corner (V5)

Midnight Lightning (V8)

Smith Rock

Oregon

Smith Rock has been called the birthplace of American sport climbing.
Smith Rock has been called the birthplace of American sport climbing.

Eli Duke

The centerpiece of Oregon rock climbing, Smith has been the focus of the climbing world many a storied time. Smith was ground zero for the controversial sport climbing revolution of the 80s. Come see why lycra-clad crushers were so adamant to bolt the epic faces (including America’s first 5.14) of volcanic tuff and basalt that rise from the banks of the meandering Crooked River. With plenty of moderates and some of America’s hardest sport lines, Smith will keep you crossing the river until your mind goes crooked.

The Classics:

Zion (5.10 a/b)

Nine Gallon Buckets (5.10c)

Pure Palm (5.11a)

Dreamin’ (5.12a)

Chain Reaction (5.12c)

To Bolt or Not To Be (5.14a)

Leavenworth

Washington

Leavenworth has great climbing and is a super fun town, too.
Leavenworth has great climbing and is a super fun town, too.

Helen Cook

Trade in your lycra for some lederhosen and hoist a stein as you celebrate the final stop of your great American roadtrip in Leavenworth. Just like Bishop, Yosemite, and RMNP, Leavenworth boasts over a lifetime’s worth of routes split between hard bouldering, classic cragging, and alpine epics—but would you want to finish any other way?

"Leavenworth’s granite forms boulders of diverse styles, ranging from subtle and vertical to steep and thuggy, creating some of my favorite problems at almost every grade," says Pacific Northwest athlete Lisa Chulich. “The canyons are magical in the fall; we approach climbs through forests of aspen trees mixed in with massive golden maple leaves to end up on a plateau of proud, world class granite blocks. And the Bavarian-themed town is hilariously on point.”

The Classics:

Tumwater Canyon:

Royal Flush (V2)

Footless Traverse (V5)

Brass Balls (5.10b)

Rock n’ Rattle (5.11c)

Stevens Pass Motel (5.12a)

Icicle Creek:

The Rib (V4)

Mad Max (V7)

Outer Space (5.9)

The Warrior (5.10d)

Hyperspace (5.11a)

There you have it—an epic route that will get your tips sweating just thinking about it. You could easily spend a couple weeks in each place listed above, and depending on how much time you have, you could extend this trip to include all of the other places along the way, from Horse Pens 40 in Alabama to Rifle in Colorado to the City of Rocks in Idaho. But whether you tour the east coast, the west coast, or string the whole thing together, one thing’s for sure—it’s a trip you’ll never forget.

Originally written by RootsRated for Gramicci.

Featured image provided by Photo courtesy of Gramicci/Benjamin Ditto

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