6 rock-climbing destinations worth planning a vacation around
Travel and adventure often go hand-in-hand: Sports and activities like hiking, scuba diving and rock climbing give you the chance to experience and immerse yourself in destinations in a truly memorable way. With rock climbing specifically, you can challenge yourself, become one with nature and take in incredible views all at once — and you can do so all over the world. Ahead, six spots to add to your list.
Estes Park, Colorado
For Dale Remsberg, technical director with the American Mountain Guides Association, the Front Range mountain range in Colorado is a dream climbing destination, regardless of experience level. “The Front Range has it all, from single-pitch beginner rock climbing to high end multi-pitch adventure routes,” he said. “One of the things that makes the Front Range so special is the proximity of high quality rock to excellent lodging and dining, making it a must-do destination for beginner and experienced rock climbers alike.” If you want to post up in one town, he recommended Estes Park, “which offers traditional climbing around town, as well as amazing alpine routes in Rocky Mountain National Park,” as one of his top picks (Boulder is another).
But you could also make a big trip out of climbing throughout Colorado. “In addition to the Front Range, if you add a little time and explore the entire state; you will be rewarded with famous climbing areas such as Rifle [and] Shelf Road,” he said. “Colorado has it all and it’s no wonder that people travel from all over the world to check out our climbing.”
Abella de la Conca, Spain
If you’re a serious climber, Joey Holmes, editor of Cool of the Wild, recommended a visit to Oliana, Spain. “Made famous in the climbing world by [climber] Chris Sharma’s long-term project route, La Dura Dura, the crag is arguably one of the best in the world for sport climbing,” Holmes said.
But if you’re a beginner climber or are just looking for something a bit more recreational, Holmes’s top recommendation is a different Spanish spot: Abella de la Conca. “The routes have easy approaches, are very well bolted (no scary first bolts to overcome) and the scenery is rather spectacular, too,” she said.
The “tiny village” (as Holmes described it) is a two-hour drive from Barcelona, but you can hole up there for a few climbing-centric days. “There’s nothing there other than superb climbing and the Abella Eco-Refugi,” Holmes said. “This is hugely popular with climbers for the hearty, home-cooked vegetarian food, a sustainable approach to how they operate and easy access on foot to around 200 sport climbing routes. The area is also great for hikers and bikers and provides the perfect backdrop to a fully immersive climbing experience where you can completely detach from the outside world.”
Mount Lemmon, Arizona
For Becca Foss, an outdoor guide and the adventure mastermind at adventure travel company Explorer Chick, Mount Lemmon is a hidden gem that’s definitely worth adding to the bucket list. While it’s “dwarfed in popularity” by sites like Red River Gorge, among others, “Mount Lemmon offers over 2,500 routes ranging from stout sport lines to moderate trad multi-pitch routes,” Foss said. “Any climber will be in paradise with a wide range of routes for beginner, intermediate and advanced climbers. The best aspect about Mount Lemmon is the year-round access. Nested just outside Tucson in the Santa Catalina Mountains, climbers can drive up the Mt. Lemmon Highway and climb at elevations ranging from 2,400 feet to 9,159 feet depending on the time of year.”
Railay Beach, Thailand
Railay Beach is a true paradise in southern Thailand (though it’s part of the mainland, the remote beach is accessible only by boat), and its geography makes it a perfect place for a combo trip of climbing and R&R. “The small peninsula...boasts challenging rock formations amongst breathtaking scenery,” said Ollie Smith, an avid rock climber. “These dramatic limestone cliffs, which hang over a sparkling blue sea…[are] a climber’s paradise. The area offers thousands of routes from extremely demanding to more secure bolted passes.” And when you need a break from climbing, you can relax in the soft sand and cool off in the warm (and gorgeous) waters of the Andaman Sea.
In the south, the tiny community of Slade attracts thousands of climbers every year who come to experience the Red River Gorge. “The Red River Gorge (or simply ‘the Red’ in climbing circles) is one of the country’s most popular climbing destinations,” said Alex Beale, owner and editor of the outdoor gear site 99Boulders. “It has easy access to hundreds of routes for climbers of all ability levels. Plus, for a few bucks a night you can camp at the campgrounds at Miguel’s Pizza, a climbing institution and the center of climbing social life at the Red.”
“In Cheyenne, you’re only 45 minutes away from thousands of climbing spots ranging from beginner to advanced levels at [the climbing area], Vedauwoo,” said Nate Davidson, a former climbing guide. “All the lakes and great country surrounding this...climbing spot make for incredible views when you make it to the top of your climb. There are a ton of great campsites all over the forest near the best areas for climbing, too, most of which don’t even require a campsite fee to stay.” As Davidson noted, Vedauwoo offers “tough crack climbs” perfect for advanced climbers, while beginners can do some advanced research to find simpler routes. He recommended planning ahead with the Mountain Project app or by checking out books about climbing Vedauwoo, such as Heel and Toe and The Voo.
And if you want to fill out your itinerary with other activities, he added, “there’s also a lot to do in Cheyenne. Flippers [Family Arcade]...and the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, which is the only public botanic garden in Wyoming, shouldn’t be missed during a visit.”