Photo: Rosemary Woller

The 7 Best Places to Climb in Winter

When cold temps shut down crags elsewhere, these seven U.S. hot spots are just getting good.

Ready to hang up your rope and crash pads for winter? Not so fast. The fourth season brings some of the nation’s most classic climbing destinations into their prime. Head to these seven hot spots (pun intended) for perfect temperatures, quality rock, and world-class routes all winter long. 

Moab - Utah 

On a summer afternoon in Moab, a major climbing epicenter about four hours south of Salt Lake City, most of the walls are too hot to touch. But come winter, daytime temperatures hover in the 40s and 50s—peak conditions for many of the best climbs. Here, there’s something for everyone: Head to Wall Street for easy access, roadside cragging (and the area’s biggest concentration of bolted lines), Indian Creek for world-class crack climbing, and the Fisher Towers area to bag enormous freestanding pillars, many of which are several pitches high. To refuel, stop at Milt’s Stop & Eat for burgers, tater tots, and classic diner fare. During the winter, all campsites on the BLM land surrounding Moab are first-come, first-served.  Pro tip: No matter where you go, be sure to avoid stepping on cryptobiotic soil, a fragile black crust that helps the desert retain moisture. Also be careful to pack out all waste (even the human kind), as the climate is too arid to decompose much refuse.

Sinks Canyon - Wyoming  

Classic Sinks experience: Stomp through snow to the crag, climb all day in a tank top. While Wyoming isn’t generally a snowbird’s first choice, this pocketed limestone sport-climbing wonderland—located just outside Lander at the foot of the Wind River Range—is unique. Because most of the climbable walls face dead south, they get full sun all day in the winter and hold onto heat like a cast-iron pan. Better yet? Camping at the Sinks Canyon Campground is free from mid-September to late May. Just be sure to pack a warm sleeping bag—winter nights in Wyoming are notoriously cold. 

Joshua Tree National Park - California 

Located just two hours east of Los Angeles, J-Tree is one of California’s most beloved national parks, especially among climbers. In fact, the land of iconic bristle-topped Joshua Trees is where many of the Stonemasters—the first generation of groundbreaking Yosemite Valley climbers—cut their teeth. The textured monzogranite makes for high-friction climbing, and boulderers and trad climbers alike will find thousands of routes to entertain. (There are sport climbs, too, albeit slightly fewer.) Word to the wise: Joshua Tree gets busy when the weather’s nice, so avoid holidays like Thanksgiving and Easter. Instead, choose chilly weekdays—you’ll find ideal conditions for climbing and maybe even get a wall to yourself. Also be sure to reserve camping early. There are over 500 reservable sites within the park, but the good ones can book up fast. 

Photo: Jonathan Finch/TandemStock

Red River Gorge - Kentucky 

Fondly known as the Red, this Louisville-area crag is famous for its perfect sandstone, steep walls, and holds big enough to make a grown man cry. While it’s considered a sport-climbing mecca, the Red River Gorge is also home to hundreds of classic trad routes and more than a few high-quality boulders. Visit in late fall for highs in the 50s, or come later in the season and stick to sunnier walls like the aptly named Solarium. When you’ve had enough climbing, complete your trip with a hot pie from the famous Miguel’s Pizza. (There’s camping available at Miguel’s, as well as a handful of other campgrounds within a 15-minute drive.) 

Red Rock Canyon State Park - Nevada 

While Red Rock has its fair share of tough routes, it’s most famous for its long, moderate trad climbs (think six pitches of the most fun, most consistent 5.6 climbing you’ve ever done). Add that to easy access from the Las Vegas airport and easy camping at the Red Rock Canyon Campground, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a fun winter romp at any ability level. Just as you would at any of America’s most treasured climbing destinations, be sure to treat Red Rock with respect: Pack all waste out of the sensitive desert environment and keep an eye on the rain gauge; climbing even slightly damp rock can damage the fragile sandstone. 

Shelf Road - Colorado

With thousands of routes, generous bolting, and enough pockets and edges to make any sport climber giddy, Shelf Road is basically Colorado’s favorite outdoor gym. It’s an easy drive, too—just an hour from Colorado Springs. The bigger walls, like Cactus Cliff and Spiney Ridge, get sun early and hold warmth for much of the day. You’ll find well-cared for camping accommodations (reserve in advance) close to the good climbing. Just be sure to pack your own firewood and a warm sleeping bag: At almost 7,000 feet in elevation, Shelf gets pretty chilly on winter evenings.  

Chattanooga - Tennessee 

Chattanooga is as famous for its humidity as is for its climbing—which is why winter is the perfect time to visit. Come fall, the temperatures drop, leaving high-friction conditions that bring climbers flocking from all over the country. Stay at The Crash Pad, Chatty’s climber-friendly hostel, or snag a first-come, first-served site in Prentice Cooper State Forest. Then head to sunny walls, like the trad-heavy Tennessee Wall, which hold warmth well into the season. You’ll also find world-class bouldering at Stone Fort and a handful of sport crags in the immediate area. The only issue? With a lifetime of climbing at your fingertips, it’ll be hard to choose what to try first.  

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.