Climber chalks up on Saigon Direct, a classic boulder problem in the Buttermilks near Bishop, California.

The 6 Best Bouldering Destinations in America

Photo: Andrea K Laue/Tandemstock

Immerse yourself in local climbing culture and limitless lines at these six bouldering wonderlands.

A bouldering vacation should be on every climber’s wish list. For the trip of a lifetime, do it where everything comes together: high-quality stone, easy access, and stunning natural settings. The best spots are blessed with it all and have attracted climbers for decades—which means they’ve had decades to rack up top-notch routes. Today, each of these six epicenters is steeped in climbing lore and brimming with classic lines of all grades, making them perfect for boulderers of all experience levels.

1. Joe’s Valley, Orangeville, Utah

No matter your fitness level, time constraints, or your mood, you can’t go wrong with Joe’s. Short approaches, flat landings, finger-friendly holds, and wildly featured sandstone pretty much guarantee a good time. And with thousands of developed routes, climbers of all ability levels will find plenty to stay entertained. When you’re in town, be sure to give Orangeville some love, too: Cup of Joe’s serves up coffee and free Wi-Fi, and the Food Ranch offers groceries (and fresh doughnuts good enough to garner a cult following).

Season: Year-round

Camping: There are several primitive BLM campgrounds, as well as the paid Joes Valley Reservoir Campground.

Guidebook: An Insightful Guide to Joe’s Valley Bouldering by Isaac Caldiero

2.   Hueco Tanks, El Paso, Texas

This is the original U.S. bouldering hot spot. The “V Scale” used to grade boulders started here. While climbers have flocked to Hueco’s rippling, featured stone (called  syenite porphyry) since the 1950s, the place really started gaining international renown as a bouldering destination in the 1980s and 1990s, when legends like Fred Nicole and John “Vermin” Sherman (the inventor of the V Scale) brought American bouldering into the modern age. Today, the area is home to more than a thousand boulder problems. And the history here goes way farther back: Hueco’s rock walls feature precious Indigenous rock art that’s nearly a thousand years old. To protect these invaluable cultural resources—and the delicate desert environment—reservations and guides are required to access much of the park.

Season: Fall through spring

Camping: There are a few campsites within Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, but if you want the classic experience, grab digs at the famous Hueco Rock Ranch (open early November through mid-March.)

Guidebook: Hueco Tanks: The Essential Bouldering Guide by Jason Kehl and Matt Wilder

3. The Buttermilks, Bishop, California

Buttermilk Country lies at the feet of the mighty Sierra Nevada. From the air it must look like a game of bocce ball abandoned by giants. The boulders here, deposited by ancient glaciers, are enormous and feature hundreds of problems. The quartz monzonite blocks are now home to some of the most iconic lines in America. Nice perk: It’s only 8 miles from climber-friendly Bishop. Grab coffee at the Looney Bean or bargain sandwiches at Meat House before you head out.

Season: Fall and spring

Camping: There’s free dispersed camping on Forest Service land. (You’ll need a fire permit if you want a blaze in camp.)

Guidebook: Bishop Bouldering by Wills Young and Mick Ryan

A woman boulders in the Buttermilks, Bishop, California Photo: Stephen Matera/TandemStock

4.   Horse Pens 40, Steele, Alabama

Horse Pens 40 is one of the American South’s greatest gems. Known for its world-class sloper problems, numerous moderate routes, and unique pillowed sandstone, this place has plenty to teach, no matter your experience level. And it’s not a bad place to hang out either: A dense canopy keeps the rock cool and sheltered, and the forest floor is open and level.

Season: Winter (though spring and fall can also bring decent conditions)

Camping: The Horse Pens 40 Nature Park is on private land. The land owners offer both primitive camping and cabins.

Guidebook:  Horse Pens 40 Bouldering by Adam Henry

5.  Red Rock, Las Vegas, Nevada

Just a stone’s throw from the outskirts of Vegas, the deep canyons and peppermint-striped cliffs of Red Rock Canyon State Park were long known as a roped climbing utopia. But in recent years, this desert playground has gained fame as a world-class bouldering destination as well. Sculpted by sand and time, the rock here has taken on fantastic shapes, and boulderers will find everything from splitter cracks to crisp sandstone aretes to pocketed huecos. It’s also hard to beat the other perks: dry weather, gorgeous scenery, impeccable rock—and all of Vegas’s bounty to make the most of your “rest” days.

Season: Late fall through early spring. (Note: Avoid climbing after rain; even slightly damp sandstone is extremely prone to damage.)

Camping: There’s plentiful nearby camping, reservable online at Red Rock Canyon Campground

Guidebook: South Nevada Bouldering by Tom Moulins

6.   The Gunks, New Paltz, New York

The Gunks—short for the “Shawangunk Mountains”—encompass one of the oldest climbing areas in America. Explorers have been scaling the unique quartz conglomerate cliffs since 1935, and some of the area’s most iconic boulders were established more than 50 years ago. Even today, many of the approaches follow old carriage roads, which offer more than just historic flair: The easy walking and flat landings make bouldering at the Gunks approachable, too. On the way, be sure to stop for breakfast at the New Harbor Deli.  

Season: Spring and fall

Camping: Reserve a spot at the American Alpine Club Gunks Campground, or book at a handful of other campgrounds within a 20-mile radius.

Guidebook: Gunks Bouldering by Andy Salo and Hillary Guzik

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.