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The 7 Best Bouldering Areas in the US (2024 Guide)

Man rock climbs on huge granite boulder in the Buttermilk area

Published on: 05/15/2023


The options for outdoor bouldering in the United States are just as diverse as those for sport climbing. In every corner of the country, there’s at least one world-class boulderfield, and many regions, the West in particular, have a veritable slew of bouldering areas worth a trip for climbers of all skill and experience levels.

That said, even corners of the country that you might overlook on a typical climbing road trip, like Texas, Wisconsin, and Alabama, are home to hidden (or these days not-so-hidden) gems.

Let’s dive into an overview of the best bouldering in the US!

man bouldering outdoors with crash pads for protection

1. Horse Pens 40, Alabama

Horse Pens is one of America’s most beloved and unique boulderfields. This slopey sandstone paradise atop Chandler Mountain has a rich history of human habitation dating back over 15,000 years, and its rock formations served as natural horse corrals for the Creek and Cherokee Native American tribes.

The area flew under the radar for much of the 1980s and 1990s, and really only became well-known in the mid-2000s.

It has also served as a home for many music festivals since the late 1950s and was designated as “The Home of the South’s Bluegrass Music” by the Alabama State Legislature.

Today, although almost every climber has heard of the Pens, it’s still a fairly quiet destination, and many weekends you’ll have the boulders almost to yourself!

examples of gritstone boulders at Horse Pens 40
©️ Wikimedia Commons

Classic Routes

Horse Pens has close to 500 boulder problems, including probably the largest concentration of sloper routes in the country.

Famous easy-to-moderate problems include Merlin (V1/5) (1), a mellow high slab shaped like a wizard’s hat, Bumboy (V3 – 6A/A+) (2) and Millipede (V5 – 6C/C+) (3), two neighboring squeeze problems on uniquely shaped sandstone boulders, and Genesis (V3 – 6A/A+) (4), the first problem established at HP40, characterized by an enormous reach to a slopey slot.

On the stiffer end, check out Skywalker (V8 – 7B/B+) (5), Ghetto Superstar (V9/7C) (6), and the notorious God Module (V11/8A) (7), one of the hardest boulder problems here.

How to Get There

HP40 is an hour by car northeast of Birmingham, two hours west of Atlanta, and three hours south of Nashville.

Growing hub Huntsville (this author’s hometown), is 1.5 hours to the north and also has a few crags worth checking out, especially the sport cliff Yellow Bluff (8).

Where to Stay

climbers camping tent Alabama

When coming to HP40, camping ($13 a night in the summer, $8.50 in the winter) is the move.

You can pitch your tent a few feet from the boulders, and with the cafe, general store, and park office, you have everything you need at your fingertips.

If you prefer to sleep in a bed, you can find a list of motels, along with more info, on the HP40 website (9).


  • The Pens are SLOPEY! There’s a wide variety of climbing here, but more than anything else, this boulder field is known for its slopey problems and tenuous mantle top-outs. Be warned!
  • Winter and fall are the best times to visit the Pens, but it’s a viable spot year-round.
  • The lookout point approximately 50 yards southwest of the further camping site (at the very end of the gravel road) is an excellent perch for stargazing.
  • The nice thing about the Pens is that there’s also a wide variety of climbing within a couple of hours’ drive. For bouldering, Georgia’s Rocktown and Tennessee’s Stone Fort are equally sublime destinations.

2. Hueco Tanks, Texas

El Paso sunset

The desert granite of Hueco Tanks, nestled a stone’s throw from the Mexican border, comes to the top of many climbers’ minds when they think of the best climbing areas in the United States.

Like Horse Pens, Hueco has a long history, with pictographs and petroglyphs found throughout the park dating back thousands of years.

Access is a bit of an issue here, and 2/3 of the park is accessible by guide only. To climb in the “self-guided” area of North Mountain, call and make a reservation with Texas Parks & Wildlife (10) before you come to climb.

The Parks & Wildlife website also has resources for finding a guide to take you to the restricted areas of Hueco. There are several, but Blue Lizard Climbing & Yoga (11) is my recommendation.

Classic Problems

Hueco Tanks has four main areas, the East Spur and the East, South, and North Mountain, with over 700 problems in total. However, North Mountain is the only spot accessible without a guide, so we’ll cover problems there.

On the lower end, we have highballs The Maiden (V0/4) (12) and The Melon Patch (V0/4) (13) , as well as PG13 flake Hershey’s Symphony (V1/5) (14), and local favorite Nobody Here Gets Out Alive (V2/5+) (15).

On the moderate end, look for To Die For (V4 R – 6B/B+) (16), Girls of Juaraz (V4 PG13 – 6B/B+ ) (17), and shady cave classic Lobsterclaw (V5 – 6C/C+) (18).

For you real gunners, look to Mushroom Roof (V8 – 7B/B+) (19), Diaphanous Sea (V11/8A) (20), and the mighty Fred Nicole classic Esperanza (V14/8B+) (21).

How to Get There

The Tanks are 45 minutes east of downtown El Paso, which is by far the closest major city and best jumping-off point if you’re flying in.

If you’re coming by car from further afield, a 5-hour drive south from the I-40 and Albuquerque will get you there.

Where to Stay

Camping ($12/night) in the 20-site campground is one option at Hueco, and you can find site info and make reservations at the Parks & Wildlife link above.


Most years Hueco Rock Ranch (22) is a solid climber hub, but it’s closed for the 2022-23 season. Hueco Mountain Hut (23) is a great choice as well. Gleatherland (24) is another place to check out.

  • Desert heat is no joke. Most climbers come between November and March. If you visit in summer, drink lots of water, bring sunblock and a hat. In other words, plan accordingly!
  • Hueco has a history of access issues, and it’s critical that climbers are respectful of current rules and regulations so rock climbing is allowed to continue. Do your research and secure proper permission to climb!

3. Joshua Tree, California

Joshua Tree California bouldering locations

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most famous rock climbing destinations in America, and its bouldering is sublime.

For SoCal climbers, there’s nowhere that comes close, and there are thousands of boulder problems for the rope-challenged to test their mettle on here.

Compared to the bouldering areas above, J-Tree is utterly massive, so this entry will be a very brief overview. See the Mountain Project page (25) for a deeper dive.

Classic Routes

On the lighter side, check out False Up 20 (V0/4) (26), Illicit Sweetie (V0/4) (27), and the sketchy (but secure) highball Coyote Corner (V1 R/5) (28).

Moving up, we have the historic White Rastafarian (V2 R/5+) (29), put up by John Long and John Bachar in the early ’70s, Bachar’s Slashface (V3 R – 6A/A+) (30), and my personal favorite moderate, the Lynn Hill Memorial Problem (V4 – 6B/B+) (31).

Others include Pigpen (V4 – 6B/B+) (32) and Bachar’s JBMFP (V5 – 6C/C+) (33) and Streetcar Named Desire (V6/7A) (34).

How to Get There

Old Woman rock formation Joshua Tree
©️ Wikimedia Commons

The national park is 2.5 hours by car east of Los Angeles (or northeast of San Diego), three hours southwest of Las Vegas, and 4.5 hours west of Phoenix.

Regardless of where you’re coming from, put the northern park entrance (from J-Tree itself) into your GPS.

Where to Stay

There are over 500 campsites in the national park itself, but despite this, it’s often overcrowded. Book early!

For tent and car campers, I recommend setting up shop for free at the dry lakebed (BLM land) north of the park. From the center of town, take Highway 62 east to Sunfair Road, head north, and the lakebed is on your left.

If you’d like to crash in town, nearby Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms, and Joshua Tree itself all have options.

Camping tent near stones formation in Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA


  • This place is hell on earth in the summer. Don’t go from June through August unless you want to climb by headlamp at night.
  • J-Tree granite is unbelievably sharp and rough on the hands. Many new climbers get busted out after one day on these boulders. Be prepared with proper finger care.
  • All the climbing is inside the national park. An America the Beautiful Pass gets you in free. If you don’t have one, you’ll pay $30 per car (good for 7 days from the date on the receipt).

4. Rumbling Bald, North Carolina

Mountains at Rumbling Bald

The hidden gneiss boulders of Chimney Rock’s Rumbling Bald probably won’t appear on many lists of America’s best bouldering spots, and sure, there may not be as much here as Red Rock Canyon, for example.

But the Rumbling Bald has some of the best bouldering in North Carolina, and for mid-East Coast climbers, it’s a superb site, especially when you combine its 300 or so boulders with the stellar trad climbing a hundred yards away.

The granite monolith Looking Glass, one of the most incredible formations in the state, is also only an hour away.

Classic Routes

Start with V1s Poison Arete (35) and Shadow Figures (36), then check out highball crack Crescent Crack (V2/5+) (37).

Moving up we have worthy moderate Dime Crack (V4 – 6B/B+) (38), ultra-classic arete The Politician (V8 – 7B/B+) (39) and twin flames Clear Water (V9/7C) (40) and Fresh Water (V10/7C+) (41), which share the same start.

man bouldering on Dime Crack route in Rumbling bald
Dime Crack route ©️ Photo by Ocin Baku on Mountain Project

How to Get There

Rumbling Bald is an hour southeast of Asheville, a stellar climbing town and the best place to base a trip. From further out, expect a 2.5-hour drive by car from Knoxville and two hours from Charlotte.

Where to Stay

You can’t camp at Rumbling Bald, but there are private campgrounds in nearby Chimney Rock, which also has several B&Bs and motels.

For most climbers, however, I’d recommend a home base in Asheville, which has a lot more options and is well-positioned to hit a slew of climbing, roped and unroped, in the region.

There are also several campgrounds in nearby Pisgah National Forest.


  • The chiggers here are heinous in the summer. Bring bug repellent if you’re susceptible!
  • There is also quite a bit of poison ivy here, including on many of the boulder top-outs.
  • The best thing about North Carolina is the variety, and Rumbling Bald is also home to some of the best trad climbing in the southeast. If you enjoy that sort of thing, make sure not to miss the classics at the Cereal Buttress.

5. Joe’s Valley, Utah

Joe's Valley, Utah

The sandstone boulders of Joe’s Valley make up one of the premier bouldering spots on the planet, not just in the United States.

There are close to 750 boulder problems here, including a very high concentration of higher-end problems, and most are just a few minutes walk from the car.

Warm up with Thriller (V0 R/4) (42), America’s Playground (V1/5) (43), and The Angler (V2/5+) (44), and be sure to check out the stiff Self Service (V4 – 6B/B+) (45), as well as Kill by Numbers (V5 – 6C/C+) (46), and Planet of the Apes (V7/7A+) (47).

There are plenty of harder classics here, but I reckon you know what you’re looking for in that case…

Classic Routes

woman bouldering in Joe's Valley, Utah
©️ Wikimedia Commons

Joe’s Valley is one of the most popular bouldering areas in the United States these days, and there’s a ton of development going on here, so new routes are popping up left and right. A few favorites

How to Get There

Joe’s is 10 minutes west of Orangeville, Utah, and the biggest nearby city is Provo/Salt Lake, which is around two hours north. From Moab, you can hit Joe’s in about 2.5 hours, and from Grand Junction, you’ll take three.

Where to Stay

There are several decent dispersed camping areas for rock climbing at Joe’s and, driving up the Right Fork, you’ll see two different options. You’ll also find an established campground at New Joe’s, about 10 minutes away. Lastly, there are also a few hotels and motels in Orangeville.


  • Joe’s is a stomping ground mainly for strong(er) climbers. As such, there is a large quantity of high-caliber hard lines here. Therefore, if you aren’t comfortable sending at least V4/V5, it may not be a great spot for you.
  • The coffee shop Cup of Joe’s is a nice hub for climbers away from the Valley itself. It offers crash pad rentals and other services and info for boulderers.

6. Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin

Devil's Lake State Park

Devil’s Lake State Park moonlights as another one of America’s lesser-known bouldering areas, but in reality, it’s one of the most historic bouldering destinations in the country, if not the world, with a lineage dating back to the 1930s.

John Gill, the pioneer of modern bouldering, was actually a prominent figure at the Lake in the latter half of the 20th century, and today it has nearly 1,500 named problems.

It may not show up on popular climbing lists with mainstays like Yosemite National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Rifle Mountain Park, but this mecca in the Baraboo Hills is more than a worthy stop on any American boulder tour, and perhaps the premier bouldering location in the Midwest.

Classic Routes

Don’t miss the fun Trust Fund Slab (V0/4) (48) and Super Slab (V0/4) (49), and be sure to hit the Classic Warm Up (V1/5) (50) on your way in. For moderates, hit Slope of Dadaism (V3 – 6A/A+) (51), and John Gill’s legendary The Flatiron (V4 – 6B/B+) (52). Moving up, we have Magnum PI (V6/7A) (53), What Up Weasel (V7/8 – 7A+/7B/B+) (54), and Alpine Club (V9/7C) (55).

bouldering on Super Slab route in Devils lake state park
Super Slab route ©️ Photo by Airwoolf on Mountain Project

How to Get There

Devil’s Lake is less than an hour north of Madison, and a bit under two hours from Milwaukee. The park sits just northwest of Lake Wisconsin’s southern terminus.

As the park is within the Wisconsin State Park system, it’s subject to fees, which vary but are generally around $8 to $15 for daily admission. You can find more info on the park website (56).

Where to Stay

The state park has three campgrounds with over 400 sites, all reservable. You can generally net a spot in the state park, but it always helps to book well in advance, particularly on crowded summer weekends.

You can find more information on camping at this link (57).

There are plenty of places to stay in Madison, as well as closer options in nearby Sauk City and Prarie du Sac.

camping tent at Devils Lake State Park
Devil’s Lake State Park’s Ice Age campground ©️ Devil’s Lake State Park


  • Devil’s Lake is an old-school destination, and as such, it’s known for being quite sandbagged. Check your ego at the park entrance!
  • Summer is a perfectly great time to climb in Wisconsin, weather-wise, but swarms of summer tourists at Devil’s Lake can make it very crowded, particularly if you’re trying to camp. Fall and spring are better choices if you want a quieter experience.

7. Buttermilks, California

Couple climbing rock face, Buttermilk Boulders

Buttermilk County, California, often known simply as “The Buttermilks,” is oft-cited as the premier bouldering destination in the Western United States, but there’s a case to be made that it’s the best bouldering in North America, full stop.

The quartz monozite boulders here, nestled at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, are quite similar to alpine granite, and even more brutal on the fingers.

In the Buttermilks you’ll find clean faces, polished crimps, and sharp edges and slopers, coupled with big, reachy moves that favor an aggressive, fine-tuned climbing style. You’ll also be looking at what’s probably the widest variety of highball problems in the States.

Man bouldering on a granite boulder in Bishop California

Classic Routes

There are over 500 established problems here. On the low end, be sure to hop on Buttermilk Stem (V1/5) (58) and the tenuous slab of Robinson’s Rubber Tester (V0/4) (59).

If you’re looking for moderates, check out the techy face line Birthday Direct (V3 – 6A/A+) (60) and the Iron Man Traverse (V4 – 6B/B+) (61). Flyboy Arete (V5 – 6C/C+) (62), The Ruckus (V6/7A) (63), Dale Bard’s notorious High Plain’s Drifter (V8 – 7B/B+) (64), and Checkerboard (V8 – 7B/B+) (65) are all great lines at the grade.

If you have the balls for it, Jason Kehl’s legendary Evilution (V12/13 R – 8A+/8B) (66) is 55 feet of pure insanity, and well worth walking by just to check out.

How to Get There

The Buttermilks are 20 minutes from the town of Bishop, the best hub for a trip. Located in the Eastern Sierra, the Milks aren’t as easy to get to from coastal California as it might seem. Los Angeles and Vegas are each about 5 hours by car while the Lake Tahoe/Reno area is four.

Woman rock climbing, Buttermilk Boulders, Bishop, California, USA

Where to Stay

Camping in the Buttermilks is pretty easy, the whole place is BLM land, so you can post up without a reservation or fee for up to 14 days.

From the Inyo National Forest website (67), While camping is allowed anywhere on national forest land in the Buttermilk area, campers are strongly encouraged to use an already impacted campsite, park only on road shoulders, and practice leave-no-trace camping ethics.

Pleasant Valley Campground, locally known as “The Pit,” is an established climber campground, charging $5/night last I checked.

For those looking for a soft bed at night, there are several options in Bishop. The Hostel California (68) is one place in town that I can recommend, having stayed there several times myself.


  • Unlike Joe’s (above), the Buttermilks is a zone that has high-quality climbing at all grades. There are stellar problems here whether you send V1 or V8.
  • Fall and spring are the best time to visit these desert alpine bouldering spots. Winters are too cold and summers are too hot (usually).
  • You can’t hit the Milks without a dip in one of the many nearby hot springs! Wild Willys and Little Hot Creek are two of my favorites.


woman bouldering in nature

This selection of my seven favorite bouldering destinations is just a taste of the pebble wrestling you can chase in the USA.

From the Gunks and Rumney in the Northeast to Red Rock’s Kraft Boulders and Black Mountain in the Southwest (not to mention the whole state of Colorado, which I skipped entirely), there are literally dozens of world-class bouldering destinations scattered around the United States.

Now close that friggin’ laptop, get out there, and start crushing!


Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Ghetto Superstar
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

God Module
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Yellow Bluff Climbing
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Horse Pens 40 Park (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site

Hueco Tanks Guide Service
Blue Lizard Climbing & Yoga

The Maiden
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

The Melon Patch
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Hershey’s Symphony
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Nobody Here Gets Out Alive
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

To Die For
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Girls of Juarez
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Lobsterclaw, AKA:Mr. Negative
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Mushroom Roof
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Diaphanous Sea
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Hueco Rock Ranch Closed for the 2022-2023 Season
American Alpine Club (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Hueco Tanks Base Camp
Hueco Mountain Hut (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Gleatherland Ranch (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Joshua Tree Climbing
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

False Up 20
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Illicit Sweetie
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Coyote Corner
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

White Rastafarian
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Lynn Hill Memorial Face Problem
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Streetcar Named Desire
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Poison Arete
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Shadow Figures
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Crescent Crack
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Dime Crack
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

The Politician
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Clear Water
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Fresh Water
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

America’s Playground
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

The Angler
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Self Service
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Kill by Numbers
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Planet of the Apes
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Trust Fund Slab
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Super Slab
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Classic Warm Up
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Slope of Dadaism
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

The Flatiron
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Magnum PI
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

What Up Wease
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Alpine Club
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Devil’s Lake State Park
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Devil’s Lake State Park camping
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Buttermilk Stem
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Robinson’s Rubber Tester
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Birthday Direct
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Iron Man Traverse
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Flyboy Arete
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

The Ruckus (aka Seven Spanish Angels)
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

High Plains Drifter
Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

Inyo National Forest Climbing
Forest Service National Website (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

The Hostel California (retrieved on 05/13/2023)

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