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5 Amazing Sport Climbing Areas in the US (2024 Guide)

best rock climbing sport routes in the US

The United States is known for its incredible diversity of outdoor spaces, and this diversity holds when it comes to all disciplines of rock climbing, as well. For sport climbers, the USA offers just about everything you could hope for.

From the steep, pumpy sandstone of the Red River Gorge, to the bullet-hard limestone sport climbing at Rifle Mountain Park, to the historic tuff and basalt columns of Smith Rock, there is a bevy of world-class sport crags to choose from in the Land of the Free.

Of course, the US is a famously vast country, and the climbing is as spread out as everything else, so it’s not easy to hop around between several different crags in one trip. Luckily, most of these sport climbing destinations have enough routes to keep you busy for a lifetime of projecting and sending, much less a long weekend.

In this article, I’ll give an overlay of seven of the top sport climbing areas in the United States. Let’s dive in!

best sport climbing areas in the united states
Photo by Lionello Delpiccolo

1. Smith Rock, Oregon

Rimming the snaky bends of the (aptly-named) Crooked River, Smith Rock State Park, just 30 minutes north of Bend, is oft-touted as the birthplace of American sport climbing. This high desert crag spans 650 acres and has nearly 2,000 routes ranging from 5-easy to 5.14d (the legendary Assassin, established by then-16-year-old climber Drew Ruana in 2016).

The walls at Smith Rock are primarily volcanic welded tuff (compressed volcanic ash formed nearly 30 million years ago) with a scattering of surrounding basalt columns as well. The park sits at 3,000 feet in elevation, and climbing here affords spectacular views of the Cascades to the north. You can ask for no better sport crag in the American West.

Classic Routes

A list of Smith Rock “classics” would take up this entire article, but you can’t visit Smith without hopping on 5 Gallon Buckets (5.8/5a) (1). This 60-foot sport route on the Morning Glory Wall, which ascends a face chocked with massive huecos, is a strong contender for the most popular route at Smith Rock, and is certainly one of the most impressive beginner routes in the park. The route’s easy access makes it a perfect warmup line, as well.

Voyage of the Cowdog (5.8+/5a) (2) and Wherever I May Roam (5.9/5b) (3) are two other great easy-moderates, but have a lot more length, the former with three pitches (260 feet) and the latter five (400 feet). If looking for the stunning easy multi-pitches in Smith, these are a good starting point. If you’re interested in tackling the stiffer end of things, check out Toxic (5.11b/6c) (4) in the Aggro Gully, and Heinous Cling (5.12c/7b+) (5) in the Dihedrals.

smith offers world-class climbing and breathtaking scenery
Photo by Kamala Bright

How to Get There

The outdoor mecca of Bend is the best access point for Smith Rock State Park. The crag is a mere 35 minutes north of Bend along Highway 97, a straight shot the whole way.

Once you reach the small town of Terrebonne, turn onto Smith Rock Way (just past Redpoint Climbers Supply, a gear shop), and you’ll be at the park in a few minutes. If coming from Portland, you’re in for about a three-hour drive (140 miles) to the southeast. Salem and Eugene are equally as far. From Seattle, you can make the haul in about seven hours.

However, it’s worth noting that Redmond Municipal Airport is a mere 10 miles from the park, and several airlines routinely offer direct flights to Redmond from larger airports on the West Coast, including Seattle, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and even Denver. Once you land, you’ll need to take a taxi/Uber or hire a shuttle to get to the park, as there is no public transportation option.

steep climbing on one of the many single pitch sport routes at smith
Photo by Ben Kitching

Where to Stay

Camping is fairly cheap and easy at Smith, with walk-in campground the “Bivy” operating on a first-come, first-serve basis. This is where most climbers stay, as it provides quick access to the crag. You’ll find everything you need, including showers, a charging station, clean water, and restrooms.

You’ll need to buy a permit for every night you stay ($8 per night) and reservations or advance bookings are not allowed. The Bivy is open from March 15 to November 15 each year. Check-in is at 4:00 pm and check-out is at 1:00 pm.

There are plenty of other campgrounds as well, including nearby Skull Hollow and Crooked River, both of which accommodate RV camping. The latter also features a swimming pool, tennis court, and golf course.

If you prefer to ditch the camping, stay indoors, and save your energy for the rock, there are plenty of options for you, too. Some include the Crooked River Ranch Cabins and the Bunk+Brew Historic Lucas House (a hostel). The Smith Rock Casita (6), a two-room suite on a 10-acre plot of land just outside the park, is a stellar option for larger groups if you can snag a booking, as is the Smith Rock Nest (7).

climber on volcanic rock in smith, one of the best rock climbing routes
Photo by Ben Kitching


  • Entering the state park requires a day permit ($5), but you can also buy a yearly permit for only $30. If you’re planning on staying at least a week in Smith, the yearly permit will pay for itself in one trip. Two-year permits are also available for $50.
  • Dogs are allowed at Smith, but must be kept on a leash.
  • Many Smith Rock routes have high first bolts and uneven, steep landings, making it important to have solid control (and a spotter) for your first moves. Bring a stick clip if you aren’t used to extended off-belay climbing at the onset of a route.
  • While Smith Rock is open year-round, spring and fall are the ideal times to climb, as summer temperatures regularly soar above 100°F. There are also seasonal climbing and highlining closures to protect nesting raptors and a current ban on all drones. Learn more about current closures and restrictions HERE.
  • Check out our dedicated Smith Rock Climbing Guide for more info.

2. Red River Gorge, Kentucky

Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is regularly listed as the best crag east of the Mississippi, but when you’re talking about sport climbing in particular, there’s a strong case that the “Red” is the best crag in the United States.

Nestled away in the densely-forested hills of eastern Kentucky, largely inside the sprawling Daniel Boone National Forest, this sandstone canyon system offers several thousand steep sport routes spread out across 100+ individual cliffs.

There’s something here for everyone, and the Red’s location means that for much of the Midwest and Southeast, it’s the closest major crag, a veritable mecca for climbers for hundreds of miles in all directions.

red river is a diverse climbing area, here in the fog at sunset

Classic Routes

The jug-infested 27 Years of Climbing (5.8/5a) (9) is one of the raddest beginner routes at the Red, and Roadside Attraction (5.7/4c) (10) is another mellow classic, as is Creature Feature (5.9/5b) (11) in the northern gorge. In terms of stiff grades, you can’t miss Super Best Friends (5.12b/7b) (12). Amarillo Sunset (5.11b/6c) (13), Witness the Citrus (5.11c/6c+) (14), Snozberries (5.11d/7a) (15), Brown Eyed Girl (5.10a/5c) (16), and Orange Juice (5.12c/7b+) (17), are a few more favorites.

It’s worth noting that most sport routes at the Red are quite short. Few walls stretch above 100 feet, and there are hardly any multi-pitch routes that are worth a tie-in, even when considering trad climbing. However, Day Tripping (5.10/5c) (18), and the other trad routes at Eagle Point Buttress are a good option if you’re dying to get a few pitches off the deck.

How to Get There

The Red is approximately an hour by car from Lexington, Kentucky, and cars can easily be rented from the Lexington airport. Cincinnati (Ohio) and Louisville are each about two hours away. When coming out of Lexington on Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway, take Exit 33 at Slade, and head south on Hwy 11.

woman free climbing at Red River (not to be confused with new river gorge, west virginia)

The unofficial Red River Gorge hub is Miguel’s Pizza (see below) a campground, restaurant, and longstanding climber’s hangout. Miguel’s is approximately two miles south of the exit, and the perfect spot to begin your climbing trip in the Red.

The Red is divided into two main sections, the North Gorge and South Gorge, and while both have plenty of climbing, sport climbers generally congregate at the crags in the south. Bert T. Combs serves as a general dividing line between the two sectors.

Where to Stay

When you’re climbing in the Red, staying at Miguel’s Pizza is the move. This legendary climber’s hangout—open since 1984—is known for cheap camping and good grub. They also have a few small cottages for rent.

There are several other campsites and lodges in the area, however, including the Land of the Arches Campground, Chocolat Inn & Café, and Lago Linda Hideaway. Backcountry camping is an option, too. Fees are $5 per night, $7 for three nights, or $50 for an annual pass. The coffee spot Daniel Boone, north of Miguel’s on Hwy 11, also has its own campground.

rock climb on a route with interesting rock quality at red river gorge


  • Miguel’s is your best resource in the Red. Not only is the restaurant and campground a great place to meet other climbers and get beta, but it also has a well-stocked gear store.
  • The Red is at its best in the spring and fall (particularly the fall). Winter has its share of warm days, but the Red can also receive quite a bit of snow, and is usually very cold. Summer is humid and buggy.
  • Accessing the climbing at the Red is generally free, but camping overnight in the backcountry requires a paid permit. In addition to National Forest offices, permits can be purchased at several retailers, gas stations, and other vendors (19).
  • Check out our dedicated Red River Gorge Climbing Guide for more info.

3. Rifle Mountain Park, Colorado

For intermediate-to-advanced climbers looking to really push their grade, Rifle Mountain Park in Colorado is perhaps the best crag in the country. This limestone mountain canyon, approximately three hours west of Denver along the I-70, is home to caves of nails-hard climbing, with possibly the largest concentration of 5.13-5.14s in North America.

It doesn’t have the sheer quantity of Smith or the Red, but for high-end, overhung sport, there is no equal.

rifle park colorado (entrance)
© City of Rifle, CO

Situated at an elevation of 7,000 feet outside the small town of the same name, Rifle has gone from an underground haven for crushers to one of the most popular crags in Colorado. While there are a handful of moderate routes, most are pretty polished and over trafficked, if not poorly cleaned. Ideally, you should be able to project 5.11d or 5.12a to enjoy Rifle.

Classic Routes

There are approximately 500 routes in Rifle, almost all of them sport. As mentioned above, there are many easy or moderate climbs, and most of the good climbing starts around 5.11+/6b+. A few of the more popular lower-end climbs, however, are Cold Cuts (5.11a/6b+) (20) and 80 Feet of Meat (5.11b/6c) (21), both at the Meat Wall.

The steep, pumpy line and cruxy face finish of Genesis (5.12a/7a+) (22) affords another classic that just barely edges into 5.12/7a turf. If you’re looking for some of the best Rifle has to offer, Pump-O-Rama (5.13a/7c+) (23) and Sprayathon (5.13c/8a+) (24) in the Arsenal are must-tries.

How to Get There

Rifle is approximately three hours west of Denver on the I-70. Turn off the I-70 shortly after Glenwood Springs, heading north on the 245, then turn right onto County Rd 325 and continue until you reach the park. Similarly, you can reach Rifle along the I-70 east from Grand Junction, in about 1.5 hours.

rifle (colorado) has many interesting rock climbing routes like this one
© City of Rifle, CO

Where to Stay

In addition to lodging in town, there are a few paid campgrounds in the area, including Rifle Falls State Park Campground and Rifle Gap State Park. There is also camping in Rifle Mountain Park itself (typically $10 per night), and those looking to rough camp can also post up on BLM land at Buffalo Flat off Grass Valley Road.


  • The park has a $5 daily parking fee, but season passes are also available both at the campgrounds or the City of Rifle Parks Department in town
  • Rifle is primarily for intermediate climbers and advanced climbers. Solid 5.11-5.12 abilities are ideal to enjoy the best routes Rifle has to offer.
  • Check out our dedicated Rifle Mountain Park Climbing Guide for more info.

4. Red Rock, Nevada

Las Vegas might be known for its casinos and nightlife, but the sandstone mecca of Red Rock is just a few miles outside of town, and easily one of the top rock climbing destinations in the western United States.

Red Rock Canyon is home to over 1,000 sport climbing routes, as well as a couple thousand trad lines and boulder problems. While many of the iconic routes in Red Rock are trad, there’s a slew of world-class sport routes here.

climber crack climbing in Nevada
Photo by Ben Kitching

Classic Routes

For Red Rock newbies, Big Bad Wolf (5.9/5b) (25) is the cream of the crop. This three-pitch classic climbs 200 feet up the Riding Hood Wall and is a rite of passage for local climbers, with many tackling it as their first multipitch outing. On the tougher end of things, The Grind (5.11b/6c) (26) and Keep Your Powder Dry (5.12b/7b) (27) are two other highly-rated classics.

How to Get There

Red Rock is approximately 30 minutes due west of the Las Vegas Strip. Access to the main “scenic drive” portion of the National Conservation Area is via timed-entry reservation from October 1 to May 31 (8:00 am to 5:00 pm), with fees at $15 for a car and $10 for a motorcycle or scooter.

However, you can avoid it if you have an America the Beautiful or other Federal Recreational Lands pass—merely paying a $2 reservation fee.

That said, plenty of Red Rock’s climbing can be accessed from Calico Basin and the Red Spring parking lot, just before the turnoff to the scenic drive.

example of technical climbing spots in Nevada

Where to Stay

Las Vegas has hundreds of hotel options, and many casino stays are quite cheap if you play your cards right (no pun intended). Because Red Rock is so close to the Strip, staying in town is usually the move here. However, there is reserved tent & RV camping at Red Rock itself, if you prefer to sleep outdoors.


  • Don’t climb on wet rock! The red sandstone here is quite soft, and easily damaged when wet. Climbing on wet rock can scar the rock, but more importantly, your anchors & placements can also rip out of the wall. Give it a couple of days after a rain before you climb.
  • Grab your reservation early! If you want to access the scenic loop, it pays to plan in advance. If you arrive between 6:00 am and 8:00 am, you can get in reservation-free, but after 8:00, you’ll need a reservation, and with Red Rock getting increasingly popular, these can be hard to snag. Plan ahead!
  • Check out our dedicated Red Rock Canyon Climbing Guide for more info.

5. Obed & Clear Creek, Tennessee

Of the five rock climbing destinations on this list, Obed is probably the least known, but it’s certainly home to more than enough stellar sport climbs to keep even the most insatiable bolt clipper happy for weeks. The roofy sandstone cliffs here, at the confluence of Clear Creek and the Obed River, offer some of the best sport climbs in the southeastern United States.

Classic Routes

There are nearly 500 sport routes here, mostly single-pitch pumpfests typically of Deep South sandstone. Best Seat in the House (5.9/5b) (28) and Shadowhawk (5.9/5b) (29) both in Clear Creek, are must-do local classics. Moving up, Spawn (5.10b/c, 6a+) (30) also on the Image Wall near Shadowhawk, is another long, committing line with fun movement.

Tennessee climbing
© Tennessee Department of Tourist Development

Those looking for hard sport climbing can try the wildly popular Born on the 4th of July (5.13a/7c+) (31) and the historic Tieranny (5.12a/7a+) (32).

How to Get There

The Obed and Clear Creek are about an hour from Knoxville to the northwest, just outside the town of Lancing. If coming from Nashville, you’ll take about two hours heading due east.

Where to Stay

Clear Creek Campground is the favorite spot to tent camp. The campgrounds are a stone’s throw from the climbing and run from $10 per night per person. More accommodations can be found HERE.


  • The Lilly Pad Hopyard & Brewery is Obed & Clear Creek’s version of Miguel’s, a laidback climber hangout offering beer and grub, as well as a good launchpad to meet climbing buddies and scrounge beta. Guidebooks are also on-sale here.
  • Like Smith, Obed & Clear Creek routes commonly feature high first bolts. Bring a stick clip or be prepared to lead off-belay for up to 10 or 15 feet on some climbs.

Are you more into bouldering? Check out the Best Bouldering Areas in the US!


5 Gallon Buckets
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Voyage of the Cowdog
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Wherever I May Roam
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Heinous Cling Full
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Smith Rock Casita Steps From Smith Rock State Park
Airbnb (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Smith Rock Nest – Steps to the Park!
Airbnb (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Seasonal Closures
SmithRock.com (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

27 Years of Climbing
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Roadside Attraction
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Creature Feature
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Super Best Friends
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Amarillo Sunset
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Witness the Citrus
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Brown Eyed Girl
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Orange Juice
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Day Tripping
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Pass Vendors
Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Cold Cuts
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

80 Feet of Meat
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Moucntain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Big Bad Wolf
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

The Grind
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Keep Your Powder Dry
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Best Seat in the House
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Born on the 4th of July
Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Mountain Project (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

Clear Creek Campground
Lilly Pad Hopyard Brewery (retrieved on 04/19/2023)

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