7 Incredible Outdoor Destinations for Rock Climbing Newbies

If you feel like your social feed has been saturated with photos of people standing on the top of a cliff (or scaling the side of it!), it’s not just you. The number of people who participate in rock climbing has seriously climbed over the last three years, rising more than 20 percent, according to the Outdoor Foundation. Indoor climbing is super-trendy too — and a great option for urbanites without rocky crags nearby. But with the sunny days of summer ahead, there’s no time like the present to give this outdoor adventure a go.

So we pulled together some of the top destinations around the country to help you reach new heights. Though they feature varied terrain and some have expert-level courses, each spot includes ascents that are simple enough for first-timers. Keep reading to find the perfect spot to take on the sport, plus a local school that offers guided climbs to help you move on up.

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Learn How to Rock Climb at These 7 Amazing Outdoor Spots

How to Rock Climb: Red Rock Canyon
Photo courtesy of Jason Martin

1. Red Rock Canyon, Southern Nevada

You only have to drive 20 miles from downtown Las Vegas to hit this 3,000-foot-tall wall of red, pink and cream Aztec sandstone. The area features hundreds of one-pitch sport climbs, making it ideal for first-timers. Once you get confident in your skills, you can move up to the multi-pitch climbs, which Red Rock also has in store. These involve stopping at a belay station as you make your way to the top. To work your way up, join a guided climb with the American Alpine Institute (from $140 for a group full day).

How to Rock Climb: Pisgah National Forest
Photo courtesy of REI Adventures

2. Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

For breathtaking scenery in the Southeast, the Pisgah National Forest can’t be beat. You’ll take in picturesque peaks and densely wooded areas as you get familiar with the rock faces. Some spots ideal for newbies include Looking Glass and Cedar Rocks, which you can explore on a guided getaway with REI (from $549 for a three-day trip). You’ll spend plenty of time on the rocks over the course of three days, learning about climbing technique and even how to pack properly for your adventures.

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How to Rock Climb: Outessa / Kirkwood
Photo courtesy of Outessa

3. Kirkwood, California

This locale, just 35 miles from South Lake Tahoe, is a must-see. With surrounding sights that boast mountain tops, valleys, lakes and rivers, you’ll want to take in all the scenery from above. Head there on an REI Outessa excursion (from $199 for a three-day trip), where they provide the gear and instruction from pro climbers. They’ve even created a new climbing area with five routes, designed perfectly for first-timers. One has an especially mellow ascent that’ll help you hone in on your footing and grips.

How to Rock Climb: Red River Gorge
Photo courtesy of Karsten Delap / Fox Mountain Guides

4. Red River Gorge, Kentucky

The sandstone cliffs and tree-filled terrain in this area of eastern-central Kentucky makes it great for climbing in the spring and fall when foliage is on point. The area covers a wide swath of land, including grounds in Daniel Boone National Forest. In other words, the views of vast greenery are endless. Find your footing first by signing up for a climb with Fox Mountain Guides and Climbing School, where you’ll learn rope work, belaying and more, all while mountain side (from $350 for two days).

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How to Rock Climb: Joshua Tree
Photo: Twenty20

5. Joshua Tree, California

This legendary Southern California locale features more than 8,000 routes to the summit that you can scale all year. And it’s just a few hours from Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas. The quartz monzonite that fills the area also offers an advantage for beginners. (It’s a solid, grippy rock that allows you to latch on better.) Expect clear desert views for days and blue skies as far as you can see. Head out with Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School (from $195) and you can choose single- or multi-day courses and seminars that help you make like Spiderman and conquer any peak.

How to Rock Climb: Boulder Canyon
Photo courtesy of Peak Mountain Guides

6. Boulder Canyon, Colorado

Some of the best mountain scenery in the West is just a short trip from downtown Boulder. Though it’s a favorite spot for expert climbers, there are hundreds of routes easy enough for novices to tackle, too. This includes Surprising Slab and Hare Balls. The granite in the canyon is textured, giving it more friction to hold onto and find your footing. Need some instruction? Turn to Peak Mountain Guides (from $139 for a full day) for certified guide leaders who will teach rope management, route navigation and multi-pitch systems.

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7. The Shawangunks, New York

This climbing area, affectionately known as the Gunks, is 85 miles from New York City. It’s also a short drive from New Paltz, a small but cool, artsy college town. Made of solid quartz, most of the Gunks is part of the Mohonk Preserve, a protected land trust (and New York’s largest nonprofit nature preserve) that also offers activities like biking and trail running. Take a course with Eastern Mountain Sports ($150 for a group full day) nearby to learn how to make it safely to the top.

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