Matt Pincus is an experienced and passionate climber based in Wyoming, North America. With over 10 years experience bouldering around the states, we think he’s the perfect person to share the best places to climb in the country. Keep reading to hear his favourite spots, as well as his essential kit and advice for those just starting out…
At first glance, bouldering can seem simple. Just you, a pair of climbing shoes, some chalk, and a couple of crash pads. While these are certainly the essential pieces of equipment, don’t let the minimalism of the gear trick you into thinking that bouldering is simple. Bouldering is climbing movement distilled. The difficulty comes not from an endurance slog but from the complexity and intensity of the moves themselves.
As far as equipment needed, the above basics (climbing shoes, chalk, and crash pads) are the essentials, but they are not all you need. So you are fully prepared, add in food and water to fuel your sessions, a down jacket and down pants to stay warm between attempts, and a guidebook to not only get you to the boulders but also keep you informed about the local ethics/access concerns.
When planning a bouldering trip, you are generally looking for cool, dry, and shady conditions. Part of optimizing your performance is simply showing up at the right time of year. Do your research ahead of time. Conditions really do matter.
Once you are at the boulders, remember to be respectful both of the area itself and of your fellow climbers. Generally speaking, this all comes down to minimizing your impact. The following are good guidelines to follow:
- Make sure you know the local restrictions and ethics.
- Pack out everything you pack in – this includes easily left items such as food wrappers and scraps of finger tape.
- Brush off the holds when you are finished with your session. This includes any tick marks you put on the rock.
- Avoid playing music or generally being excessively loud in a way that will impact others.
What follows are five of my favorite bouldering destinations around the United States. I’ve had many great trips to all of them and hopefully, they inspire you to get out and explore them yourself. Please treat them well.
Located two and a half hours south of Salt Lake City, Joe’s Valley is one of the top sandstone bouldering destinations in the US. The quality of the bouldering is high all the way from the moderate grades to the elite level and the best conditions can be found in the Spring and Fall. While there is a lot of variety in the bouldering, Joes Valley is really known for its incut holds on gorgeous black and tan streaked walls. Unfortunately, there is not currently a guidebook in print. However, the boulders are quite easy to find and Mountain Project has enough information to get you started.
What really makes the experience of Joes Valley unique, however, is the convenience of the bouldering. Much of the bouldering in Joes is roadside making it easy to visit lots of different problems in a single day. There is also plenty of public land (BLM and Forest Service) for great free desert camping. While the camping may be free, remember to treat the fragile desert landscape with respect and minimize your impact.
For me, Hueco Tanks is the premier bouldering destination in the United States and ranks amongst the best in the world. Every winter climbers from around the globe make the pilgrimage to West Texas to test themselves on the legendary boulders established by the likes of Swiss legend Frederic Nicole and Chris Sharma. The climbing in Hueco is generally steep, physical, and athletic. While the higher graded test pieces like Esperanza V14, Slashface V13, and Full Service V10 are some of the park's most famous, there are challenges appropriate to boulders of all ability levels. The world-famous Nobody Here Gets Out Alive V2 is a great place to start.
The key to a successful Hueco trip, however, isn’t just training and strong fingers - it’s planning. All the bouldering is located within the Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site and there are restrictions in place to protect the park’s cultural and archeological resources, which include some of the highest concentrations of rock art in North America. Reservations can be made for the self-guided North Mountain Area and guides can be hired to access the park’s backcountry zones. Negotiating the restrictions can seem complicated at first, but it really just requires advanced planning. The benefit is that the park is protected and once you are inside the park you’re guaranteed to have a great day of bouldering where you won’t have to deal with the same kinds of crowds that can form in other international destination areas. This recently released North Mountain Guidebook is the perfect place to start planning.
A short drive outside of the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth Washington is a collection of high-quality granite boulders. Best in the spring and fall and suitable for climbers of all ability levels, the Leavenworth bouldering is in my opinion some of the most underrated in the United States. While Washington State is renowned for its rainy weather, Leavenworth is located on the east side of the Cascades located in the range’s rain shadow. This means cool, dry conditions are easier to find than you might expect.
The bouldering itself is located in two narrow canyons with amazing views of the surrounding snow capped peaks. Much like Joes Valley, you can easily drive between different areas that feature short to manageable approaches. Combine this with plenty of nearby camping options and a thriving vacation rental market in Leavenworth and you have yet another extremely user-friendly bouldering area that shouldn’t be missed.
This helpful guidebook will get you started.
When most people think of Las Vegas, the first thought that comes to their mind isn’t outdoor recreation. A short drive outside the city, however, is a lifetime’s worth of climbing in disciplines ranging from bouldering to sport climbing to multi-pitch and everything in between.
This winter sandstone bouldering destination has a distinct choose your own adventure feel to it and is suitable for boulders of all ability levels. Climbers looking for an easy, accessible option with a high-concentration of boulders with flat sandy landings will love the Kraft Boulders. Those boulders looking for a more adventurous day will enjoy heading into one of the many canyons off of the Red Rock Scenic Loop. These areas feature much longer approaches and a generally adventurous feel. The benefit is that you will avoid some of the, at times massive, crowds that frequent the closer to the car areas every weekend.
Planning a bouldering trip to Red Rock is quite easy. Las Vegas has an international airport and housing options are plentiful and generally affordable. No matter where you are coming from, this guidebook will get you to the boulders.
Rocky Mountain National Park
This alpine talus field playground of crimps and swirling gneiss is located outside of Estes Park, Colorado, and is climbable from late spring through the early fall. Expect long approaches, bullet rock, and adventurous days that often feature alpine weather patterns that can pack all four seasons into a single afternoon. Be prepared for lots of sunshine as well as afternoon thunder and hail storms that will send you running for cover.
The bouldering in RMNP definitely requires more effort than a roadside area, the quality is worth it - especially since conditions can be good even during the middle of summer. The high elevation ensures that you can find cool, crisp temps when most areas in North America are hot and sweaty. You’re just going to have to hike for it…
While there are boulder problems of all ability levels in RMNP, the nature of the rock and the talus field landings make it more suited to the experienced boulderer. I’d recommend being comfortable at a V5 level before making a trip. This Jamie Emerson guidebook (which also covers the Mount Evans areas) is the perfect place to start.