Whether you’re a college student slogging your way through another semester or a fully fledged adult with a day job, there’s likely one event on the horizon that gets you through a long, dreary winter: spring. For a week or so sometime in March, you get to step away from the day-to-day and soak up some sunshine—and the beauty of spring break is that you don’t have to stop taking one after graduation.
Spring break season also coincides with peak climbing season in many areas across the country. The summer months (or even late spring) are often too hot and crowded to get much climbing done, so March and April are the perfect time to make a trip. Ready to start planning your spring break climbing trip? These seven destinations are ideal for kicking off your climbing season.
1. Smith Rock, Oregon
Smith Rock State Park is home to some of the best sport routes in North America, and it’s got plenty of off-the-radar trad climbing, too. Thanks to its location in the arid Oregon desert, Smith’s springtime highs are typically in the 50s, and the area sees just a handful of days of precipitation in March and April. One of Smith’s best features is its unbelievably wide variety of routes—there are plenty of climbs beginners will feel comfortable on, tons of easy leads for those who are progressing, and no shortage of tougher climbs for the seasoned leader. There’s camping nearby, and the state park is only a half-hour drive from Bend, where you can grab a bite and a beer after a long day on the rock.
2. Bishop, California
With an elevation of 4,200 feet above sea level, Bishop sounds like it might be chilly in early spring. Don’t be fooled. This spot on the east side of the Sierras is in prime condition throughout the winter, and you can still take advantage of those comfortable temperatures (highs in the mid-60s and very little rain) during spring break season. Bishop has an incredibly high concentration of routes (nearly 2,500 if you combine its bouldering, sport, and trad routes), so there’s plenty to keep your crew entertained for the week. Boulderers will delight in the iconic Buttermilks and Happy Boulders, while sport climbers will want to head for Owens River Gorge.
3. Red Rock Canyon, Nevada
Red Rock feels like it’s way out in the middle of nowhere—the landscape looks like something out of a Roadrunner cartoon—but from the vantage point of many climbs, you can see the hustle and bustle of Sin City itself. March is prime climbing season, and the area is known for its variety of routes. From newbie-friendly sport and trad climbs to multi-pitch outings with a dozen or more pitches, Red Rock truly has it all. Then there’s the added bonus that flights to Las Vegas happen frequently and are generally inexpensive; this is a doable destination for your everyone in your group. Red Rock is just 20 minutes from the Strip, which means your rest day activities are all set.
4. Cochise Stronghold, Arizona
Arriving at Cochise Stronghold feels a little bit like landing on another planet altogether, thanks to the gigantic granite domes scattered across the landscape. Spring is the ideal time to make a visit to this otherworldly find—temperatures skyrocket and make most of Arizona unclimbable during the summer months. March and April are deliciously warm (enough that you’ll want to save harder climbs for the morning before it climbs into the 70s), which is exactly what you want in a spring break trip. There’s a pretty even split between sport and trad climbing, plus a little bouldering thrown in for good measure. Set up a base camp at one of the abundant campsites nearby, and your crew is in for an incredible week.
5. Indian Creek, Utah
The Creek is one of the most iconic destinations in North America. Its red sandstone walls tower above the desert landscape. They may appear completely blank, but take a closer look and you’ll see that the monoliths are chock-full of delicate crack systems—ideal for plugging gear. Indian Creek is a crack climber’s paradise, and in March and April, temps are often in the 50s and 60s. Things might get a little chilly at night (this is the desert, after all), but that’s a perfect excuse to gather your friends around a cozy campfire and recount your day on the rock. Indian Creek makes a great road trip destination if you’re out west, or you can fly into Grand Junction and rent a car. Either way, make a stop at Milt’s Stop & Eat in Moab.
6. Horse Pens 40, Alabama
Horse Pens—or HP40, as it’s often called—has such a high concentration of boulder problems that your biggest challenge will be deciding where to begin. There are plenty of V2s and V3s to warm up on and for the newer climbers in your group, and the grades go right on up into the double digits, so there’s a project for everyone. It’s plenty warm in the spring (think 60s and 70s), and if you find yourself in the sun when you don’t want to be, it’s just a short walk to yet another cluster of high-quality boulders. The camping situation here is excellent, too, if you’re looking to meet a bunch of new friends to climb with. Check in at the camp store to snag your spot and sign a waiver for your climbing trip.
7. New River Gorge, West Virginia
Why should the West get all the attention? The New River Gorge, affectionately known as The New, is among the premier sport climbing destinations in the U.S. (Don’t fret, trad climbers, there are some excellent opportunities to plug gear here as well.) The sandstone is some of the highest quality you’ll find anywhere, which explains at least in part why there are hundreds upon hundreds of routes established. Routes are steep enough that you can find something to climb even on a rainy day; to reduce your chances of encountering rain, make this trip in April rather than March.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with Gear:30.