Mountain Project’s Top 6 Winter Climbing Destinations

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As much of the country's climbing community is well into a multi-month Netflix binge, these crags grow into the sendiest conditions

Cold weather brings on a seismic shift in how we approach sport, training, and fun. One day, the weather is just right for that multi-pitch you've been eyeing; the next day, snow covers all the ledges. This uncertainty is what drives many outdoor climbers to the gym for the winter (and why some hang up the rock shoes in favor of ice tools, skis, or both). But if you've got time and wheels, there's always someplace with enough sun out to get your guns out.

We wanted to be a bit more definitive than "someplace," though, so we sifted through more than 10 years of Mountain Project user data to see which climbing areas get the most ticks in February and March. And the winter send-train hotspots are (in order): Red Rock, Red River Gorge, Joshua Tree, Sierra Eastside, Shelf Road, and Smith Rock. 

Red Rock

Up high on Crimson Chrysalis (5.8+) | Photo submitted by Maxwell M

This desert sandstone and limestone oasis outside of Las Vegas offers good climbing year round, but conditions are often at their best right now. Cheap airfare, great camping options, abundant affordable lodging, and a vibrant nightlife close at hand all make Red Rock one of the most-searched crags on Mountain Project, for good reason. With a mix of bouldering, steep and tightly bolted sport routes, long classic multipitches and cracks that eat up pro, there is something for every type of climber here. The climbing season starts in March and hits primo status by April. Whatever your vice, Vegas aims to please, and with climbing like this, you don’t even have to play your cards right to hit the jackpot.

Every time I come back to Red Rock, I am simply awed at how terrific it is. I'm partial to the long, moderate "desert alpine," climbs but so many other options exist that one could literally climb here full-time for a decade and not tap the full potential. -MP user, William Thiry

Classic Routes as ranked by MP users: Solar Slab (5.6), Crimson Chrysalis (5.8+), Epinephrine (5.9), Triassic Sands (5.10), Levitation 29 (5.11b/c), Cloud Tower (5.12-) | Check out all Red Rock Classics 

Where to camp: The notoriously windy Red Rock Canyon Campground is located two miles east of the Visitor Center. The campground has 72 individual campsites (including 14 walk-in, 5 RV, & 3 accessible sites). There is a 14-day limit in effect and individual sites are not reservable. The price is $15 per night for individual sites up to 10 people.

Red River Gorge

The epicenter of RRG climbing culture, Miguels Pizza | Photo submitted by MP user Chris treggE

From the outside looking in, it's hard to say whether people come to “The Red” primarily for Miguels pizzas and the climber-only campground community or for the climbing itself. But once you get a taste for the overhanging, juggy, sandstone endurance-fests, you'll know both are absolutely true. Though famous for its stout sport test pieces, there are routes for every ability and an astonishing amount of trad climbing (and huge potential for more). The prime seasons for climbing at the Red are spring (March to May) and fall (October to December). High humidity and temperatures make for miserable rock conditions in the summertime, but that doesn'’t stop some climbers. Winter, aside from being frigid, has the added disadvantage of Miguel’s being closed for the off-season.

"I just did my first trip to RRG this past week. What an amazing place! A couple things I would suggest are, a stick-clip, eating at Miguels as much as possible, drinking as much Ale-8 as you can, and training for endurance. RRG is awesome!" -MP user matthewWallace

Classic Routes as ranked by MP users: Eureka (5.6), 27 Years of Climbing (5.8), Pogue Ethics (5.9+), A Brief History of Climb (5.10b), Fuzzy Undercling (5.11b), Ro Shampo (5.12a) | Check out all RRG Classics 

Where to camp: Miguel’s is not just a restaurant, it is the epicenter of climbing culture for The Red. You can camp here for $2/person/day, $1.50 for a shower, and $2/week for the internet. Miguel’s also serves as a climbers’ store, carrying a wide selection of ropes, shoes, harnesses and other gear. The best alternative to Miguels is the quieter Loma Linda campground, with designated sites at $5/person/day, including showers and internet.

Joshua Tree National Park

Toe Jam (5.7) | Photo submitted by MP user Benny Haddad

J-Tree’s SoCal desert climate and grippy quartz monzonite have long made this a popular winter climber's stopover. You’ll find more than 5,000 routes (mostly trad) and 1,000+ bouldering problems peppered across an other-worldly landscape. The less traveled or newer routes can have the dreaded "ball bearings underfoot syndrome" making those friction moves a tad more dicey. The best rock sports a coating of desert varnish or patina which darkens and solidifies the rock appreciably. With temperatures in the 60s, winter is high season in J-tree.

There are scads of fun and enjoyable routes facing every direction of the compass, even south for when it's cold, so head out and climb for as long as your fingertips can take it! -MP Admin, C Miller

Classic Routes as ranked by MP users White Rastafarian (V2), Gunsmoke (V3), JBMFP (V5), Double Cross (5.7+), Touch and Go (5.9), Illusion Dweller (5.10b) | Check out all J-Tree classics. 

Where to camp: With nine different campgrounds offering about 500 developed campsites, Joshua Tree offers plenty of options. Most campgrounds are first-come, first-served, throughout the year, but reservations are available for Black Rock and Indian Cove campgrounds during the busy season from October through May. Camping costs $15 per site, per night at campgrounds without water. Camping is $20 per site, per night at the three campgrounds with potable water available in or near the campground: Black Rock, Cottonwood, and Indian Cove. Park rangers recommend you come prepared and bring at least 2 gallons of water per day, per person with you into the park.

Sierra Eastside

East Side Story (V3) | Photo submitted by MP user AJ

Where the high desert meets the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, you will find an almost incomprehensible amount of clean, climbable rock, including sport climbing at Owens River Gorge and Clark Canyon, bouldering in the Buttermilks and Happy Boulders, and alpine climbing on 14,000' granite peaks. On rest days, soak your sore muscles and relax in the numerous natural hot springs. Simply stated, it's heaven on earth. 

February is a great time to visit. To be honest, any time of the year is good, but February will have great conditions for bouldering and the Gorge will be in good shape for sport routes. The High Sierra routes will be in full winter conditions. -MP Admin Euan Cameron

Classic Routes as ranked by MP users: Heavenly Path (V1 PG13), Solarium (V4), Iron Man Traverse (V4), Strength in Numbers (V5), Southwest Arete (5.9-), Expressway (5.11b) | Check out all Sierra Eastside classics. 

Where to camp: Pleasant Valley Pit Campground is a great place to camp during winter months. The campground only charges $2 per site per night and features the luxuries of vault toilets and other standard campground fair.

Shelf Road

La Cholla Jackson (5.8+) | Photo submitted by MP user Ben Fullerton

Does it get any better than limestone sport cragging in the sun in moderate temps? Add convenient camping and short approaches, and the answer is clear. One of the most popular climbing areas in Colorado, Shelf Road’s erosion-resistant limestone cliffs range in height from 60 to 140 feet and house almost 1000 established routes that are mostly bolted, with a few traditional climbs sprinkled here and there. Many of the vertical cliffs get direct sun, making the climbing comfortable even when highs are only in the 40s. 

Come one, come all to enjoy the crimpy pocket climbing Shelf has to offer. Amazing spot! Always need a day to get in the swing of things before you can really let loose. -MP user peakest

Classic Routes as ranked by MP users: La Cholla Jackson (5.8+), Enterprise (5.9+), Dihedrus (5.10b), Muscle Beach (5.11a), Freeform (5.12a), Head Cheese (5.12d) | Check out all Shelf classics.

Where to camp:  Head to either the Banks or Sand Gulch Campgrounds (both first come, first served). Set in a low area, Sand Gulch offer 16 sites for $7/night. Bank, slightly higher in elevation and with spectacular views of Cactus Cliffs, offers 14 sites at $7/night. Bring your own water.

Smith Rock

The iconic Crooked River welcomes you to Smith Rock | Photo submitted by MP user nbollier

Oregon’'s premier rock climbing destination and more than once, the focal point of hard sport climbing worldwide, Smith houses scores of quality routes scattered through the tuff and basalt cliffs. It may have more classics per capita than any crag in America. Ranging from beginner routes to hardcore testpieces, there is truly something here for everyone. And take note, there is no shame in stick clipping here–the first bolt on many of the routes is often at least 15 feet off the ground, and there will likely be some committing moves leading up to it.

This place is really beautiful, and the park clearly knows what side it's bread is buttered on; the climbing community is really catered to here. -MP user Chris D

Classic Routes as ranked by MP users: 5 Gallon Buckets (5.8), Wherever I May Roam (5.9), Moons of Pluto (5.10d), Vomit Launch (5.11b), Chain Reaction (5.12c) | Check out all Smith classics.

Where to camp: The Bivouac Area offers year-round first come, first served camping. Fees are $5 per person per night, which includes the parking permit for the next day and use of the showers. Showers are available for $2 to people not registered in the campground. 

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