Whether you’re a novice mountain climber or an elite alpinist, mountain climbing has something for most everyone. Not only will you be able to enjoy America’s great outdoors amid breathtaking vistas, you’ll also be getting a total body workout and a chance to strengthen your mental toughness as well as endurance. Of course, before beginners venture out on a mountaineering trip that can be an exhilarating and rewarding experience, it’s important to do some advance planning. To help get you started, here is a look at five of the best mountain climbing destinations in America, with multiple options suitable for climbers of all levels.
Denali National Park
Denali Park, AK 99755
For those who insist on the ultimate mountain climbing experience in America, most will have some traveling to do. Located 240 miles north of Anchorage and 120 miles south of Fairbanks, Denali National Park only has a single road entrance via Highway 3, along with train service provided by the Alaska Railroad. The payoff of visiting this spectacular six million-acre park is, of course, a chance to climb Mount McKinley – at 20,322 feet, the highest mountain in North America. However, the ascent up “The Great One” is extremely challenging, even for the most experienced mountain climbers, and novice climbers are advised to join a guided expedition. Although solo climbing is allowed, the national park system recommends six authorized guide services and pre-registration for all expedition members must be made 60 days in advance.
Related: Top Natural Wonders In The USA
Grand Teton National Park
Moose, WY 83012
No other North American mountain climbing destination has more listings in the “Fifty Classic Climbs” than Grand Teton. North Ridge, Direct Exum Ridge and North Face are all technical routes up the 13,7770-foot Grand Teton, the highest peak of Wyoming’s Teton Range. In addition to the three classic climbs, Teton National Park has approximately 800 routes through the Teton Range and more than 200 peaks. Unlike some other national parks, a climbing permit is not required, although overnight visitors must obtain a backcountry camping permit.
Mount Rainier National Park
Ashford, WA 98304
Mount Rainier is the highest mountain in both Washington state and the 48 contiguous United States. Located 54 miles southeast of Seattle in the fifth oldest national park, Mount Rainier has a summit elevation of 14,410 feet above seal level and annually draws thousands of mountain climbers. However, of the more than 10,000 climbers who attempted to scale the mountain last year, less than half actually made it to the top. Still, there are a number of climbing routes with varying technical levels, and the climbing season typically starts in April then tapers off by the middle of August.
Rocky Mountain National Park
1000 Highway 36
Estes Park, CO 80517
Spanning more than 265,000 acres, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the largest and most visited national parks in the country. Visitors have a wealth of climbing opportunities, including some very technical routes on Longs Peak, at 14,259 feet, the highest summit in the park and one of 53 “fourteeners” (peaks of 14,0000 feet or higher) in Colorado. One of the world’s most famous alpine climbs is on the east face of Longs Peak known as The Diamond, with a vertical gain of approximately 1,000 feet. Despite the allure of climbing the highest peak in the park, Longs Peak is not an ideal climb for novice climbers, who should attempt easier ascents such as Flattop Mountain, Sundance Mountain or Twin Sisters Peak.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Village, CA 95389
Yosemite was a world-class mountain climbing destination long before its catchphrase, “Go climb a rock,” was popularized. Although the iconic national park features nearly 30 mountain peaks with an elevation of 12,000 feet or more, the two most famous peaks in the peak are both under 9,000 feet. With an elevation of 8,844 feet, Half Dome is one of Yosemite’s most treasured natural wonders. The most popular route is from Yosemite Valley to the summit via a cable system, with passes assigned by a lottery system. The other iconic rock formation in Yosemite is El Capitan, which gained more notoriety in January when two Americans completed the “world’s most difficult rock climb.” While climbing Half Dome or El Capitan is not for everybody, Yosemite has other options, including guided climbs from the Yosemite Mountaineering School.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.