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The Best of the National Parks: Climbing
Fifty easy-to-execute plans that put you in the wild heart of America's national parks, whether you love hiking, paddling, climbing, wildlife viewing, or sublime lodges.   By Robert Earle Howells   Illustration by Jesse Lefkowitz

Illustration: Climber at summit

National Parks 2007:

Best Hikes  Best Paddling  |  Best Wildlife  |  Best Treks 

Best Drives  |  Best Climbs  |  Best Lodges  |  See All National Parks

Best Trip: Rafting the Grand Canyon

Olympic National Park, Washington
Mount Olympus

So you want to summit a real-deal mountain with snowfields and crevasses. You want to climb with ropes, crampons, and your own stout heart; to ascend the centerpiece of a rugged and ragged range. But you don't want to go all the way to Alaska and you don't want to deal with the dangers and vagaries of high altitude. There's only one option: 7,980-foot (2,432-meter) Mount Olympus. You won't find a more challenging and gratifying sub-8,000-foot (2,438-meter) peak anywhere.

On most mountains the approach is drudgery, a mere formality to get to the fun stuff. It's different with Olympus. The trip begins with 18 mostly gentle miles (29 kilometers) on the Hoh River Trail through the kind of old-growth rain forest found in only a few places in the lower 48. Take a day or two en route, then set up camp at Glacier Meadows, just below the alpine zone, for the summit march. The big day requires a wee-hours, headlamp-illuminated departure. Ascend the rocky moraine of the Blue Glacier, then rope up to traverse it, avoiding crevasses all the while. Next, scale the subpeak of Snow Dome to reach the upper part of the glacier. From there, climb a narrow col, and scramble up a not quite knife-edge (but certainly exposed) ridge to the summit, 3,780 feet (1,152 meters) above camp. In clear weather the view is awesome: the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island, Mount Rainier, the distant snowy peaks of the Cascades, and a thousand shades of green in every direction.

Inside Word: The steaming mineral baths at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort ($11 a day; are the ultimate après-climb destination. 

Mountain Madness leads five-day ascents, including glacier-travel instruction ($875; For DIY, pick up a wilderness permit at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles
($5 per group, plus $2 a night per adult;

New River Gorge National River, West Virginia
Bridge Buttress
Where on the East Coast can you climb trad in the morning, sport in the afternoon, and boulders at twilight? At the New River Gorge, climbers have put up more than 1,600 routes on the surrounding Nuttall sandstone cliffs, which rise up to 120 feet (37 meters). Bridge Buttress, in the shadow of the 876-foot-high (267-meter-high) New River Gorge Bridge, is a great starter crag.

New River Mountain Guides offers instruction and daylong trips ($250; For more information, visit

Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Durrance Route
Sacred to Native Americans, alluring to aliens, and irresistible to climbers, the 867-foot (262-meter) phonolite monolith of Devils Tower is one of the most recognizable rock formations in the country. It also happens to be riddled with hundreds of crack climbs. Start with the 5.7 Durrance Route, a six-pitch traditional line that hosted the tower's second ascent in 1938.

Climbing is prohibited in June. Sign in at the climber registration office in advance (free; Sylvan Rocks Climbing offers guided daylong ascents ($290;   

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Longs Peak
One of the most legendary of all the Colorado fourteeners, 14,255-foot (4,345-meter) Longs Peak rises like an unassailable fortress from the Front Range. Indeed, there is only one nontechnical route to the top: From the Longs Peak ranger station, hike six miles (ten kilometers) to the Boulder Field and scramble one and a half miles (two kilometers) and (whew!) 4,850 feet (1,478 meters) to the summit via the Keyhole Route. Hint: Follow the painted bull's-eyes.

Set out at 3 a.m. to get off the top by 10 a.m., well before afternoon thunderstorms. For more information, visit     
Sequoia National Park California
Mount Whitney
No peak bagger's portfolio is complete until it includes the highest point in the contiguous U.S., Mount Whitney (14,494 feet [4,418 meters]). Trouble is, you'll often find most of those peak baggers on the trail with you. Not so on the Mountaineers Route, a five-mile (eight-kilometer), Class 4 climb up Whitney's northeast side that was pioneered by John Muir himself.

Sierra Mountain Center leads a three-day summer climb ($570; For permits and reservations, call +1 760 876 6222.

National Parks 2007:

Best Hikes  Best Paddling  |  Best Wildlife  |  Best Treks 

Best Drives  |  Best Climbs  |  Best Lodges  |  See All National Parks

Best Trip: Rafting the Grand Canyon

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