"The climbing here is so accessible, and there's so much of it—we have literally years' worth of routes," says Evan Marks, who runs the New Paltz–based Web site Gunks.com. That's Gunks as in Shawangunks, of course, the ridges that loom 200 feet above the orchards and farmlands between the Hudson River and the Catskills, just outside this college town 90 miles north of New York City. The Nature Conservancy dubbed the Gunks, with their quartz-conglomerate cliffs and cold-running streams, one of earth's "Last Great Places." Hundreds of climbers who come here each weekend from the city and points beyond—many of whom eventually put down roots in this community of SUNY–New Paltz undergrads, artists, homeschoolers, and tie-dyed street drummers—don't argue the point. More than 100 miles of old carriage trails on protected lands nearby, like the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park, lead to some 800 routes, including such classic face climbs as Survival of the Fittest, boulder problems like Genghis Khan (a 40-foot overhanging cave), and hundreds of short single-pitch routes ranked 5.9 or lower. Amid the 300-year-old stone houses downtown, Rock and Snow is both gear emporium and gossip channel, and the beer list at Bacchus—400 strong—helps amplify untold numbers of postclimb recaps.
Easy access for city dwellers can mean overcrowded trails, especially during high-season weekends.
Bishop, California. You'll find more than 800 sport-climbing routes on volcanic rock in the Owens River Gorge, northwest of town, and some 3,000 bouldering problems within an hour's drive. And you're just a few hours from the storied big walls of Yosemite and world-class ice climbing in the eastern Sierra.