Rock Climbing in the Catskills
For epic climbing in the Catskills, look no further than the Shawangunks. Better known as just "the Gunks," this collection of cliffs is one the country's most popular climbing areas. In fact, the first recorded climbs at the Gunks date back to the 1930s, meaning there's lots of well-traveled routes to discover and a big climbing community to become part of. Join the friendly, welcoming "dirt bags" of the Catskills and get your adrenaline pumping on some of the most spectacular and scenic rock climbing routes in the Northeast! But, before you pack up your ropes, cams, nuts, and favorite shoes, get all the beta on the rock, the region, and the eats.
As with any climbing locale, you'll want to do your research before you arrive. Most of the cliffs that make up the Gunks are located on the Mohonk Preserve, and climbers will have to stop at the Visitor's Center or, on busy weekends, one of several parking lots to purchase a $20 day pass. Pro tip: if you love the experience and can see yourself returning, save your day pass and have it credited toward a $95 annual pass so you can come back and tackle even more routes.
Unlike much of New York's northern climbing, the rock at the Gunks is a quartz conglomerate featuring horizontal fissures instead of vertical cracks. This creates routes filled with challenging roofs, hand-happy jugs, and the big dyno-style moves that are so satisfying to stick. There are several cliffs to choose from. The Trapps and The Near Trapps are the most popular. They can be reached via a half-hour walk down an access road and range in height from 30 to over 250 feet. The Nears offers similarly sized climbers with a shorter approach, and the title of local favorite goes to the secluded Millbrook cliffs.
Additional cliffs can be found off the Mohonk Preserve in Minnewaska State Park. The Peterskill cliffs offer single-pitch climbs, top-roping, and bouldering, making them a popular destination for beginner climbers not yet comfortable with leading climbs or not experienced in placing horizontal protection. Minnewaska State Park does also charge a minimal day use fee of $10 for rock climbers.
With so much rock to explore, climbers of all ability levels will find routes to enjoy in this Catskills climbing oasis. Best known for climbs ranging from one to three pitches, the Gunks are a mecca for trad climbers looking for easy to moderate climbs. That said, ratings are fairly stiff, so downgrading to start is always a good idea. As you work your way through the region, don't be discouraged if you get shut down by grades you normally float through. Instead, climb what feels comfortable and focus on enjoying the experience.
While every route at the Gunks is well worth the effort, there are a few you really shouldn't miss. High Exposure is definitely one of them. One of the oldest named routes in the region, climbers have been raving about this highly exposed 5.6 two-pitch climb since 1941. Topping out at 250 feet on The Trapps cliffs, it continues to be one of the most popular projects at the Gunks. Other favorites include the 5.7 two-pitch Limelight and, for more skilled climbers, the single-pitch Ridicullissima, which ranks in at 5.10c and 180 feet.
While the majority of the climbing at the Gunks is trad, there are some opportunities for top-roping, and some routes do offer bolted belay stations. What you won't find at the Gunks? Sport climbing. While there are a few bolted routes, the Gunks are largely au natural, so you'll need to bring your own protection – and plenty of it! Don't skimp on gear when you come to the Gunks, especially if you're new to climbing in the area.
There's no doubt about it – climbing works up a serious appetite. Luckily, the cool little towns surrounding this sacred climbing ground are full of eclectic eating spots to refuel you for your next big send. New Paltz, a hip mountain/college town minutes from the Gunks, is a hot spot for the Catskills climbing community – and a great place to grab a bite! Replenish your spent calories at B-Side Grill with a fresh burger and a cold, sweet milkshake. Ride out a rainy spell at the Cafeteria Coffee House, a community-minded gathering place with great coffee drinks. Veggie climbers will love the array of offerings at Karma Road, a vegetarian and organic deli complete with baked goods, smoothies, and a juice bar. And, be sure to stop by Lagusta's Luscious to pick up creative hand-crafted vegan chocolates to motivate you up those tougher routes.
After a big day of climbing, there are few things more satisfying than relaxing with your calloused hands wrapped around an icy cold pint. In addition to great food, New Paltz is also home to several breweries and cideries. Taste test their offerings and then kick back and enjoy a locally-sourced, small-batch brew in a vibrant tasting room. Visit the Arrowood Farms Outpost to pick up local beverages and farm-fresh foods; indulge in a burger, wood-fired pizza, or cider donuts along with a crisp hard cider at Brooklyn Cider House at Twin Star Orchards; or get a taste of farm brewed beer crafted with homegrown hops at Gardiner Brewing Company.
Climb, Rest, Repeat.
Don't waste your arms trying to tackle every project on the first day. Make your trip to the Gunks a multi-day affair so you have time to rest up between sends. After all, climbing with totally pumped arms will only get you so far. Camping is a great option for those who are all in for the outdoors, and there are several campgrounds in close proximity to the Gunks, like the Samuel F. Pryor III Shawangunk Gateway Campground in Gardiner. If you're bringing a small climbing army, pitch in and snag the Hidden Cedar Inn in Pine Bush, a secluded estate that sleeps 18 in six bedroom suites. Or, enjoy a stay as memorable as the climbs when you book a room at Audrey's Farmhouse B&B, a pet-friendly gourmet bed and breakfast boasting a Saturday night cocktail party, pool, and muscle-saving Jacuzzi.
Within a two-hour drive of New York City, climbing at the Gunks is a great weekend or day-trip adventure for city-dwelling climbers and rock enthusiasts. For the best climbing conditions, visit in summer and combine your climbs with Catskill Mountain hikes, waterfall adventures, and trips to local swimming holes. Or, come in the fall and enjoy stunning fall foliage views as you ascend your route. Whether you're new to the sport or a seasoned pro, there is no doubt you'll find renewed passion for climbing when you visit the Catskills and climb the Gunks.