What’s the difference between hiking and “climbing a mountain”?
Good question! Looking for some of the best locations to climb mountains in the world? We got you. For the purpose of this article we’re going with locations where the skill of mountain climbing is part of the fun – be it whether you’re bouldering, or your climb requires special climbing boots and some level of skill. We’re not talking sherpas scaling Mount Everest with oxygen – but we’re also not talking strolling up a path in sneakers.
We also focused on cities that have airports, good travel connections and mountains nearby. So climbers can travel to the location and get up the slopes without a six week trek into the wilderness.
So strap on your climbing boots. Let’s escalate this quickly and climb some mountains.
1. Oslo, Norway: for ice climbing in Hemsedal and Rjukan
Ice climbing looks like something out of a Viking saga – you clamber up a frozen waterfall using hooked ice axes and climbing boots fitted with metal crampons. Very Thor!
About three hours drive from Oslo are two locations famous for ice climbing, Hemsedal and Rjukan. As well as dramatic snowy landscape where you’ll see hundreds of frozen waterfalls that offer a range of climbs. Some ice climbs are suitable for beginners, with no experience. Others are adventurous, multi-pitch ice waterfalls for experts able to tackle Grades 3-5. Unless you’re an experienced ice climber, go with a guide/teacher who can rent you all the clothes and tailor the course and route to suit your timing, fitness and skill level.
Many of these guides offer packages that include extras like transport, accommodation and excursions to meet the Sami, nomadic reindeer herders. Bonus: Almost every Norwegian speaks excellent English, while many also speak German, French or Spanish.
Tip: Norway’s peak season for the Aurora Borealis Lights is between September and March. It’s due to the long, dark nights rather than an increase in solar activity. It’s more common to see the Northern Lights in Tromso, a town in north Norway, but you can get lucky and see it in Oslo, as well.
2. Seoul, South Korea: for mountain climbing in Bukhansan National Park
Granite mountains cover 700-percent of South Korea. Closest to Seoul are three mountain peaks in Bukhansan National park: Baegundae at 836 metres, Insubong at 810 metres and Mangyeongdae at 787 metres.
Most people visit the mountains in spring and summer, because winter gets very cold, with snow and temperatures of -15 degrees Celsius. Even in summer it’s chilly on the mountain tops – so take layers of clothing, gloves and sturdy climbing boots. The climb to the top of Baegundae is around 5 hours, rated “Moderate”. But the last segment of the trail gets steep. You will be climbing rock stairs and clambering over rocky terrain, using steel cables to help yank yourself up – you did remember your gloves, right?
Tip: Bukhansan National Park is free to enter. It’s popular, so start early and set aside 90 minutes for travel and making connections. There are many entrances and travel options: for example, you can take the Seoul subway to Gupabal Station on line 3. Once you arrive, take exit 1 or 2 and walk to the bus stop. Take Bus 34, 704 and 720. Bus queues can have up to 40 to 60 people snaked up in good weather. So you may prefer to take a cab to the park entrance.
3. Dubai, United Arab Emirates: for rock climbing in Ras Al Khaimah
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) offers lots of rock climbing options, with routes suitable for beginners right through to experts. The mountains are not especially tall at around 1300 metres, but because they are extremely arid, jagged and shattered – these peaks can still be a real challenge.
There are climbing options for everyone: Hiking, Mountaineering, Canyoning, Trad Climbing, Sport Climbing, Toprope, Bouldering, Big Wall, Mixed, Scrambling and Via Ferrata. You can try bouldering by the beach just outside the city of Abu Dhabi, or attempt the Trad and Sport climbing at WonderWall at Al Ain and East of Abu Dhabi, or do it all at Ras Al Khaimah, East of Dubai. This is the most popular climbing and outdoor adventure spot in the whole UAE, with everything from weekend mini-breaks for families to routes for experienced climbers. Find out more about the climbing routes and insider tips from local climbing websites here.
Tip: You can book guided climbing trips or drive to most locations yourself. Most climbing locations are accessible by 2WD but 4WD vehicles are recommended. If you are not driving with a guide, buy paper off-road maps and atlas books. GPS systems are not always reliable. Oh, and sandstorms can spring up and easily hide a road. Literally overnight… it’s gone.
4. Paris, France: for bouldering Fontainebleau
The pretty forest of Fontainebleau is just an hour’s drive from Paris or 44 minutes on the train. A favourite getaway for Parisians, it’s also where you’ll find Château de Fontainebleau, the palatial home of 34 kings and two emperors. It’s also home to the main campus of INSEAD, one of the world’s most elite business schools.
But we’re here for the bouldering! Fontainebleau or “Font” is one of the best places for bouldering in the world. You can find a map here, with hundreds of bouldering options all through the forest . Or you can climb trees, hike, hire bikes and ride horses. For accommodation, most people rent a “gite” – a historic stone-built apartment or house you can share with your partner, family or friends. Some offer food, others are self-catering.
Tip: Take a side trip to Chateau de Fontainebleau. With 1500 rooms, it’s one of the biggest châteaux (residential mansion) in France, filled with gold furniture that sums up the French “art de vivre”, also known as the “French art of living”. You can see Renaissance masterpieces commissioned by François I, Marie Antoinette’s girly decor and the rooms where Napoleon wooed Empress Eugenie. Or just walk around the huge royal park and admire the largest parterre garden in Europe.
5. Milan, Italy: for Alpine climbing in the Dolomites
Drive three or four hours from the fashion city of Milan and you’re in the Dolomite mountains, one of the most famous climbing spots in all Europe. Featuring towering 3,000-metre peaks, imposing vertical limestone walls and dramatic rocky spires, this Italian mountain range close to the Austrian border is a first-class playground for rock climbers.
Some climbing areas are legendary, like Val di Fassa near the Sella Pass. Conveniently, the routes are accessible within 15 minutes from the parking lot at the Sella Pass. See highlights of some of the most popular routes here, as told by a Tyrol native.
Tip: Book accommodation ahead – this region is popular with tourists from Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Apart from incredible scenery, valleys filled with wildflowers, spa hotels and clean mountain air, these tourists come for the food. Western Austria and North Italy used to be known as a single mountain region called Tyrol. They still share the same culture, language, food, a delicious mix of Austrian and Italian cuisine. If you like bacon, try the flavourful smoked pork called speck. Tyrol is famous for it.
6. New York, United States of America: for trad rock climbing in Shawangunk Ridge
Also known as “The Gunks”, this famous climbing region is a 90-minute drive from New York City. Alternatively, you can also get a train to New Hamburg town and then a taxi.
It’s a world-renowned place to climb and a great weekend getaway from New York City because the whole area of Upstate New York is pretty and vibrant, with little towns to explore coffee shops, restaurants, antique stores and craft breweries. The whole area around The Gunks has plenty of Easy and Moderate climbs and hikes, so it’s a good place for beginners, but it still offers challenges for experienced climbers. On that note, climbers describe The Gunks as “Trad Old School”, so don’t expect to find any sport routes.
Two of the major crags on the Mohonk Preserve – Lost City and Bonticou – even have a no-guidebook ethic. Local climbing groups cheerfully share tips on routes but the general vibe seems to be: turn up, decide where to climb and do it.
Tip: The Mohonk Preserve has a USD $20 day-use fee for climbing. This fee pays for maintenance and support from rescue rangers. Minnewaska State Park has a USD $10 fee per person each day for a climbing pass. Gates are locked at 8 p.m. Make sure you’re out of the park before then or your car will be locked in overnight. Cell phone reception is spotty (at best) out at the parks, so calling a taxi will be tough.
7. Queenstown, New Zealand: for climbing on the Southern Alps or Mount Cook
Queenstown is surrounded by the Southern Alps, with mountains of over 3,000 metres. Mount Aspiring (or Tititea) is the most challenging, at 3,033 metres. If you’re looking for Moderate or Easy climbs, head to the nearby Remarkables Mountain Range or Roy’s Peak which offers spectacular views of Lake Wanaka and Queenstown.
Just a day trip from Queenstown are the peaks of Fjordland and Milford Sound, as well as the Darran mountains and Cleddau Valley. This area is full of crags and smooth stone bowls to thrill experienced climbers. But wait, there’s more! Drive three hours north and you’re at Mount Cook National Park. At 3,725 metres, Mount Cook is the greatest mountain climbing challenge in Australasia. Also known as Aoraki, this snow-topped peak is where Sir Edmund Hillary climbed to prepare for his ascent of Mount Everest in 1953. Naturally, it is a magnet for climbers from all over the world.
Tip: The whole Mount Cook National Park is gorgeous and it has lots of hotels and hostels nearby. In New Zealand you can be any age and stay at YHA Youth Hostels. Many have private or family rooms equipped with bathrooms. Memberships there also brings travel and dining discounts. They’re a very economical way to see the country.
8. Nairobi, Kenya: for mountain climbing on Mount Kenya
You already know Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, at 5,895 metres – but have you heard about Mount Kenya? Its challenges include Batian Peak at 5,199 metres and Nelion at 5188 metres – and these two peaks still remain rarely climbed.
An extinct volcano just 150 kilometres northeast of Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, Mount Kenya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Park owing to its unique wildlife and vegetation that includes herds of elephants and forests of wild lobelia flowers. Although close to the equator, Mount Kenya is so high it has a snow cap, eleven small glaciers and ice routes including the Diamond Couloir and the Ice Window route.
Tip: Because of wild animals and unpredictable weather, professional guides are strongly recommended for everyone who enters Mount Kenya National Park – especially hikers and climbers. See here for entry fees, information on guides, accommodation options and climbing permits.
By Tara Barker