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The 7 Best Via Ferrata Routes in the US

Get the summits on these "iron ways", no climbing experience necessary.

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More than a hundred years ago, the Italian military crafted the world’s first via ferrata climbing routes to safely traverse the Dolomites during World War I. These “iron ways,” constructed with ladders and cables anchored into sheer rock faces, enabled regular soldiers to reach areas that were formerly accessible only to experienced alpinists. Ever since, they’ve become popular in Europe as a way to explore the high mountains without the need to buy expensive equipment or master technical climbing skills. Yet it wasn’t until this past decade that via ferrata routes took hold on our side of the Atlantic. 

 American ski resorts now view them as an integral summer attraction, and they’ve become a growing trend at Western hotels. “Land management restrictions have been the reason this was slow to catch on in the US,” explains Ryan Myers, who guides via ferrata climbs at Arizona’s Castle Hot Springs resort. “With the explosion of climbing as a sport, regulations are changing and plans are in place so that government agencies understand the concept and how to manage it responsibly.” 

There are currently more than two dozen via ferratas in the US, up from just a handful a decade ago. Here are some of the most jaw-dropping iron-access summits in the US.

Red River Gorge, Kentucky

  • Time: 4-5 hours
  • Difficulty: varies by section
  • Cost: $56 per day
  • Guide required: no, but reservation is

This beginner-friendly via ferrata in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge was the first commercially-operated course to pop up in the United States back in 2001, when Southeast Mountain Guides hired French experts to anchor iron rungs into the area’s famed pocketed sandstone. All told, there’s about three-quarters of a mile of protective cables traversing a vast horseshoe-shaped canyon. Unlike other spots on this list, climbs are unguided (though supervised) and you can spend several hours at the facility navigating six different sections of varying difficulty once you complete the 45-minute orientation.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

  • Time: 3.5-6 hours
  • Difficulty: 6 routes ranging from introductory to difficult
  • Cost: $450 for 2 people for a half day, $620 for 2 people for a full day
  • Guide required: yes

Traverse low-angle gneiss and steep granite slabs for spectacular views over the Tetons on this newly expanded via ferrata, which starts near the top of the Bridger Gondola at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The six routes here range from easy practice climbs to exposed ascents that rise 500 vertical feet and are comparable to some of the classic climbs in nearby Grand Teton National Park. At the end of all of them is a 120-foot-long cable suspension bridge—the cherry on top of the mountain before you descend to the restaurants at Rendezvous Lodge to toast the adventure.

Arapahoe Basin, Colorado

  • Time: 6 hours 
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Cost: $250 per person Friday-Monday, $225 Tuesday-Thursday
  • Guide required: yes

North America’s highest-elevation via ferrata ascends an epic 1,200 feet to a 13,000-foot summit, which offers 360-degree views over the bald-faced peaks and forested valleys of Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. The route covers 800 vertical feet of climbing on the East Wall, one of the most striking geographical features of Lenawee Mountain, and is noticeably more challenging than the others on this list. Eschewing features like bridges, catwalks, and ladders, the route takes you straight up to replicate a proper mountain ascent, with a strenuous downclimb (instead of a hike or rappel) to return at the base.

 

Bradshaw Mountains, Arizona

Bradshaw Mountains
Bradshaw Mountains (Photo: “Snow Covered Bradshaw Mountains, Spring Valley Trail, Hell’s Canyon Wilderness, Arizona_1” by Ranger Robb is marked with CC PDM 1.0.)
  • Time: 3-3.5 hours
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Cost: free for Castle Hot Springs guests
  • Guide required: yes

Arizona got its first via ferrata route last year when a new course opened at the Castle Hot Springs resort about an hour north of Phoenix, at a total cost of $250,000. One of the few winter-friendly routes in the US, it skirts columnar saguaro cacti and spiky buckhorn cholla on the way to a summit overlooking the rolling Bradshaw Mountains. About halfway into the climb you cross a 200-foot-long aerial walkway high above Castle Creek Canyon before proceeding to the top of Castle Peak. The best part about this climb: When you finish, you can follow a palm-lined pathway up to the namesake hot springs and soothe any sore muscles.

Zion, Utah

  • Time: 8-12 hours
  • Difficulty: hard
  • Cost: $449 per person
  • Guide required: yes

Descend 450 feet into a rarely visited slot canyon called Eye of the Needle, explore the secluded creek bed below, and then ascend a 472-rung via ferrata back to the top. That’s the game plan at this remote spring-fed site, which links up with Oak Creek Canyon just outside of Zion National Park. Managed by Zion Adventures, the route also includes a rappel down a 400-foot waterfall and is a great introduction to wet canyons since its stream flows are usually mild.

Circleville, West Virginia

  • Time: 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Cost: $80 per person November 15-March 15, then $125 per person
  • Guide required: yes

This route, comprised of two razorback “fin” ridgelines of Tuscarora quartzite, lies in West Virginia’s North Fork Valley near the famed climbing area of Seneca Rocks. It’s both one of the few East Coast via ferratas and one of the only open year-round, weather permitting, making it a good choice outside of the traditional summer climbing season. The scramble gains 1,085 feet in elevation, crossing a 200-foot suspension bridge along the way as you gaze out over the ridges that line the Potomac River. Guided tours also take place on the night of the full moon, when you can watch as the Allegheny Mountains (including Spruce Knob, West Virginia’s highest peak) glow under the blue moonlight.

Lake Tahoe, California

  • Time: 2-4 hours
  • Difficulty: moderate to difficult, depending on route
  • Cost: $119-179 per person Monday to Thursday, $129-199 per person Friday to Sunday
  • Guide required: yes

Climb one of California’s most iconic rock faces, the nearly vertical 2,000-foot Tram Face, on this via ferrata above The Village at Palisades Tahoe. Operated by Alpenglow Expeditions, visitors pick one of four routes, which vary by time and difficulty and include challenges like narrow chimney features, steep faces, or exposed twin-cable monkey bridges. Unlike other via ferratas, where you have to continuously clip and unclip out of a steel cable, Alpenglow uses a “continuous lifeline system” that never unclips, making it a seamless journey to the summit.


From 2022