Via Ferrata, Anyone? Where to Find the Best in the West
Via ferratas often require little or no experience and provide views traditionally reserved for world-class rock climbers.
The soaring popularity of rock climbing in recent years is indisputable. From mainstream productions that introduced the masses to climbers like Alex Honnold, Jimmy Chin, and Tommy Caldwell to the surge of rock climbing gym openings, the adrenaline-fueled activity has taken hold in every corner of the world.
Of course, rock climbing isn’t for everyone. Whether it’s the cost of equipment, technical challenges, or just confronting heights without something firm to hold onto, there are inhibiting factors galore. For those who want the views without those challenges, however, there is the hike-climb hybrid known as the via ferrata.
Italian for “iron path,” via ferratas were first implemented during World War I, when troops transiting Italy’s Dolomite Mountains installed similar systems to transport supplies. Today, similar iterations, with recreation as the driving force, span alpine environments all over the world.
Systems of iron rungs for grip, and cables to clip in, squire visitors along vertical rock, up and down ladders, and across harrowing suspension bridges that offer no shortage of awe-inspiring views. Thanks to many United States via ferratas being tour guide-operated, equipment, which includes items like locking carabiners, a harness, and a helmet, among others, is usually included as part of a via ferrata tour package.
Better yet, many via ferratas often require little or no experience, with visitors of all ages and athletic abilities able to enjoy the same sights traditionally afforded to the rarest of athletic communities. Interested in giving one a go? We threw together a handful of our favorites to make choosing one a bit easier.
Hope to see you up there!
Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, Alaska
We’d be hard-pressed to find a more adventure-oriented state than Alaska, and while its imposing mountains can be enjoyed from the ground—and by a small number on high—mountainside accessibility isn’t something the last frontier is known for.
That changed in 2019 with the introduction of Alaska’s very first via ferrata at the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge near Anchorage. The 1,200-foot cable network features two suspension bridges and 900 feet of elevation gain. Just be prepared for adventure before this adventure—guests can only get to the lodge on a float plane. From there, it’s a 10-minute helicopter ride to the via ferrata. Sounds like quite the day to us!
Mount Nimbus, British Columbia
No North American via ferrata list would be complete without the continent’s longest and highest entry. When climbers of British Columbia’s Mount Nimbus via ferrata aren’t traversing rock faces over 3,000 feet off the ground, they’re tackling suspension bridges over 2,000-foot drops that are sure to reorganize your inner constitution.
Designed for the novice, the courses at Mount Nimbus require no experience necessary. Some athleticism is recommended, however. Work up enough of an appetite and enjoy a hearty meal and drinks at the Bobbie Burns Lounge.
Estes Park, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park is incredibly popular for a good reason. Why not add one more exhilarating activity to your visit, courtesy of the Kent Mountain Adventure Center, in the neighboring town of Estes Park?
Guides will take you up the 600-foot Peregrine Arête, considered one of the nation’s more thrilling climbs, using the wall’s rock, steel rungs, and ladders. At the top, you’ll take in the otherworldly sights of the park from one of the area’s best vantage points.
Cañon City, Colorado
Four different via ferrata routes ranging in difficulty await visitors of this town just south of Colorado Springs. Climbers will enjoy views of towering canyon walls—Royal Gorge plunges to 1,250 feet at its deepest point—and the surrounding mountains.
If that doesn’t do it for you, maybe the fact that the Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge has earned the title of the nation’s highest will.
It’s no coincidence that one of the country’s most mountainous states boasts some of the best via ferratas, and yet the San Juan Mountains in Colorado’s beautiful southwest are routinely overlooked.
The Telluride via ferrata route is a mile-and-a-half journey that touts views of stunning peaks, the mountain town below, a thrilling box canyon, and the 400-foot Bridal Veil Falls—the longest in the state. This route also offers the rare opportunity to go without a guide, though paying for a little extra expertise never hurts.
Canyon Point, Utah
Guests of the luxury, 600-acre Amangiri resort have the unique world of southern Utah recreation at their disposal, including seven different guided via ferrata tours.
Wind your way up through approximately 400 feet of alien landscapes unique to this stunning region, where you’ll take in views of the surrounding parklands comprising red rock, slot canyons, and more. Not a bad way to pass the time if you’re not exploring Glen Canyon, Canyonlands, or Zion.
One of the more challenging via ferrata courses in North America is this mountainous haven in northern Utah. Three different routes are available, some offering more technical climbing than the others, but don’t let that scare you—inexperienced visitors are still welcome.
Climbers complete 400 feet of elevation gain to arrive at the aptly named Waterfall Canyon, where guests will have their hard work rewarded with a waterfall view only those at the top get to enjoy.
From resident ski bums and nature enthusiasts to rock climbers and anglers, every manner of adventurer is called to the Grand Teton range. And what better way to look out at it all than from the network of via ferratas run by the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort?
The Bridger Gondola drops guests at the top of the Tetons, where a short stroll ushers those interested toward climbs appealing to various skill levels that yield incredible views from heights only the most daring would attempt on skis.