New Hampshire’s major cliffs and crags are well-known, well-loved, and well-traveled. The soaring cracks of Cathedral Ledge, the sweeping slabs of Whitehorse, and the steep bolted routes of Rumney are all acclaimed and favorites among climbers for a reason. However, that popularity comes at a cost, especially for the introverted among us.

Finding solitude at a lesser-known New Hampshire climbing destination

Why Climb at Lesser-Known Climbing Destinations

Have you ever set out early to climb a particular classic route, full of excitement and high expectations only to arrive at the base to find hammocks, dogs, speakers, and two parties already ahead of you (and another coming up behind you)? Or, shortly upon arriving at a cliff be greeted with the ol’ “Hey, whatcha getting on?” question, which is possibly logistical in nature, but also seems a touch like you’re being sized up. (I mean, how do they know you weren’t planning to forge up an untouched area of the wall and put up a new route? They don’t, and you weren’t, but it’s none of their business anyway…but I digress.)

5 Obscure New Hampshire Climbing Destinations

Through years of climbing from one end of the Granite State to the other, I have developed a penchant for the obscure. Cliffs that offer high-quality climbing, adventure, and solitude abound throughout the state. Below are some of my favorite climbing destinations that are off the beaten path. Trust me, they’re worth your time.

Climbing Longstack Precipice a lesser-known NH climbing destination
The author on Still Gettin’ Booty, 5.10a

1. Longstack Precipice, New Durham

The Chinos Mountain Club springs to mind when I think of the development of obscure New Hampshire rock climbing. This hard-working crew brought to the region a multitude of new routes and crags. In fact, they’ve developed so much that it could be its own article. Perhaps the club’s best-kept secret was Longstack Precipice—that is until they put the word out about this fantastic climbing area on the internet and in Jonathan Garlough’s guidebook, The Chinos Guide: Climbing in the New Durham Area.

At nearly 200 feet tall, this southern-facing cliff is perched upon the hillside of Knights Pond Conservation area (near Wolfeboro) and offers superb traditional climbing, especially early and late season. Pleasantly surprising is that, despite a mild approach and relative proximity to civilization, it affords fantastic views of the surrounding woodlands, Knights Pond, and Lake Winnipesaukee. One thing you won’t see, however, is man-made structures.

There’s a fair bit of fixed protection and even a few sport routes at Longstack Precipice—a standard rack to #3 and a 60-meter rope is sufficient for protecting most routes. A few offerings I recommended are:

  • Still Gettin’ Booty (5.10a)
  • Riptide (5.9, 2 pitches)
  • The Arete (5.9)
  • Gentle Violence (5.11c)
  • Coyote Rain (5.6, 2 pitches)
Rock climbing on Owl's Head a lesser-known NH climbing destination
Dallas (5.11a, 6 pitches)

2. Owl’s Head, Oliverian Notch

If you’re looking for an even bigger adventure, head out for a day at Owl’s Head in Oliverian Notch. The cliff on Owl’s Head is 600 feet tall, is mostly high-quality granite, and has a ton of routes from 5.7 to 5.12, with a heavy concentration in the 5.10-5.11 range.

Hardly anyone visits Owl’s Head; a long, tick-infested bushwack through a swamp keeps the crowds at bay. The approach really isn’t that bad and climbing is well worth the price of admission. Just leave your nice La Sportiva TX2s (or approach shoe du jour) at home and opt instead for a pair of knee-high rubber boots.

The routes on Owl’s Head have a reputation as runout scare-fests. This is somewhat true, spooky routes with minimal gear are available if that’s your thing. However, a slew of modern routes (i.e., well-protected) are also found at the cliff and worth visiting. A few routes worth checking out include Jupiter (5.10, 4 pitches) and Dallas (5.11, 6 pitches).

Lesser-known rock climbing destination, Mount Willard
End of the Universe (5.10b, 2-3 pitches)

3. Mount Willard, Crawford Notch

The super-scenic route Across the Universe (5.10a, 4 pitches) on Mount Willard in Crawford Notch is a must-do autumn climb thanks to its quality and impressive perspective. While Across the Universe is hardly obscure, the routes above this fall favorite on the upper tier of Mount Willard certainly qualify.

The upper tier is gained by pushing one more scrappy pitch past where most parties rappel from Across the Universe—the fourth, “Milky Way” pitch—to the base of another impressive wall. The upper tier is adorned with two- to three-pitch routes featuring 5.10 climbing and handmade bolt hangers. The routes can take you all the way to the top of Mount Willard—albeit with some route finding and good old-fashioned rockaneering near the top. Jon Sykes’s The Notches: A Rock Climber’s Guide to the Western White Mountains of New Hampshire is the best resource for the cliff.

I’ve climbed nearly all of the routes on the upper tier and haven’t been disappointed. However, if I had to recommend only one, I’d say the Across the Universe to End of the Universe combination is probably the best. The icing on the cake of climbing on Mount Willard’s upper tier is the chance to top out on a beautiful summit and enjoy a leisurely hike—rather than rappelling—down the Mount Willard Trail (1.6 miles) to the car. From here, a cold beer at Fabyan’s Station is just a short drive away.

Putting up a first ascent on a lesser-known climbing destination, Eagle Mountain Cliff
Jonathan Garlough on the FA of Resurrection (5.11c), Eagle Mountain Cliff

4. Eagle Mountain Cliff and Jackson Crag, Jackson

If sport climbing is your jam, you’ll want to check out two crags hidden in the hills of Jackson: Eagle Mountain Cliff and Jackson Crag. These two areas are located near one another. In fact, they’re so close that they share the same parking lot and about 80% of the approach—a roughly 25-minute walk from the Eagle Mountain House Hotel.

Eagle Mountain Cliff is the most impressive of the two areas, offering fantastic bolt-protected face climbing on a mostly vertical wall. Routes on Eagle Mountain Cliff are primarily within the 5.10 to 5.12 range, however, there are some easier lines in the 5.4 to 5.7 range that are protected with a light rack. Highly recommended routes that rival those at the nearby and better-known Sundown Ledge include:

  • Whippoorwill (5.10)
  • Resurrection (5.11c)
  • Hayabusa (5.12c)

Jackson Crag is just a short bushwhack beyond Eagle Mountain Cliff and offers a number of fun sport routes. The crag is not quite as visually striking as its counterpart; it’s a little bit dirtier and a tad chossy in some parts. The El Wall is the most impressive area of the crag and hosts nearly a dozen sport routes ranging from 5.8 to 5.13.

5. Sandwich Notch Bouldering, Sandwich

Pebble wrestlers will want to explore the bouldering in Sandwich Notch. Located off of Sandwich Notch Road is an over-200-year-old seasonal dirt road (it’s not maintained in the winter) running from Center Sandwich to NH Route 49 (near the turn-off for the Welch-Dickey trailhead). The boulders are situated around the Bearcamp River and Beede Falls and the setting feels like Narnia or some other magical land.

There’s no guidebook for Sandwich Notch bouldering and there have also been a ton of undocumented new problems put up by a few dedicated climbers over the past few years. The Alchemist Boulder by Beede Falls is a great spot to begin exploring the area and is home to problems ranging from V0/V1 to V9.

No crowds, no problem on the Granite State's lesser known crags and cliffs

Exploring Unknown Classics

Everyone talks about the same popular routes, for good reason, but there are numerous beautiful routes hiding throughout New England. Predator at Orange Crush…how about Predator on the Eaglet? Recompense on Cathedral…try The Great Book on Vermont’s Wheeler Mountain. Atlantis on Whitehorse…I think Across the Universe/End of the Universe on Willard is better. Fun, safe, and convenient climbing is just the ticket for most of us most of the time. However, for those willing to risk wasting a day of climbing now and again, a roam through the woods looking for some little-known spot will eventually turn up some true gems. Best of all, you’ll have the place all to yourself.