Rock climbing is a challenging sport taking years to master and a ton of effort to get good at it. But, what if you had basic climbing skills and wanted to experience some summer fun in the mountains for a weekend? That’s where Via Ferrata comes in! It’s a great way to get the adrenaline pumping by enjoying dramatic positions and accessing difficult peaks without the danger normally associated with it. In our article, we delve into what it is and where are the best Via Ferrata in North America (including the U.S. & Canada).
What is Via Ferrata?
Italian for “Iron Road”, it’s a centuries old concept of a “protected” path deep in the mountains. Back in the 19th century, these paths were used to access pastures too difficult to reach without any aid. It was then popularized during World War I in the Italian Dolomites to help troops move about the high alpine in very difficult weather conditions. Fast forward to today, and it has become a popular way for inexperienced climbers to undertake dangerous routes normally reserved only for serious mountaineers. How? Well, first a steel cable is attached to the rock face running along the climbing route. Second, additional climbing aids are provided such as:
- Iron rungs (stemples)
- Carved steps
With the steel cable attached and additional aids, a new route is born giving serious climbers a way to go solo while beginners get a taste of the mountains. So, where are the best Via Ferrata routes in North America?
The Best Via Ferrata Routes in US & Canada
Squaw Valley, California
An “Olympic” Kind Of Fun
As mountain town after mountain town has installed a Via Ferrata, it is only fitting that the legendary home of Shane McConkey would be the one in Lake Tahoe that took the lead on building its own. As of September 2018, Squaw Valley in partnership with Alpenglow Expeditions has two Via Ferrata Climbing routes installed on Tram Face. For those that have visited Squaw, you know how serious that face is as it juts up from the Village at Squaw Valley. Don’t you worry though… the routes will allow even those with no climbing experience the opportunity to safely scale the iconic rock face. In addition, Alpenglow offers several options for guided Via Ferrata tours.
For more information about the Tahoe Via Ferrata: tahoevia.com or call Alpenglow Expeditions at 877-873-5376.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
1st Ever On U.S. Forest Service Land
Let’s be honest… Jackson Hole in the Northern Rockies is becoming the adrenaline junkie’s premiere U.S. destination even for summer fun in the mountains. From some of the steepest continuous terrain in the winter to multiple National Parks, access to adventure is at your fingertips! When Jackson Hole opened the Via Ferrata adventure in 2016, they became the FIRST in U.S. history for a Via Ferrata to exist on Forest Service leased land. With eight routes installed and a 120 foot suspension bridge, it allows inexperienced adventurers to get a taste of what the Teton Mountain range offers for climbing. Before this, you’d need to train and build a decent skill set before attempting any of the region’s climbs. Going forward, you now have a place to experience mountaineering AND be safe.
For more information: Jackson Hole Via Ferrata
Canyon Sainte-Anne, Quebec
Dangle Over a Waterfall 1/3 Taller than the Niagara
When you think of a large North American waterfall, most people’s imagination drifts to the Niagara river’s rushing water. What if you could climb a steep rock face next to massive falls that size? Wouldn’t that be awesome? Only 5 minutes from the famed Mont Sainte Anne ski resort, you can do just that and more at Canyon Sainte-Anne in Quebec. The waterfall, located on the Sainte-Anne-du-Nord river, is nearly 1/3 higher than Niagara Falls. But, the amount of adventures available in the nearby region are even bigger! From zip-lining to a suspension bridge, there’s a lot to offer. The shining star on the list though is their Via Ferrata. With three routes available, you’ll get intimately acquainted with the sheer rock faces making this an awe-inspiring locale.
For more information: Canyon Sainte-Anne
Mt. Nimbus, British Columbia
Longest and Highest in North America
We’ve talked about heli-skiing and heli-biking before, but what about heli-Via Ferrata? Deep in the Columbia Mountains, CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures takes hiking to another level by offering heli-assisted Via Ferrata. Highlights include being nearly 3,000 feet up while crossing a 60m long suspension bridge dangling off the summit of Mount Nimbus! They then finish off the experience with a well-rewarded gourmet meal and glass of wine back at the Bobbie Burns Lodge.
For more information: Canadian Mountain Holidays
Mount Norquay, Alberta
Views of Canadian Rockies
The Canadian Rockies in Banff National Park are arguably some of the most majestic peaks in the world. Words cannot describe just how beautiful they are and the Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay is the best way to truly enjoy them. This region offers four routes on the cliffs above the slopes of Mount Norquay. The jewel of the options is the Summiteer. Over the six hour route, you’ll cross a 3-wire suspension bridge over an impressive chasm. It’ll get your heart pumping to say the least! Once you reach the top and take a look around, all that hard-work will be well worth it.
For more information: Banff Norquay
Box Canyon Views with a Main Event
For locals, the Via Ferrata in Telluride is rightly named “Krogerata.” In honor of the local iron worker and avid climber who started work on it, Chuck Kroger sadly passed away of pancreatic cancer in 2007 but is forever memorialized in the region. Located thousands of feet above the famed boxed canyon, the views of town and the grandiose Bridal Veil Falls are down-right breathtaking. This one may not require a guide but we HIGHLY recommend it since some sections don’t have a cable. The trail may start out slowly, but once you arrive at the “Main Event”, it quickly becomes no joke. A section with 300 feet of metal ladder rungs bolted onto a sheer cliff face, it drops nearly 200+ feet below your feet. Even if you don’t have a fear of heights, it will definitely question your judgement.
There are multiple guides you can head out with:
Mount Ogden, Utah
An Ode to a Climbing Legend
Besides the amazing views, the story behind its creation is one that should always be told when speaking about it. The route was established by an Ogden native named Jeff Lowe. A mountain of a man, he completed over 1,000 first ascents, some of them solo, helping create each of the three routes back in 2004. It was around this time he found out he had ALS, causing his balance and coordination to deteriorate. When you step out onto one of his trails, you’ll appreciate the amount of detail he put into them from coming around a corner to see orange lichen to being “forced” to have a view of the Great Salt Lake. By the end, you’ll understand why people get into rock climbing. To access this amazing place, please note you must participate in a guided hike or climb with an authorized guide from the Utah Adventure Center.
Take in the Eastern Sierra as Your Backdrop
When it comes to adrenaline fueled fun, Mammoth ranks pretty far up on the list for year-round fun. World-class skiing through at least June (or later). More than 80 miles of mountain bike trails that you can enjoy along with spring skiing. And as of 2018, it includes Via Ferrata! Located on the rugged cliffs below the Caldera Overlook adjacent to the McCoy station, it features six different route options that progress in difficulty. Three easy, two moderate that are joined by a suspension bridge, and one difficult route.
For more information: Guided Climbing Adventures At Mammoth Mountain
Taos Ski Valley
Experience the Renaissance
Since the new owner bought Taos, they’ve earmarked $300 million dollars on revitalizing the area. In their words, they’re getting “better, not bigger.” As part of this initiative, it includes building a Via Ferrata located in the upper bowl near lift 4. Current plans for the Main Street Cliff area is to include three distinct Via Ferrata climbs up to a picnic area and bench. The first one is to include 150 to 200 feet of vertical climbs and have access to a 125-foot aerial walkway. The other two “pods” are currently planned to have vertical climbing between 75 and 165 feet of varying skill levels. After two years of construction, the plan is to open in Summer 2020.
For More Information: Taos Ski Valley Renaissance