Rock climbing is an extreme sport that brings you to the highest perches where few people ever venture. It’s a thrilling, challenging way to grow in new ways and rock climbing in Colorado offers some of the best rock climbing terrain in the US.
I’ve been climbing for over five years. Having climbed all over the US, I find myself still coming back to the best rock climbing areas in Colorado. There’s a variety of mega-classic climbs suitable for beginners all the way through the professional level.
About this Guide to Rock Climbing in Colorado
In this local’s guide to the best rock climbing in Colorado, you’ll find a variety of tips and tricks including:
- Information about the best rock climbing in Colorado
- Rock type, difficulty level, and suggested routes
- Any local tips or red tape
- Tips for beginner rock climbers
- Suggested rock climbing guide services
- Quick tips for rock climbing in Colorado
Sport Climbing in Clear Creek Canyon
Located just 25 minutes from downtown Denver, Clear Creek Canyon is a local crag with plenty of climbing areas worth checking out. Clear Creek Canyon is the best rock climbing area in Golden, Colorado. 95% of the routes here are sport climbs with a few trad and top rope options. The trad climbing here isn’t really worth it and tends to be dirty. However, this is one of the best places for beginner rock climbing in Colorado thanks to closely spaced bolts.
Local Tip: Overnight parking and camping are not allowed in the canyon, however, there are a few free places to camp nearby.
Must-Climb Routes: Playin’ Hookey (4 pitch 5.8), Skimball Shanks (5.8), 5th of July (5.9), People’s Choice (2 pitch 5.10+), Reefer Madness (5.11a), Walking With a Ghost (5.11b/c), Sonic Youth (5.13a)
Difficult Sport Climbing at Rifle Mountain Park
If you’re looking for the most incredible limestone climbing in the United States, come to Rifle Mountain Park. As a premier destination for rock climbing in Colorado, Rifle is an absolute sanctuary for the experienced sport climber. Routes tend to be long, pumpy, overhung endurance feats, making it an excellent spot to safely push your grade and have a little fun. There’s a $5 fee to get into the park.
Must-Climb Routes: Dr. Strangelove (5.9), Merry Maids (5.10a), Feline (5.11b), Ricochet (5.12a), Sprayathon (5.13c)
Alpine Climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park
If you’re looking to tackle classic American alpine climbing, look no further than Rocky Mountain National Park. Keep in mind this is not an ideal place for beginner outdoor climbers unless you’re on a guided trip. However, if you’re a competent trad climber looking to go on an alpine adventure, this place is heaven. There’s a wide variety of alpine climbs, typically requiring a long, sloggy approach. Most of the climbs take at least 12 hours car-to-car. There’s a $25 fee to get into the park.
Pro Tip: You can split up your approach with a bivvy permit. Take care in the alpine. Routes can be run out, difficult to navigate, and weather moves in quickly in the mountains.
Must-Climb Routes: Northeast Ridge of Sharkstooth (5 pitches, 5.6), The South Face of the Petit Grepon (8 pitches, 5.8), The Casual Route on Long’s Peak (7 pitches, 5.10a), Pervertical Sanctuary on Long’s Peak (6 pitches, 5.11a)
Multi-Pitch Trad Climbing in Eldorado Canyon
When it comes to rock climbing in Colorado, you simply can’t miss Eldorado Canyon. Although there’s far better rock to be found in Colorado, Eldorado Canyon is steeped in history. Littered with famously sandbagged (read: more difficult than described), Layton Kor put up a lot of FA’s here. This place is a playground for budding multi-pitch trad climber (there are no bolted routes here) and the expert sender alike. There’s a $10 fee to get into the park.
Local Tip: The one knock on Eldorado Canyon is the choss. Thanks to the conglomerate sandstone, some routes can feel a bit more like tip-toeing on a shady sandcastle, so do your research before heading out.
Must-Climb Routes: Rewritten (6 pitches, 5.7), The Bastille Crack (5 pitches, 5.7), The Yellow Spur (5 pitches, 5.9+, my favorite route in the canyon), The Naked Edge (6 pitches, 5.11b)
Classic Climbing Routes in Estes Park
If you want to follow in the footsteps of famous climbers like Tommy Caldwell, then come climb in Estes Park. There’s a wide variety of routes to be found surrounding this mountain town. However, the approaches tend to be long making this area some of the most adventurous rock climbing in Colorado.
Lumpy Ridge, in particular, offers plenty of adventure, but be prepared for off-widths, flaring cracks, and plenty of run out on sharp granite. Lumpy holds a special place in my heart, it’s where my fiance and life-long belay partner proposed!
Local Tip: There are many different areas offering sport, trad, and multi-pitch climbs. Keep in mind that many “sport” climbs will require a few pieces of gear to avoid dangerous run-out, so be sure to read route descriptions.
Must-Climb Routes: Batman and Robin (4 pitches, 5.6), Kor’s Flake (6 pitches, 5.7+), Edge of Time (5.9), Cheap Date (5.10b), Crack of Fear (3 pitches, 5.10d)
Shoulder-Season Climbing at Shelf Road
When the mountains fill with snow, die-hard crag rats head to Shelf Road down south near Canon City. This stunning landscape of limestone cliffs offers up some of the best moderate to advanced sport rock climbing in Colorado. Everything is single pitch, and with literally thousands of routes to choose from, it’s one of the best winter climbing spots in Colorado.
Local Tip: This is a great spot to learn how to take outdoor falls since the walls are vertical. However, bring your stick clip, as the first bolts tend to be high off the deck.
Must-Climb Routes: Oscar de la Cholla (5.9), Ga-stoned Again (5.9), The Crack of Dawn (5.10b), Suburbia (5.10b/c), Muscle Beach (5.11a), Freeform (5.12a)
Trad Climbing in Boulder Canyon
Boulder Canyon has the best rock quality in all of Colorado. It’s my favorite place to climb thanks to the beautiful slices of granite throughout the canyon. Most of the rock climbing is trad and makes for a great area for beginner rock climbing in Colorado if you’re looking to start trad climbing. There are also a variety sport routes, top rope areas, and several multi-pitch options.
Local Tip: Beginner trad climbers should check out Boulderado, Happy Hour Crag, and Elephant Buttress.
Must-Climb Routes: North Face Center Cobb Rock (2 pitches, 5.7+), East Slab of the Dome (5.6), The Young and the Rackless (4 pitches, 5.9), Dementia (5.10a), Lust (5.10c), Country Club Crack (2 pitches, 5.11c)
Rock Climbing in the Poudre Canyon
Located just west of Fort Collins, the Poudre Canyon has countless sport climbing and mixed sport/trad routes. There’s a variety of rock here from granite to Gneiss, not all of it is super-solid so be sure to read up before you hit the crag.
Must-Climb Routes: Sky Crack (5.7), East of Eden (5.9), Silver Girl (5.10c) Delicious Demon (5.11a/b),
Send a Flatiron in Boulder
One of the most iconic things to do in Colorado is free-solo the Second Flatiron. These slab-o-licious climbs are typically low on gear and big on views. As a classic, multi-pitch trad climbing area, the Flatirons in Boulder are easily accessible and perfect for a guided day out.
Must-Climb Routes: The Freeway (6 pitches, 5.0), East Face Standard on the Third Flatiron (8 pitches, 5.4), Direct Route on the First Flatiron (10 pitches, 5.6R), Ultrasauras (5.13a)
Climbing at Garden of the Gods
Located just a stone’s throw (see what I did there?) from Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods offers some of the best rock climbing in Colorado. It’s a fan-favorite, mostly thanks to the beautiful sandstone formations. However, keep in mind the climbing here is a tad adventurous for the beginner. Most routes require gear, even those labeled “sport” so do your homework.
Local Tip: Permits are required to climb here. You can obtain them online. You’ll also need to comply with chalk regulations that require you to use red-colored chalk. Don’t climb sandstone when wet, wait at least 24 hours after rain.
Must-Climb Routes: North Ridge of Montezuma Tower (2 pitches, 5.7), New Era (2 pitches, 5.7), Footloose ‘N’ Fancy Free (5.11a), Anaconda *2 pitches, 5.11c)
Adventurous Climbing in Unaweep Canyon
Although Unaweep Canyon is mostly known for its bouldering routes, there’s plenty of fun rock climbing to be had. Located just 30 minutes from Grand Junction, you can hop on one of the many granite/gniess routes or even get on one of the large sandstone formations. There’s also a variety of options for sport climbers and trad freaks alike. Routes are sustained and long here, which makes for some excellent rock climbing in Colorado.
Must-Climb Routes: Dovercourt (5.7), True Grit (5.8), Sweet Sunday Serenade (3 pitches, 5.9), Questions and Answers (three pitches, 5.10+),
When is the Best Time to Rock Climb in Colorado?
Thanks to places like Garden of the Gods, Shelf Road, and even Clear Creek Canyon, you can rock climb in Colorado year-round. However, the best times for climbing fall between April and October. Desert locales become unbearably hot in the summer, while the high alpine opens up for a brief time between July and early September.
Related: When to Visit Colorado?
Learning How to Rock Climb in Colorado
Beginner rock climbing in Colorado is actually quite accessible. In fact, there’s a wide variety of places to learn how to transition from indoor to outdoor climbing.
One way to do this is to hire a guide or take a guided outdoor climbing course. If you have all the rock climbing gear, you can go out on your own and learn in a safe environment.
My number one place to recommend newbie climbers is the East Colfax area in Clear Creek Canyon. It’s super-safe thanks to the closely spaced bolts (you’ll feel like you’re gym climbing). There are even anchors on the ground so you can safely practice proper cleaning techniques. There’s also a super-easy trad line (5.4) with bolts next to it to learn how to trad climb.
Rock Climbing Guiding Services in Colorado
Rock climbing in Colorado is absolutely a bucket-list activity. Colorado is known worldwide for its excellent rock climbing. If you don’t have any experience with the sport, hiring a guide to take you on a climb is a must-do.
I’ve worked with a variety of guiding services over the years with my work as a freelance writer and adventure photographer. I absolutely recommend the Mountain Guides Colorado (a branch of Jackson Hole Mountain Guides) for your guided climbs. They are safe, informative, and all-around great people to spend the day with.
Guided climbs are not cheap (guides slave for years to become certified) but Mountain Guides Colorado offers reasonable rates for guides. They also have an array of courses you can take to improve your skills.
Tips for Rock Climbing in Colorado
Rock climbing in Colorado is much like climbing in most of the US, except you’ll want to keep these local tips in mind:
- Leave the crag better than you found it. Pick up your trash (and the trash of others), use wag bags for your poop, and keep the crag clean.
- Be friendly, but don’t tell others how to live their lives. Say hey, shout hurray when a fellow climber pulls a big move, and keep the smiles coming.
- Dogs at the crag. Colorado is a super dog-friendly state, but don’t bring along a dog that can’t behave. It’s dangerous for everyone and no one wants to hear your dog bark, fight, or run away all damn day.
- Watch the weather. Colorado weather changes on a dime, so be sure to check the weather and watch for incoming storms. Bolts and trad gear don’t make for good lightning protection.
- Wear a helmet. Rockfall is a huge issue for climbers. Helmets should go on at the crag and come off at the car. Trust me, I was in a freak climbing accident and had my belayer (and fiance) not been wearing a helmet, we would have been airlifted off the crag.
- Don’t climb wet sandstone. It’s dangerous, bolts, gear, and holds can pull, causing deadly accidents. Also, you can ruin the route for future climbers.
Notes About Bouldering in Colorado
Bouldering in Colorado is a long-loved pastime. Although I’m not a pebble climber myself, there are plenty of world-class bouldering areas to scope out. Here are a few local favorites:
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Mount Sanitas
- Unaweep Canyon
- Morrison, Colorado
Overall, there’s plenty of world-class rock climbing in Colorado for all types of climbers. From the newbs to the pros, you’ll be spoiled for choice. So climb on in one of the world’s best climbing destinations.
Planning an adventurous trip to Colorado? Check out these local resources: