Top Ten Sport Climbing Areas In Colorado
Rock Climbing Colorado
Colorado, one could easily argue, is home to the best rock climbing in the nation. From limestone to granite, from crack to slab to steep overhangs, from short single pitch sport lines to long multi pitch trad. classics to even longer multi day big walls, Colorado has something for every type of climber. This page focuses on one type of climbing only – sport climbing, which also happens to be my favorite kind of climbing.
In spite of the fact that I have been climbing for over 18 years, I have not visited every single rock face in the state and therefore can only decide based upon what I have climbed, what the top ten sport climbing areas are. This page is simply my personal opinion. If I have missed your favorite climbing area in the state, please feel free to tell me about it and I'll certainly plan my next road trip there! In addition, since I do not climb above the grade of 5.11c, I have not chosen any routes above that grade as my recommended favorites. What I have chosen are areas that I believe are well worth a visit and routes that are fun, safe, classic lines, well worth climbing.
Rock Climbing Colorado - A Great Guidebook
Planning a climbing trip to Colorado? Don't come without the most essential piece of gear - a guidebook. This book is the only guide available that covers all the major climbing areas in the state with routes ranging from 5.0 to 5.14--including big cliffs and faces of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to the smaller crags and outcrops of Pikes Peak, Boulder, Rifle, Shelf Road, Elevenmile Canyon, and much more.
In all 37 areas covered, this guide provides first-hand information for area overviews and climbing histories, route betas and topos, detailed maps, and photos. Also included are suggestions for equipment and approach and descent information as well as listings for shops, gyms, and guide services. Rock Climbing Colorado is essential for planning your next trip to one of Colorado's premier climbing areas.
#10 The Ironclads
Located just outside of Allenspark, climbing at The Ironclads offers both short and long sport routes at a higher altitude. The climbs are set in a pretty forested setting and the rock is nice solid granite. Technical face and slab climbing make this an enjoyable outing.
The downside to the area is that climbing is rather spread out and a 4 wheel drive is needed to access some of the areas. Many people come to this area for off roading and as a result, the area has become abused with eroded trails, social trails, broken glass and trash.
Three of my favorite routes at The Ironclads:
Fire Widow aka Gypsies in the Palace 5.10c Located on the Ironsides formation. Long a little run out but crimps and underclings make the climbing near the top super fun.
Alloy Madness 5.10c Located on the Ironsides formation. Long, a couple of small roofs and some fun balancey moves.
Stock Still and Stoic 5.10b Located on the Punk Rock formation, Short but fun moves
In this photo Chrissy Biggs on typical Ironclads granite
# 9 Clear Creek Canyon
Clear Creek canyon climbing is located along highway 6 from Golden to I -70. While there are some spots with loose rubble in the canyon, it turn out to be mostly solid and nicely featured gneiss and there are actually hundreds of routes on multiple rock formations of all grades to be found. The short approaches and close proximity to the Denver-Boulder area make Clear Creek canyon a great after work climbing destination. In addition, many of the rock faces are south facing and therefore Clear Creek canyon can be a year round climbing destination. The main downside of the area is, of course, that you are basically right next to a major highway, your view is pretty much the highway, and the sounds of nature are most often overshadowed by the sounds of continuous traffic. Some formations in the canyon, however, such as the Highlander wall, featured in the photo, are a hike up above the canyon far enough to give you a more scenic and secluded feel.
Three of my favorite routes at Clear Creek:
Refer Madness 5.11b Located on the Wall of The 90's. Excellent sustained vertical face climbing
Radometer In The Red Zone 5.11c Located on the Little Eiger wall. Gets progressively harder as you go up.
Mineral Museum 5.9 Located on the Crystal Tower wall. Climbs through a cool pegmatite band
For more recommended routes and information about Clear Creek visit: Colorado Mountain Project - Clear Creek Canyon
In this photo, Rudy McEntire climbs high above the canyon floor at the Highlander crag, Clear Creek Canyon
# 8 Boulder Canyon
I live part way up Boulder Canyon and as a result have climbed everything within my ability a million times over. In spite of that, I can still say that Boulder canyon is an excellent place to climb and many of the routes are truly classic. There are multiple crags all along the canyon corridor facing all directions making it possible to climb year round if you follow the sun. Located minutes from downtown Boulder, this area is definitely a favorite for the locals and you can expect crowds at every single area on a nice day.
The rock type is granite, smooth in places but for the most part highly textured. There are easy to challenging sport climbs all throughout the canyon, and new development is still going on. Unlike Clear Creek canyon, most of the crags are up and away a bit from the road allowing for a more scenic setting and less road noise.
Three of my favorite routes at Boulder Canyon:
Kate Moss 5.10c Located on the Black Widow Slab. Long, nice face and slab climbing
Satyin'Alive 5.10a Located on the Tonnere Tower. Fun moves, face climbing, stemming and some laybacking
Lust 5.10c Located on the Avalon formation second tier. Long and varied
In this photo: Josh working a challenging roof section (5.12) at the Animal World Crag, Boulder canyon
# 7 Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park is an exceptionally pretty area located just south of Estes Park above Lilly Lake. The climbs are short, steep, slabby and fun on west facing sunny rock. The views of Longs peak and the Diamond are spectacular as are the wildflowers and the lake below. The approach is relatively short. Dogs and camping are not permitted in this area. Parts of it lie within the Boundary of Rocky Mounatin National Park. Jurassic park makes for a great full day outing.
Three of my favorite routes at Jurassic Park:
Edge of Time 5.9 Located on the Fin formation. While I do not like the run out getting to the second bolt on this climb (also the crux), the climb, pictured on the front cover of one of the old guidebooks for the area - Gillett's Estes Valley guidebook - is a super classic superb route
Dynanometer 5.11b Located on the Fin formation. Follows a pocketed wall with fun moves.
Critical Morass 5.10d. Located on the Big Ass Slab formation. Follows a beautifully clean line up a blank looking slab
In this photo: the classic Edge of Time, Jurassic Park
# 6 Lime Creek
Another beautiful semi alpine crag located at high elevation. Due to a bit longer and more involved drive, this area has fewer crowds making it quite nice, and a very good choice for a weekend destination trip. The climbing is perfect bullet proof, well bolted limestone. Camping, which is especially nice during the fall when the Aspens are changing, can be had right at the entrance to the canyon close to some of the first routes, making for an easy approach.
Three of my favorite routes at Lime Creek:
Corporate Greed 5.9 Located on the The Punchbowl formation, short but fun
Uckfay Ushbay 5.11a Located on the North Wall formation, climbs an excellent panel of smooth, clean gray limestone
Tears 5.11a Located on the North Wall
# 5 Devils Head
Devils Head is located in the South Platte and is a relatively new climbing area. The area is large with a high concentration of high quality routes on solid granite fine-grain textured rock. The climbs are very featured with roofs, cracks, edges and flakes making for some excellent face climbing.
Another plus is that the area is largely on South and East Facing slopes, deep within the forested Devils Head Mountain making for excellent views of Pike's Peak and the Rampart Range Hills and a serene climbing experience. The area possesses well over 100 routes, with the balance of new routes being well protected bolted sport climbs. While the emphasis in climbing is largely on the more difficult upper 5.11 and 5.12 range, you can find high quality routes of all levels here.
Three of my favorite routes at Devils Head:
Shady Character 5.10d Located on the Shady Lane formation. Overhanging and pumpy
HIgh Plains Poser 5.10c Located on the Crag Ranch formation. 2 pitches with interesting holds and a tricky crux around an arete
Topaz Located on the Headstone formation. 2 pitches with slab, roofs,crimps, flakes, layaways, - dosent get much better than that!
In this photo Rudy's lookin' good on a 5.12 at Devils Head
# 4 Rifle Mountain Park
Rifle Mountain Park is a climbing destination on the western slope which draws climbers from all over the world. As such, many would argue that it deserves the number 1 spot on this page. I have ranked it at number 4, because, although it is unarguably world class, it is a place that mere mortals such as myself do not venture to that often, the routes are just too darn hard.
The overhanging caves and walls of Rifle provide and array of crimps, jugs and blocks to pull on all while in the near horizontal position. One thing's for sure, climb here and you will radiate strength from your core out to your forearms. Even though the steep, solid limestone provides rock solid, high quality routes, many have seen so many ascents that the foot holds resemble sheets of ice they are so polished.
My favorite routes mentioned here are sometimes referred to as the "warm up" routes, some, but for me they are classics.
Three of my favorite routes at Rifle Mountain Park:
Eighty Feet Of Meat 5.11a Located on the Meat Wall. Even though the footholds are polished from so many ascents, this line is super fun, sustained and truly classic.
Feline 5.11b Located on the Ice Cave Wall. Challenging moves with some rests in between.
Rumor Has It 5.11b Located on the Sapper Cave Wall. Involves a burley layback to a jug, super fun.
In this photo: Aeon Aki Sends a typical blocky overhanging route in Rifle Mountain Park
# 3 The Monastery
The monastery is located up past the small town of Drake sort of above the Big Thompson Canyon close to Estes Park. Climbing at The Monastery is on beautiful igneous schist and gneiss that shimmers golden and grey hues in the sun. It is steep and edgy on some sides and slabby on others and there is great friction. I'd call this a summer climbing destination as it is located at 8,000+ feet and can get cold on a cloudy day, or snowed in in mid-winter. Many of the dozen or so crags have excellent South faces however, that remain dry for a large part of the year. Most the routes were established by Tommy Caldwell, one of the worlds best climbers, so you can expect some long hard routes.
The approach to the monastery is not one of my favorites I must admit. Although the views of snow capped peaks and distant mountains are beautiful and the wildflowers are stunning, the hike is rather long and ends up being uphill both ways as the terrain is rolling to get there and back. That being said, the routes are truly magnificent and the whole outing makes for a great long day.
Three of my favorite routes at The Monastery
Solemnity 5.10a Located on the Outer Gates formation. Long, shares an anchor with Inner peace
Inner Peace 5.10b Located on the Outer Gates formation. Long, fun moves
Tabula Rosa 5.10c Located on the Vestibule formation - nice thin moves, balancey and sustained. (The photo shows me on this route.)
# 2 Independence Pass
Independence pass is located east of Aspen off the super-steep CO Highway 82. The area includes many crags between Aspen & Twin Lakes and includes not only sport climbs but trad climbs and bouldering as well. The rock is mostly granite but some areas have both compact granite and metamorphized gneiss. The rock is very featured and some areas are very overhanging. This is another area at high elevation (9,000+ feet) and therefore best during the summer (the road is actually closed from mid October through mid May.)
The beauty of climbing along Independence Pass lies in its variety of different crags, from those small in size and difficult, to those large in size with lots of variety in grades. The Grotto Wall offers the highest concentration of routes and my favorite wall is Monitor Rock which has virtually no approach and a good West face. The views at every crag are stunning, quaking aspen trees, beautiful wildflowers, a roaring creek, alpine tundra. This is the Colorado Rockies at its best. There is also ample camping in the area making this destination a great one for a full weekend outing.
Three of my favorite routes at Independence Pass (All on Monitor Rock):
Squid Kid 5.10a long (70 m rope needed), varied moves
Silver Dollar 5.10d enjoyable face climbing, crux at a steeper section near the top
Twin Flakes 5.10b/c Steep left angling dihedral
(Cryogenics 5.10a is the ultimate classic trad line on the Grotto Wall, just had to mention it too.)
Photo from Rob Dillon, Colorado Mountain Project
# 1 Shelf Road
While I was making this page, I changed the order of the crags a few times, I added and deleted a few areas, but one thing never changed, one thing was clear from the start, the number 1 sport climbing area in Colorado - Shelf Road. Ahhh, Shelf Road. My very favorite place to climb hands down.
Shelf Road is located in Colorado's "banana belt" south of Colorado Springs near Canon City. Because of its location and the fact that many of the crags face south, this area is a prime winter climbing destination. Nothing beats being able to climb in a T-shirt in the middle of February, especially when other parts of the state are bitter cold or snow covered. It's like a mini oasis of summer right when you need it most.
Shelf offers literally hundreds of climbs to choose from at all grades. All climbs are long, safe and well bolted on solid limestone.
Crimpers, pockets and edges with excellent friction abound. The approach to the various cliffs is short and pleasant, and the camping quite nice. The view is also spectacular.
My 8 favorite routes at Shelf Road (had to go for 8 here as 3 just wasn't enough)
Gastoned Again 5.9+ Located on The Gym wall. Super fun very long route with, you guessed it, lots of gastons.
The Raw and The Roasted 5.11b Located on The Gym wall right next to Gastoned Again. Super fun face climbing.
Dihedrus 5.10c Located on Cactus Cliff wall. Nice dihedral with stemming and fun sustained climbing
Blackmans Burden 5.10b/c Located on Cactus Cliff wall. Engaging movement
I Claudius 5.11a/b Located on Cactus Cliff wall. An actual crack climb amongst all the face routes.
Unusual Weather 5.11c Located on The Bank formation. Super fun,long, nice crack at the top.
Suburbia 5.10a Located on the Sand Gultch wall. Excellent, sustained long route in the morning sun.
Love Pump 5.10c Located on The Menses Prow Formation. After a hard start, fun face moves.
For more recommended routes and information about Shelf Road visit Colorado Mountain Project - Shelf Road
I would love to hear your comments!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.