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.
#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.
Thanks For Visiting
Noah on September 08, 2017:
Haha! The best area in CO for sport climbing isn't even in here.
Jason on December 03, 2016:
Clear creek is a PILE. But hey as long as people think its good they stay away from good crags. Nice article though.
williamslaw on April 17, 2014:
Colorado is beautiful.
pkloska23 on March 30, 2014:
Thanks for all of the very useful information. We are on vacation from Michigan. While trying to figure out where we were going to climb today, we came across your page. After reviewing all of areas, we ended up at High Wire Crag in Clear Canyon Creek. What an epic day! We are going to take your advice and head to Shelf road on Friday. Thanks again!
JoshK47 on April 08, 2013:
Wow - this looks like a bit too adventurous an activity for me. Maybe someday when I get more upper body strength... and a little less of a fear of heights. Blessed by a SquidAngel!
CampingmanNW on January 10, 2013:
Great lens again, to repeat myself. Having grown up in Wheat Ridge, I loved Clear Creek. I haven't been there in years (job and life took me elsewhere) but my spring and summer's of "tubing" clear creek as well as climbing, remain fixed in my memory record. Thanks again for a great lens.
Michey LM on September 22, 2012:
Great details, and supper pictures. Blessings! (By the way I use to climb mountains in Romania (Piatra Craiului) and Poland (Tatra) between 21- 29 years old.... so now I am not, but I love mountains and still hike with a great pleasure...
ggruden2 on September 06, 2012:
Nice for climers!
cragface on July 04, 2012:
Wow! Shelf Road looks and sounds amazing! Give me at least another year...lol. Still working on my 5.9s!
rallo-smith on June 27, 2012:
maggie_anne on June 07, 2012:
Great lens! Love the pictures and really want to climb in Colorado now...
trendydad on May 14, 2012:
I have always wanted to rock climb..looks like fun
radkoaleks on April 21, 2012:
Colorado is my favorite place to go. Love it.
Thrinsdream on April 21, 2012:
I am not sure what the levels of difficulty refer to or the specific terms but this is a beautiful article, over viewing the most stunning scenery. With thanks and appreciation. Cathi x
SaintFrantic on April 21, 2012:
Scarred of heights but always admired the rock climbers.Amazing
anonymous on April 19, 2012:
Wow, My heart just skipped a beat after visiting your lens, great info with great pics.. :)
vividviolet on April 18, 2012:
Those photos are breathtaking! Lime Creek would be the one I would go to.
kindoak on April 18, 2012:
Lime Creek looks awesome. Too old for these kind of adventures now but wish I had learned to rock climb, I can see why it gets people hooked.
seeker2011 lm on April 18, 2012:
I am a hill climber and that is as steep as I go. You have my respect for the skill and bravery doing what you do. Looks like beautiful country side.
0800repairschelmsford on April 18, 2012:
I have always wanted to try rock climbing!
Think i would have to do some indoor training before attempting any of this!
linkreggie on April 17, 2012:
amazing. nice right up..
jed78 on April 17, 2012:
Love colorado!, just not that much of a daredevil!
JZinoBodyArt on April 17, 2012:
MissionBoundCre on April 17, 2012:
Jurassic Park is Real! Very cool lens.
SayGuddaycom on April 17, 2012:
FANTASTIC! As a former climber I must say this lens really had an impact on me.
dumutu on April 17, 2012:
Great sport but it is really high :)
(scared of heights)
Great lens :)
grinagallery on April 17, 2012:
A great lens. I use to be into rock climbing here in Australia many years back but as I got older I fell out of it. When I read lens like this it makes me want to get back into it! :-P
MissSweety on April 16, 2012:
Very good lens! I wish I could climb :)
MelonyVaughan on April 16, 2012:
These places look spectacular!
DeniseDurham2011 on April 16, 2012:
I grew up in Colorado Springs & now am in Washington state. I love it here but miss Colorado. You can add #11 to your list with Garden of the Gods in the Springs.
Timsmansmall on April 16, 2012:
writerkath on April 16, 2012:
Awesome lens and photos! I worked at the Lane Guest Ranch for years (outside of Allenspark) and because I wasn't a climber, it never occurred to me that there was so much rock climbing. My husband - who is a climber - has been on the diamond on Longs Peak (He says, "failed at a winter attempt"), routes in Boulder Canyon, various routes on Owls Head and Lumpy Ridge... We have friends who are avid climbers who live in Nederland as well. Great stuff! *Blessed!*
anonymous on April 16, 2012:
I could see myself doing this, with headphones in my ears listening to country music! *blessed by a squid angel*
kAAtya on April 16, 2012:
Wow what a lovely country. I hope I will be able to visit it some day. Great sport, and beautiful pictures.
Fcuk Hub on April 16, 2012:
Climbing and me? No way. But this lens is great. I have enjoyed reading this.
SteveKaye on April 15, 2012:
I'm fascinated by rock climbers. I like to take photos of them when we visit Zion National park.
aksem on April 15, 2012:
What a beautiful sport!
anonymous on February 21, 2012:
first of all thank you very much for putting this together. I'm thinking of moving to colorado and I love sport climbing. An place in particular where you would choose to live? thanks !
4liberator on December 03, 2011:
Where you ever afraid of heights?
BestRatedStuff on September 19, 2011:
This looks like great fun. I love the scenery as well, wish I could take this up.
Lee Williams from North Carolina on June 26, 2011:
I've WALKED up & down mountains, but never actually CLIMBED any - but it looks like fun!
dogface lm on May 19, 2011:
Wow, nice climbing areas, but very dangerous as well!
bujanan on April 26, 2011:
One word...scary! Think I'll feature this lens.
Renaissance Woman from Colorado on March 29, 2011:
I'd love to be able to do this type of climbing, but lately I have been having way too much vertigo. I'll stick to climbing the Colorado 14ers. Great lens!
itsmuzza2011 on March 17, 2011:
great lens i love to climb im an ex-marine whos done a bit all over the world , have you ever climbed an ice wall? where do i get the boxes round my writing like on your cool lens ot looks great, well done cool work
JublyJem on March 03, 2011:
I started indoor climbing about 3 months ago and im loving it! haven't been outdoors yet! colorado looks amazing! great page!
Oliversbabycarecouk on February 12, 2011:
Great page - i love rock climbing and would love to go to Colorado to climb!
emoiy90 on January 25, 2011:
cool idea... but I guess I'm not brave enough to do rock climbing
anonymous on January 25, 2011:
I like the idea of rock climbing, however since I am afraid of heights, I think it will never be an option. Some great looking places listed here!
mannasugar on January 08, 2011:
Crazy cool fun, Awesome Lens....
xenoc on January 01, 2011:
great info! i enjoyed reading it, love to live on Colorado, nice places there
GreenTeaTime on December 31, 2010:
Great information... I think that I'll try this sport soon!
MikeCustalow on December 16, 2010:
I used to live in Colorado. Did a bit of climbing myself. I think you did the state justice:)
maxnic11 on December 16, 2010:
cooldiet on October 29, 2010:
Uhhh, that looks so dangerous! But I guess exciting also! Great!
David Schroeter from St Kilda, Victoria, Australia on October 01, 2010:
I'm on a quest for Kipsy. This seems like a perfect lens to send her to for inspiration to lose weight!
Kiwisoutback from Massachusetts on September 08, 2010:
I would've guessed Colorado had this many great rock climbing sites. I've never done it, but it looks like a thrill. I was in Rocky Mtn National Park in 2002, it was breathtaking.
JFB91 on June 30, 2010:
This is a great Squid. Its like having a close friend who will tell you the most fun climbs, what other aspects of the outing to enjoy: scenery, flowers, etc., which climbs are doable in winter and which ones are not! The pictures provide additional information about the areas. Very well done!!
Terrie Marcoe from Gardiner, New York and Joshua Tree, California on June 23, 2010:
Some day I simply MUST find my way to Colorado!
buckwheat on June 05, 2010:
nice stuff man
ive been aspiririg to do that kind of stuff for a while now
so far only outdoor bouldering
no lead yet
HorseAndPony LM on May 02, 2010:
i'm back for a visit. This is one of my favorite lenses. Blessed! http://www.squidoo.com/horseandpony-squidangel
Jennifer Sullivan from Chicago, IL on April 29, 2010:
Nicely done! Blessed by a squidangel
Indigo Janson from UK on April 22, 2010:
Squidoo needs more excellent Sports lenses. You've shown how it's done with this informative and personal account of an amazing sport. Delighted to add *~*~ Angel Blessings ~*~* to those you have already received.
VarietyWriter2 on April 14, 2010:
Great lens. I've always wanted to try rock climbing. Blessed by a SquidAngel :)
justholidays on January 14, 2010:
I'm not a fan of mountais or climbing but I'm definitely fan of this well done lens!
Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on January 14, 2010:
Wow! I would totally fall! This is a really awesome lens and I will just sit back and enjoy living vicariously through you! Congratulations for being chosen top Local lens in the Giant Squid Challenge! Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks lens.
anonymous on January 01, 2010:
My goodness this is a wonderful lens on Sports Climbing in Colorado! Blessed.
Rhonda Albom from New Zealand on December 30, 2009:
Well Done! Looks to scary to me. My girls would love it, they climb indoors. We have only been to Colorado for skiing. Blessed by a Squidoo Angel
Joan4 on December 30, 2009:
I cannot imagine me rock climbing, but wow, what gorgeous views!
sittonbull on December 29, 2009:
Although I've climbed around on lots of rocks backpacking and on horseback, I can't technically call myself a rock climber. Colorado is one of the most geologically diverse places I have ever been and as your lens points out beautifully is a paradise for rock climbers and lovers of the outdoors period.
anonymous on December 27, 2009:
Outstanding! I climb the Boulder area and didn't know about half of these places (or routes)! I liked the fact that a couple of token 5.9s were included to inspire the vertically challenged.
Laurel Johnson from Washington KS on December 03, 2009:
VERY WELL DONE!! Beautiful pictures, excellent descriptions.
I've never been to Colorado, and wouldn't rock climb if they paid me, but sure did enjoy visiting vicariously through your lens. 5 and fave.
Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on November 15, 2009:
Wow, this is a beautifully crafted lens on Rock Climbing Colorado. Your Top Ten Sport Climbing Areas In Colorado photographs and information was most interesting. Blessed by a Squid Angel.
HorseAndPony LM on November 11, 2009:
What a great lens. We live near the top of Boulder Canyon and love it. Not much into rock climbing but we have horses and trail riding in this area is amazing.
Patricia on November 10, 2009:
That is a lot of places to rock climb for one state, but Colorado is the Rockies isn't it. Man, and I lived there briefly as a child in Denver.