Climb Like a Local: Red River Gorge

Categories: Climb Like a Local

Climbing at Red River Gorge is sport climbing at its best. With more than 4,000 routes on its steep sandstone cliffs, the Red River Gorge has earned its reputation as a sport climbing mecca. You’re guaranteed to meet climbers from all over the world on pilgrimages to the Red.

Photo courtesy of Elodie Saracco


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The Vibe at the Red River Gorge: Whether they’re working on a new project or swapping beta over beers at Miguel’s Pizza, the stoke level is high at the Red. Even the pros will step aside to let you jump on a route, and expect to hear climbers cheering each other on—whether they know each other or not.

Red River Gorge Climbing: Red River Gorge climbing is incredibly varied. While known for its steep, pumpy jug hauls, the Red has absolutely every style of climbing you can think of. Sure, you’ll have a better time if you get your forearms ready for thuggy overhangs, but if slabs are more your game, you won’t be disappointed. Even traditional climbers will love the trad lines found at the Red. When climbing at the Red River Gorge, you’ll find some of the most primo lines at every grade.

Avoid the Crowds at the Red River Gorge: As always, the best way to escape the crowds is to climb during the week, or head out early in the day. If that’s not possible, try crags with longer approaches and fewer moderates, like Flat Holler, across Bald Rock Road from the Chocolate Factory (it’s rarely busy). If you really don’t want to wait in line, bring a rack. The Red is known for its sport climbing, but it’s also a single-pitch trad paradise with some fantastic splitter cracks. Head to the Long Wall area to climb more than 20 trad routes that range from pretty relaxing to heart racing.

Local Pet Peeve: Bad LNT. Take out what you bring in. Don’t grease up the holds—keep a brush in your chalk bag so you can brush ‘em off while you’re hanging or being lowered. Even the smallest tick marks should be brushed off the wall, as they create an eyesore on the beautifully featured walls. Whatever you do, don’t set up a hammock—like drum circles, the locals say, they’re only fun if you’re in one.

Red River Gorge Camping: Miguels, Lago Linda’s, and Land of Arches are three solid campground options, each with their own vibe and favorable proximity to different climbing areas. Rental cabins are also a popular choice, and a quick Google search will give you dozens of options near all the good climbing spots.

Red River Gorge Risks: Some crags at the Red are on public land, while others are owned by nonprofits or private landowners. Regulations vary: some areas don’t allow dogs, some require climbers to fill out waivers, and some, like Muir Valley, have a $10/car parking fee. Do your homework before heading out and always be respectful of the land you’re climbing on.

Rest Day's in the Red River Gorge: It’s hard to imagine anyone getting tired of Red River Gorge climbing. But if your skin is ripped to shreds and your forearms feel permanently pumped, there are plenty of rest day activities nearby. Lexington is an hour away and has all the amenities of a cool, small city—climbing gym, brewery, movies, etc. The Red River offers some fun paddling and fishing, and there are an abundance of ATV trails in the area. If you need to Instagram your most recent send, internet options abound at just about every restaurant and campground.

Red River Gorge Good Eats: A trip to the Red wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Miguel’s Pizza and Rock House restaurant. Both are mainstays, have really tasty food, and are super convenient. Miguel’s even has a climbing gear shop! Drive a few minutes south to the small town of Beattyville and there are a bunch of great restaurants, from sit-down to fast food, and a grocery store.

Who Has Your Back at the Red River Gorge? The Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition and Friends of Muir Valley represent climbers in the area.

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