The climbing at Rifle varies from slightly overhanging to very overhanging, and the routes are generally long, complex endurance-fests on large, flat holds, pockets, crimps and funky pinches. Constant traffic on some of the older routes, especially at the Ruckman Cave and the Wasteland, has turned the footholds black with shoe rubber. Many of the older routes have surely gained a letter grade or two from the grease factor alone.
Rifle hosts one of, if not the largest concentration of 5.13-5.14 sport routes in America, most of them natural, most of them quality. The rock itself, limestone of the Leadville formation, varies both in quality and aspect from wall to wall. The Wasteland, for example, offers short (50 foot) power routes on pocket and tufa-riddled stone similar to the good stuff in Europe; the towering Anti-Phil Wall, with its perfect crimpers and smooth pockets reminds one of the Blasphemy Wall at the VRG; and the looming steepness of The Arsenal offers blocky cave climbing on "pile" rock reminiscent of the good stuff at American Fork. But these are just a few of the walls.
Rifle is somewhat lacking in "moderate" routes, which can be frustrating for novice & mid-level sport climbers. This has more to do with the nature of the rock than the prejudice of route developers. The lower-angled rock tends to be covered in silt, moss, or both. Attempts to clean are somewhat futile as regular rains re-deposit a fresh layer of munge on a near-weekly basis. There are enough high quality 5.11s & below to keep most climbers busy for at least a week.
It's important to remember that access to Rifle Mountain Park has been an issue in the past. The park is owned by the city of Rifle, and locals from town were going up there to camp, barbecue, fish and picnic long before we climbers ever showed up. The Canyon is open to new route development on a permit system only, and any rock owned by fish hatchery at the west end of the Canyon is strictly off-limits.
Pay your $5 entrance fee, don't park where you're not supposed to, and keep a low, friendly profile. You can get season passes, which are a great deal, from the campground host/park ranger or at the City of Rifle Parks Department in town. The climbing here is excellent, and there's more than enough routes to go around.
While Rifle does offer a handful of moderate routes, they're generally quite polished and uninspiring. The steep stone doesn't suffer from constant run-off like the slabbier stuff, hence the "good" climbing seems to start around 11a or so. Currently the hardest route at Rifle is 5.14c.
Difficulty ranges from WI 3 to WI 5+ depending on conditions. The canyon is a beautiful location and often sees less climbing traffic than other quality ice climbing areas in the state. Overall, when conditions are good, Rifle offers some of the best naturally forming, easily accessible ice in Colorado.
There is a $5 parking fee in the park. You can get season passes, which are a great deal, from the campground host/park ranger or at the City of Rifle Parks Department in town. The town of Rifle offers some fairly inexpensive accomodations and even a decent restaurant or two.
Follow Grass Valley Road west, passing the turn-offs for East Elk Canyon, Main Elk Canyon (home of the Fortress of Solitude), West Elk Canyon, and Harvey Gap. After about 6-8 miles Grass Valley Road comes to a T-intersection. Turn right and follow this paved road up up up past the fish hatchery, where it turns to dirt. You're now in Rifle Mountain Park.
Per Spencer Weiler: as someone who had never visited Rifle before, I was a bit confused at the camping situation or maybe I'm just an idiot and didn't do my homework. Anyway, for new people, the camping setup is like this:
There is one official "Rifle Falls State Park Campground" that is located a few miles before you get to the actual Rifle Canyon climbing. The sites are highly competitive to get and require a reservation months in advance. See the link below. Water is located here. I assume this is where most people fill up even if they aren't staying there.
Rifle Falls Camping
There is also Rifle Gap State Park, which has 5 campgrounds, which is the reservoir that you pass by on your way to Rifle Falls, 5 or so miles before.
Assuming you are a dirtbag climber, you will want to find the camping beyond the climbing. This wasn't intuitive to me. Drive through the climbing sector, and almost as soon as you leave the canyon, the first set of sites pop up with a big campground sign next to some buildings. As I understand it, the town of Rifle supports these sites. There are many, many more sites up the road, so if the ones you come to are full, just keep driving. We stayed at site 31, so there are at least that many. It was $12 per night which included your $5 day pass fee to use the park. No purified water exists (go to state park campground), but there are port-o-potties and trash dumpsters.
Per James Cranston:
Free camping at the "meadows" (the guidebook describes this just as well and is probably more accurate with distance but if you don't have it read on).
1. Go past the normal campgrounds for a few minutes (mile or so?) on the dirt road.
2. You'll see a fork in the road and an option to go left. Go left.
3. Put your vehicle into 4WD if possible, but it is not necessary (I've done it in a shitty 2WD Ford Focus). Go up this road.
4. You'll see another fork in the road. Go left.
5. The road gets windy and really bumpy. Persevere for another 3/4 to a mile or so. You'll see some small open space on your left at some point. Don't camp there. Keep going.
6. At some point the road opens up to an enormous clearing in the trees with a very large field on your right. This is the meadows. Camp anywhere here, it's 100% free.
Bats - conservation
See a bat on a route, give a shout. Climbers for Bat Conservation is working with climbers to understand bat ecology and why bats choose certain cracks and flakes. If you see bats, and want to tell them, here is their email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and their website ( climbersforbats.colostate.edu/).
Climbers for Bat Conservation is a collaboration between climbers, bat biologists, and land managers to understand where bats roost and where large populations may reside. They are interested in finding bats because a new disease, called white-nose syndrome ( whitenosesyndrome.org/), has killed millions of bats in North America. This collaboration has identified bat roosts throughout the U.S., and as far away as Norway and Bulgaria. CBC was developed by biologists who climb and they are advocates for climbing access and bat conservation. If you see bats while climbing, please let them know by emailing them at email@example.com, or visiting their website to learn more ( climbersforbats.colostate.edu/).
Zoologist, Colorado Natural Heritage Program ( sites.warnercnr.colostate.e…)
Director, Climbers for Bat Conservation
Classic Climbing Routes at Rifle Mountain Park
Days w Precip