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Description

With its central location in Kentucky and its huge volume of routes, the Red River Gorge is one of the most popular climbing meccas east of the Mississippi. Spread out through a wide expanse of national forest land and privately-owned acreage, the Red's sandstone cliffs offer a lifetime of climbing opportunities at all levels.

As with many remote areas, climbing has been going on in the Red River Gorge since before people bothered to record any of their exploits. Proto-climbers were probably scrambling up Chimney Top Rock and the Caver's Route at Tower Rock in the 50s and 60s. The 70s saw some of the earliest documented route development by climbers like Tom and Ellen Seibert, Larry Day and Frank Becker, who also produced the area's first published guidebook. Other early pioneers included Tom Souders, Jeff Koenig, John Bronaugh and Martin Hackworth.

While the 70s and 80s saw increasing climber traffic, it was in the early 90s that a revolution of sorts hit the Red. Sport climbing took off in a big way with the arrival of Porter Jarrard, who began bolting overhanging walls that had previously been regarded as unclimbable. Other route developers followed suit, including Jeff Moll, Chris Snyder and Charles Tabor, among others.

As climbing grew, so did the potential for access issues, with strained relationships between climbers and the forest service or the oil companies that have drilling rights in the southern sections of the gorge. In large part as a response to new forest service land management plans, the Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition was formed. The efforts of this grassroots organization have been highly fruitful, most notably with the purchase in 2004 of the huge Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP) and the Miller Fork Recreational Preserve (MFRP) purchased in 2012.

When people think of climbing in the Red, sport is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Crags like the Motherlode and the Dark Side are known for their ferocious bolted lines. World-class sport leaders gravitate to the Red to try their hand at testpieces like Thanatopsis (5.14b) or The Legend (5.13b). But hard overhanging sport lines are not all there is; Graining Fork Nature Preserve (a.k.a. Roadside Crag) and many of Muir Valley's crags have a plentiful assortment of routes for the 5.11-and-under leader.

Though it's best known as a sport destination, the Red actually has almost as many trad lines to be led. Fortress Wall, Pebble Beach and Tower Rock are primarily trad destinations, while others like Roadside have a mix of trad and sport. Some classic gear lines include Roadside Attraction (5.7), Bedtime for Bonzo (5.6) and Rock Wars (5.10a). As with sport, there’s something for trad leaders at all levels, though be warned -- the grades on many trad lines are "old school."

No discussion of Red River Gorge would be complete without mentioning Miguel's Pizza. Founded in the mid-80s by Miguel Ventura, Miguel's isn’t just a restaurant, it's the epicenter of climbing culture for the Red. When locals give you directions to a crag, chances are they'll be telling you how to get there from Miguel's. Many climbers take advantage of the cheap camping on Miguel's grounds, and after a day of climbing, the restaurant is usually packed with climbers enjoying great pizza and other nourishments. Miguel's also serves as a climbers' store, carrying a wide selection of ropes, shoes, harnesses and other gear.

As noted above, climbing in the Red River Gorge is spread out over a large geographical area. For purposes of organization on Mountain Project, most crags are listed here on the main page. The three exceptions to this are the large privately-owned areas, Muir Valley, Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP) and Miller Fork Recreational Preserve (MFRP); crags in these areas are listed in their respective subdivisions.

The prime seasons for climbing at the Red are spring and fall. High humidity and temperatures make for miserable rock conditions in the summertime, but that doesn't stop some climbers. Winter, aside from being frigid, has the added disadvantage of Miguel's being closed for the off-season.

Getting There

From Lexington, Kentucky take I-64 east about 15 miles to the exit for the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway, just past the second Winchester exit. Follow the parkway for 33 miles to the KY 11 exit (exit 33). Miguel's Pizza, the unofficial headquarters for climbing at the Red, is about two miles south on KY 11. Continue south for crags in the southern region, or north on KY 11 for northern region crags.

Guidebooks

There are currently four excellent guidebooks available for the Red River Gorge, each covering different crags and regions of this enormous climbing destination:

Best of the Red – Sport Climbing Crags of the Red River Gorge (2017 Edition) by Brendan Leader. $30.00 ISBN:9780994278456
Covers a huge selection of the best crags in the north, south and Miller Fork Recreational Preserve (MFRP).

Red River Gorge North – Volume 1 (2015 5th Edition) by Ray Ellington and Dustin Stephens. $28.00 ISBN:1938393201
Covers the crags north of the Mountain Parkway.

Red River Gorge South – Volume 2 (2017 5th Edition) by Ray Ellington and Blake Bowling. $33.00 ISBN:1938393279
Covers the crags south of the Mountain Parkway excluding Miller Fork.

Miller Fork Climbing (2015 Edition) by Ray Ellington. $39.95 ISBN:9780692471128
Covers Miller Fork though due to being published when the MFRP first opened, this edition is not particularly up to date.

2,021 Total Climbs

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Classic Climbing Routes at Red River Gorge

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area.
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b
 337
Roadside Attraction
Trad
5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a
 117
Crack Attack
Trad
5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a
 355
Rock Wars
Trad
5.10c 6b 20 VII 20 E2 5b
 487
Breakfast Burrito
Sport
5.11b 6c 23 VIII- 23 E3 5c
 355
Amarillo Sunset
Sport
5.11c 6c+ 24 VIII- 24 E4 6a
 135
No Place Like Home
Sport
5.11c 6c+ 24 VIII- 24 E4 6a
 318
Banshee
Sport
5.11c 6c+ 24 VIII- 24 E4 6a
 154
Witness the Citrus
Sport
5.11d 7a 24 VIII 25 E5 6a
 126
The Return of Chris Snyder
Sport
5.12a 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a
 197
Check Your Grip
Sport
5.12a 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a
 209
Twinkie
Sport
5.12a 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a
 90
Dogleg
Sport
5.12b 7b 26 VIII+ 26 E5 6b
 112
Mercy the Huff
Sport
5.12b 7b 26 VIII+ 26 E5 6b
 89
Abiyoyo
Sport
5.12c 7b+ 27 IX- 27 E6 6b
 99
Cell Block Six
Sport
Route Name Location Star Rating Difficulty Date
Roadside Attraction Graining Fork Nature…
 337
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b Trad
Crack Attack Indian Creek
 117
5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a Trad
Rock Wars Long Wall
 355
5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a Trad
Breakfast Burrito Pendergrass-Mur… > Drive-By Crag
 487
5.10c 6b 20 VII 20 E2 5b Sport
Amarillo Sunset Pendergrass-Mur… > N 40
 355
5.11b 6c 23 VIII- 23 E3 5c Sport
No Place Like Home Emerald City
 135
5.11c 6c+ 24 VIII- 24 E4 6a Sport
Banshee Muir Valley > Solarium
 318
5.11c 6c+ 24 VIII- 24 E4 6a Sport
Witness the Citrus Miller Fork Rec… > Fruit Wall
 154
5.11c 6c+ 24 VIII- 24 E4 6a Sport
The Return of Chris Snyder Graining Fork Nature…
 126
5.11d 7a 24 VIII 25 E5 6a Sport
Check Your Grip Pendergrass-Mur… > Drive-By Crag
 197
5.12a 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a Sport
Twinkie Phantasia
 209
5.12a 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a Sport
Dogleg Pendergrass-Mur… > Bob Marley
 90
5.12a 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a Sport
Mercy the Huff Left Flank
 112
5.12b 7b 26 VIII+ 26 E5 6b Sport
Abiyoyo Muir Valley > Solarium
 89
5.12b 7b 26 VIII+ 26 E5 6b Sport
Cell Block Six Muir Valley > Midnight Surf
 99
5.12c 7b+ 27 IX- 27 E6 6b Sport
More Classic Climbs in Red River Gorge »

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