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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 less than ideal rock conditions in the summertime, but that doesn't stop some climbers. Winter is the slow season, but locals often take advantage of the occasional sunny and warm day during the otherwise cold and wet winter months.
**Thanks to organizations like the Red River Gorge Climber's Coalition, Muir Valley, and the Graining Fork Nature Preserve, The Red River Gorge is blessed enough to host one of the biggest collection of privately owned land dedicated to climbers in the entire world. Help keep it that way by supporting these organizations. Also help keep our climbing safe by supporting the RRG Fixed Gear Initiative which funds sustainable hardware and bolt replacement in the area.**
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.
The best airport to fly into is Lexington, a one hour drive away, cheaper flights might be had from Cincinnati or Louisville, each a two hours drive. From the airport it is easiest to rent a car.
There are currently six different high quality guidebooks available for the Red River Gorge, 3 of which cover, comprehensively, separate regions of the Red River Gorge. Namely the Northern Region, the Southern Region, and the Miller Fork. Additionally, there are 2 "best of" guidebooks each of which attempt to condense the most classic and popular walls throughout the area into a single book, as well as a comprehensive Sport climbing guidebook.
The Red (2019). Brendan Leader. $35.00 ISBN:0958079099
Covers all Sport Climbing crags in the Red along with trad climbs within those sport climbing areas. This is currently the most up to date book.
Red River Gorge North – Volume 1 (2015 5th Edition) Ray Ellington and Dustin Stephens. $28.00 ISBN:1938393201
Covers the crags north of the Mountain Parkway. Including many of the classic trad lines in the Red.
Red River Gorge South – Volume 2 (2017 5th Edition) Ray Ellington and Blake Bowling. $33.00 ISBN:1938393279
Covers the crags south of the Mountain Parkway excluding Miller Fork, includes many of the classic sport lines in the Red.
Miller Fork Climbing (2015 Edition) 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.
Red River Gorge Select – Guide to the best crags in the North, South, and Miller Fork (2018 Edition) Dario Ventura, Mike Williams $39 ISBN:1938393325
Covers a large selection of the most popular sport and trad crags throughout the gorge.
Best of the Red – Sport Climbing Crags of the Red River Gorge (2017 Edition) Brendan Leader. $30.00 ISBN:9780994278456
Covers a huge selection of the best sport crags in the north, south and Miller Fork Recreational Preserve (MFRP).
Bluegrass Climbing School, based in the heart of the Red River Gorge, specializes in offering high quality private instruction and guided climbing for all ability levels by AMGA certified instructors. They are known for their clinics and courses on a variety of topics including trad climbing, anchor building, self rescue, multi-pitch climbing, and gym to outdoor transitions.
Although not locally based in Red River Gorge, Fox Mountain Guides, of North Carolina offers private guiding and instruction in Red River Gorge by AMGA certified instructors.
Operated by Red River Outdoors, they are the longest operating guide service in the Red River Gorge. Red River Gorge Guides has exclusive access to the privately owned Torrent Falls crag.
Formerly known as Torrent Falls Climbing Adventure and based in Campton, KY, Southeast Mountain Guides offers on and off site guiding and instruction.
The Red River Gorge is home to a number of climber owned or operated businesses, between them they comprise the most popular climber hangouts.
Not a lot needs said about this one, Miguel's Pizza is the center of the Red River Gorge Climbing Universe. Since as early as 1984, before Red River Gorge was known as the world class climbing destination it is today, Miguel started serving up food to hungry climbers, it has been an oasis for climbers ever since. As the climbing community grew, so too did Miguel's which now offers more than just pizza, including delicious sandwiches, bowls, salads and an excellent breakfast menu.
Located on KY 11, 4 miles past Miguels, the Red River Rockhouse is an eclectic cafe serving up Burritos, Tacos, Burgers, and Salads made with fresh ingredients and staffed by climbers. Their Barbacoa, Carnitas, and Tempeh burritos are the best around.
A bar and restaurant located in Pine Ridge, KY at the Southeastern entrance to the Daniel Boone National Forest, and minutes away from the Muir Valley climbing area. Sky Bridge is best known for their excellent selection of local draft beer and Kentucky Bourbon as well their enormous burgers made with locally sourced beef. Other menu items include quesadillas and gourmet hot dogs. Sky Bridge is known for live music on Friday and Saturday nights and hosting a Team Trivia on Tuesday nights.
Hop's is an outdoor beer garden, located 4.5 miles south of Miguel's on KY 11 sharing the parking lot with the Graining Fork Nature Preserve (Roadside Crag) and the Zoo climbing areas. They serve a rotating menu ranging from pub classics to healthier food fare and have the best selection of canned, bottled, and tap beer in the gorge. Beer can be bought to drink on the outdoor patio or to go. The owner of Hop's also manages the Graining Fork Nature Preserve and graciously allows those climbing at the Roadside Crag and Zoo areas to park there, please show your appreciation by patronizing them with your business when climbing at these areas.
Located on KY 11 just south of the Shell gas station in Slade, the Daniel Boone is the best place to grab a cup of coffee in the Red. They also offer breakfast sandwiches and lunch and have an excellent selection of shakes smoothies in addition to their selection of hot drinks. Customers are welcome to hang out and use the free wifi.
Other options in Slade, KY include the La Cabana Mexican Restaurant, The Red River Smokehouse, and the Buffet and Restaurant at the Natural Bridge State Resort Park Lodge. Additional options for fast food, coffee shops, and restaurants exist in the nearby towns of Stanton, Campton, and Beattyville, which also happen to be the nearest towns to find groceries and other supplies.
Most will find a good selection of groceries at the Kroger in Stanton, while picky eaters can find more variety (Trader Joes, Whole Foods) in Lexington, about an hours drive away. For quick trips the Save-a-lot in Campton and the IGA in Beattyville stock all the basics.
The Red is by far one of the easiest climbing areas to find camping and lodging accommodations, several climber campgrounds and plethora of cabins rentals options exist to fit the needs of most.
The most popular climber campground, Miguel's is a good option for those looking for an inexpensive communal camping area, at the center of the climbing community. During the busy season one can expect the campground to be crowded, and peace and quiet scarce. Miguel's currently charges ~$3 per person a night, register at the Miguel's gear shop.
Land of the arches is located conveniently on 715 near Muir Valley, and centrally located 15 minutes from both the Southern and Northern Regions. They offer tent camping for $8 per person a night with free showers, and also various other rental options.
Lago Linda's is a great option for those looking for car camping and a bit of privacy, Lago's is best suited for those who plan to climb primarily in the Southern Region, since it is located 10 minutes from the PMRP and Bald Rock Fork Crags. Expect a longer drive for crags in the Northern Gorge. Currently $6 a person per night, with free showers.
Located conveniently on 2016 on your way to Muir Valley, and centrally located to the rest of the gorge, Bedrock offers private rooms and a community bunk house with a large upscale communal living space and friendly hosts.
Choclat Inn is a hip climber owned motel, in an old renovated strip motel. In addition to lodging, they specialize in boutique sweets and treats available in their cafe.
One can purchase a backcountry camping pass for a few dollars a night which allows overnight camping in the Daniel Boone National Forest and Clifty Wilderness Areas (The Northern Gorge.) Passes are available at the Shell Gas Station in Slade and the Glady Visitor Center, among other places.
There are too many cabin options to list, but a short internet search will reveal a plethora of cabin's at all price points for those who prefer to live luxuriously.
As of June 2018, there is no overnight parking allowed on any Coalition properties (PMRP, BRRP, MFRP). Primitive camping is apparently allowed, just as long as you do not park a car there (i.e. dropped off or hike in).
Several non-climber oriented campgrounds exist for those seeking a more family oriented experience, or for those seeking RV hookups. These include Koomer Ridge Campground, run by the National Forest Service, Middle Fork RV Campground and Whittleton Campground which are run by the Natural Bridge State Park, Callie's RV Campground in Stanton, among others.
Ethics and Access go hand in hand, don't screw it up for everyone.
Rappel vs. Lower
It is okay to lower off routes in Red River Gorge, most local climbers agree that is both more efficient and safer to lower on most routes, overhung routes which are common in the Red are especially difficult to clean on rappel. Anchors are generally well maintained, though sandy conditions do contribute to quicker wear as compared to other areas, so check for wear and if dangerous hardware is spotted you can report the problem to www.badbolts.com. Donate to The Red River Gorge Fixed Gear Initiative so we can continue to maintain quality anchors throughout the Red. More recently, some routes are being equipped with climbing rated "Mussy Hooks" which can be easily clipped and lowered off of, however please place your own gear if you plan to top rope or have multiple goes.
Steel permadraws are prevalent on steeper routes throughout the Southern Gorge (Permadraws are not allowed in the Northern Gorge) Never leave aluminum gear on routes as it wears quickly and becomes sharp enough to cut a rope. Steel although much harder wearing, does get worn eventually, so pay attention to what you're clipping.
Several areas have required waivers or permits which are necessary to climb at a given area, namely the Graining Fork Nature Preserve (Roadside Crag) offers a limited number of permits per day and is monitored to prevent trespassing.
Official caps on group size range from area to area, please be considerate and keep your impact low by maintaining small group sizes especially at popular crags and during peak seasons. Groups of 8 or larger are recommended to split up between different crags. Those looking to avoid the crowds can easily do so by climbing at the many obscure crags throughout the North Gorge and other areas.
Leave No Trace
Practice Leave no trace, regarding Human Waste, please use bathrooms or pit toilets at various areas when available. When not available, use a WAG bag or bury waste 6-8 inches deep and carry out TP.
Classic Climbing Routes at Red River Gorge
Days w Precip