The 5 best places to climb in the southeastern US

red river gorge/USA-07/22/2019 photo of Mountaineer do rock climbing ; Shutterstock ID 1463884301; your: Sloane Tucker; gl: 65050; netsuite: Online Editorial; full: South East Climbing Article
The Red River Gorge is 285 million years old and a popular climbing hub in Kentucky © Shutterstock / konstantin belovtov

The western US’s striking tableau of red rock may be the first image that comes to mind when you think of the country’s rock climbing scene, but the Southeast harbors its own climbing magic among its ancient mountains and leafy canopies.

From exciting sport and trad (traditional) routes to epic bouldering, these are the best places to climb in the southeastern US.

Ascend the arches in Red River Gorge, Kentucky

The Red River Gorge sits within the verdant Daniel Boone National Forest, a spectacular testament to the region’s ancient geological processes. The gorge was formed during the creation of the Cumberland Plateau about 285 million years ago, and today it features the largest number of sandstone arches east of the Rocky Mountains

Also called the Red, this gorge is a favorite for the immense variety of climbing routes it offers; the sport climbing here is considered some of the best in the world, and the gorge also features several trad climbing routes and bouldering options. The Red is additionally well-known for the abundance of overhangs that stay dry even during rainy weather. 

While climbing is possible throughout most of the year, we suggest timing your visit in the fall to avoid oppressive heat, bugs and afternoon thunderstorms (fall is the driest time of year). After a long day of climbing, make sure to stop by Miguel’s Pizza, a cozy eatery at the entrance of the gorge that serves as a welcoming hub for climbers from all over the world. 


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Autumn Colors in West Virginia, a suspension bridge hangs over the New River Gorge with colorful trees on either side of the river
New River Gorge offers some of the most challenging rock climbing routes in the Southeast © Getty Images / Ali Majdfar

Explore the newest national park in New River Gorge, West Virginia 

Formed by the powerful flow of one of the world’s oldest rivers, the New River Gorge is an ecological and geological marvel home to some of the planet’s most extraordinary wildlife, hardcore rapids and – surprise – some of its best climbing. The gorge is also the main feature of the US’ newest national park, meaning that visitors also have access to all the amenities of the national park system.

Climbers appreciate New River Gorge for its off-the-beaten-path vibe and high-quality Nuttall sandstone – a hard rock made almost entirely of quartz. The park features over 1400 established routes and hundreds of boulder problems, but be advised: the region isn’t for beginners, with most routes ranking in the 5.10-5.12 (hard to difficult) range. 

Despite its peaceful surroundings, the New River Gorge is a prime destination for adrenaline junkies. Looking to cool off after a warm day on the cliffs? Book a trip with a local outfitter down the New and Gauley Rivers, which offer world-class rafting and kayaking experiences.

Embrace a variety of climbs in Chattanooga, Tennessee

While most of the world knows this little town for its choo choo, Chattanooga has emerged as a major outdoor adventure destination in the Southeast, particularly for climbers. Stunning sandstone cliffs and engaging boulder problems sit within a stone’s throw of the city, making it an accessible place to hit the cliffs whether you’re trying out your first route or testing your mettle on advanced crags.

Climbers flock to the Tennessee Wall – located just northeast of town along a bend of the Tennessee River – for its hundreds of trad routes, while boulderers sing the praises of the boulder park off Old Wauhatchie Pike (also known as St Elmo’s Boulders). Nearby Foster Falls features sport routes of varying difficulty, plus a picturesque waterfall setting that's perfect for cooling down on hot summer days. 

Thanks to warm temperatures, you can climb here pretty much year-round, but keep in mind that the Tennessee Wall is south-facing and therefore gets all-day sun; it can be scorching in the summer but makes for a fantastic winter climb. Chattanooga is also worth a visit for its buzzing culinary energy, distilleries and breweries, and other cultural attractions like the Hunter Museum of American Art and the Tennessee Aquarium

Distant View Of Man Rock Climbing Against Mountains During Sunset
Asheville is less than an hour's drive from some of the most spectacular rock climbing routes in North Carolina © Getty Images / Benjamin Wu

Scramble up the tallest crags near Asheville, North Carolina

Thanks to its mountainous topography, North Carolina is considered one of the best climbing states in the region, with so many crags available that it’s hard to pick a single one to feature. While Asheville itself may not offer many climbing opportunities, staying here puts you within an hour’s drive of some of the state’s most intriguing routes.

Linville Gorge sits within the stunning Pisgah National Forest, calling to climbers with its abundance of multi-pitch trad routes, high-quality granite and spectacular views of Southern Appalachia. And if you want to give your hands a break, the hiking in this area is top-tier, such as the short trail to the impressive Linville Falls.

Located in Chimney Rock State Park, Rumbling Bald features a good number of sport and trad routes, but it’s become most well known for its world-class bouldering. Fun fact: this route sits close to Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure, the primary filming location for the classic movie Dirty Dancing.

Other great climbing spots near Asheville include Laurel Knob – one of the tallest crags in the eastern US – and Looking Glass Rock, a fascinating trad and aid climbing spot on a massive sandstone monolith.

Scale a dome in Northeastern Georgia

The tail end of the Appalachian Mountains curls into northeastern Georgia, creating a small but mighty network of climbing options for climbers of all experience levels. 

Beginners will love Yonah Mountain, a stately granite dome where the Army trains their Rangers to climb. If you don’t want to hike all the way up to the mountain, take time to explore the nearby boulder field. 

More advanced climbers will revel in the high-exposure trad routes presented by Tallulah Gorge, a two-mile-long quartzite chasm carved into the Tallulah Dome by the Tallulah River. Make sure to call ahead or check online for dam release schedules – the entire gorge closes during these periods. 
 

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