With more than 15 separate mountain ranges, it’s no surprise that Colorado is a climber’s paradise. The state boasts over 31,000 climbing routes, with a near-even mix of sport climbing, trad climbing, and bouldering. However, trad and alpine routes are where the Centennial State truly shines. Thanks to the state’s high elevation, you’ll also find unique ice- and mixed-climbing offerings, if that’s your thing. Whether you prefer to challenge yourself with hard sport climbs or embark on multi-pitch trad adventures, you’ll find plenty of appealing options in Colorado.
We’re highlighting five of the top rock climbing areas in the state, from the vast Rocky Mountains to the legendary Eldorado Canyon. Looking for your next crag? Read on.
Cover Image by Scott Crady
Eldorado Canyon State Park
This iconic climbing destination lies just outside of Boulder, Colorado in the Flatirons. At “Eldo,” as it’s affectionately known in the climbing community, you’ll find beautiful sandstone cliffs, classic climbs, and year-round access. To give you a sense of Eldorado Canyon’s fame, five of the fifteen most popular and highly-rated climbs in Colorado (as listed on the Mountain Project) are in the park. The area leans heavily towards trad climbing, but there is also ample sport climbing and bouldering thanks to the canyon’s sheer number of routes. Whether you’re looking for single- or multi-pitch options, you’re covered.
Check out the jewel of the canyon, Redgarden Wall, for the best lines and tallest routes. Then head to a smaller cliff, The Bastille, for steep climbing right off the road and epic views when topping out. Along with these two hot spots, Eldorado Canyon has plenty of other walls to keep you occupied.
Location-wise, Eldorado Canyon can’t be beaten. You can van camp in nature nearby (camping isn’t allowed within the state park) and pop into the charming city of Boulder for local breweries and healthy eats.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Do you tend to seek out the most dramatic landscapes and intense experiences? If so, Black Canyon of the Gunnison might be your new favorite location. This canyon in western Colorado is one of the steepest and narrowest canyons in the country. The dark shadows cast over the deep canyon are responsible for the “Black” part of this National Park’s name.
The area’s climbing is informed by this wild landscape; it is both exhilarating and a bit scary. With over 90% multi-pitch trad routes, very few options below 5.10, and spotty guiding information, this area is best suited for expert trad climbers. If you’re up for the challenge and well-prepared, you’ll find unforgettable climbing at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. For a more relaxed activity with equally breathtaking views, take a scenic drive along the rim of the canyon.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park draws thousands of visitors from around the world each year. At one of the highest elevations of any U.S. National Park, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. The vistas of snow-capped peaks and clear lakes are worth a visit alone. However, the park is also a great place to get sendy.
Alpine trad climbing is the norm in Rocky Mountain National Park, so be prepared for all-day outings with long approaches and multiple pitches. Looking for something that requires less stamina? You’ll enjoy the area’s plentiful boulder problems of all difficulty levels. Check out Upper and Lower Chaos Canyon for the largest concentration of bouldering in the park. Plus, the national park offers multiple van-friendly campgrounds so you can establish your home base among the picturesque forests and meadows.
Rifle Mountain Park
Three and a half hours away from Rocky Mountain National Park but still in the Rockies, you’ll find some of the country’s best limestone sport climbing. While other destinations on this list are playgrounds for trad climbers, Rifle Mountain Park is a sport climbing paradise. Apart from one boulder problem, 100% of the area’s 450+ climbs are sport routes. Beginners be warned—there are few climbs below 5.10 here. However, advanced climbers will have their pick of hundreds of long, technical (mostly overhanging) routes. Late spring through early fall is ideal for rock climbing in the park. In the winter, Rifle transforms into a hub for ice climbing.
There are multiple inexpensive boondocking campgrounds near the crag. This affordability and easy access to climbing mean you can van camp for longer and hone your skills on the park’s renowned limestone lines. You might just find a project to devote yourself to here.
Garden of the Gods Park
As the name suggests, this national landmark is both majestic and relatively small. Garden of the Gods is a natural oasis located on the outskirts of Colorado’s second-largest city, Colorado Springs. The striking red sandstone formations that attract throngs of sightseers also appeal to climbers. Routes are mostly single-pitch with some 2- to 3-pitch options. Garden of the Gods offers a good mix of sport climbing, trad climbing, and bouldering. There is also an even distribution in terms of climbing grade. This makes the park a perfect destination for crews with mixed climbing levels and preferences. Plus, if you like to mix it up, you can easily boulder one day and place gear the next.
You also get to experience the best of both nature and city life on this itinerary. Camp in the park for a reasonable $10 per night and venture into Colorado Springs on your days off from sending. To explore another side of the area’s geology, visit the Cave of the Winds Mountain Park just 15 minutes from Garden of the Gods. There, you’ll tour caves under the Rocky Mountains.
Wherever you choose to climb in Colorado, remember that the state is probably at a higher elevation than you are used to. Pair that with changing weather conditions and unfamiliar styles of climbing, and you’ll understand why preparation is no joke. Make sure to research your routes thoroughly and only take on climbs you are sure you can handle.
Vanlife allows you to visit world-renowned climbing destinations with all the comfort of a traveling home. Crashing out on a comfy mattress each night and cooking delicious meals to fuel your exploits are just a few of the perks. Plus, you have more flexibility when it comes to staying longer at a location you’ve fallen in love with.
Looking for a state-of-the-art camper van for all your rugged outdoor adventures? Visit Rec Van today. What are your favorite places to climb in Colorado? Let us know in the comments.