**This Climbing at Red River Gorge Guide is from Katie Boué, a member of #TeamSierra.**
Here's the thing about Red River Gorge: It isn't just a Kentucky climbing destination, it's a lifestyle experience. You don't just come here to climb impossibly featured sandstone lines, you come for the lush gorge scenery, jovial climbing community, and the best pizzas you've ever eaten.
I recently spent three weeks at Red River Gorge, and it was easily a highlight destination of my yearlong climbing trip. I've visited these Kentucky crags before, but this time I really immersed myself into the Red River Gorge experience. From where to pitch your tent at night to the best lines in the area, this guide is offers all the ingredients to a recipe for a great climbing trip:
Climbing: If you want to get strong, come to the Red River Gorge. This climbing area is known for it's seemingly never-ending expanse of cliffs, powerful overhanging routes, and quality lines. The sandstone features here boast deeply pocketed jugs, solid flakes, and a sprinkling of unique body-sized huecos. Whether you are a seasoned sport climber or taking your first rope trip outdoors, the numerous crags allow every visitor to enjoy successful sends. Less experienced climbers should head to the well-traveled and beautifully maintained Muir Valley, while folks looking for a serious challenge will enjoy the legendary lines at The Motherlode. This is a climbing destination where I would highly suggest investing in a guidebook — there is so much to explore.
My favorite climbs: Plate Tectonics (5.9+) and Gettin' Lucky in Kentucky (5.10b) at Muir Valley, Whip Stocking (5.11a) at the Drive-By wall in Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve, and It's A Wonderful Life (5.9+) — which I highly recommend topping out and enjoying the view - at Pistol Ridge.
Camping: In the southeast, the camping situation near climbing areas is often either non-existent or quite expensive. At the Red River Gorge, camping opportunities are plentiful and cheap. The most popular spot is Miguel's Pizza, where climbers are invited to camp for only $2 a night (per person). Accommodating for everyone from tent campers to van-dwellers, Miguel's offers an excellent social experience, food storage, free water, coin-operated showers, a covered picnic pavilion, slack-lining, and more.
Non-Climbing Activities: While Red River Gorge is perhaps best known for it's incredible sport climbing, many visitors don't bring ropes and quick draws — the gorge offers plentiful outdoor activities for any adventurer. The main attraction is Natural Bridge State Resort Park, a recreational area loaded with natural arches and over 20 miles of scenic hiking trails. For a cliff-hanging experience that doesn't require any technical climbing skills, check out the Via Ferrata course at Torrent Falls. There are also many opportunities for cycling, seasonal paddling, and more.
Local Eats: A trip to Red River Gorge isn't complete without a big Miguel's pizza pie loaded with inventive toppings like sweet potato, pasta spirals, pulled pork, and chorizo. If you aren't into a saucy slice, the Red River Rockhouse down the street serves delicious burgers, burritos, and sweet potato fries. Both restaurants offer sustainable menus; Miguel grows many of his pizza toppings in his own garden, and the Rockhouse features locally raised meat and vegetables. If it's your first time in Kentucky, be sure to pair your meal with a bottle of the state's signature beverage, Ale-8.
Gear and Groceries: Forgot an essential piece of gear? Fear not, Miguel's sells an impressive stock of climbing shoes, harnesses, and even trad gear. While all the equipment you'll need is easily accessible, I would highly suggest coming stocked with food unless you'll be in the area for a while. The closest grocery stores are a hefty 20-30 minute drive away, and living off of nothing but Miguel's pizza and breakfast wraps could get expensive after a few days.
When to Visit: While autumn is the prime season to climb at Red River Gorge, this beautiful Kentucky destination will wow you with its lush flora and pristine sandstone any day of the year — but beware the bugs in summertime. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit, and the gorge becomes somewhat of a ghost town in the deepest weeks of winter. Even Miguel's closes after Thanksgiving.
With a little bit of trip planning, and a lot of try-hard ambition, climbers will find that the Red River Gorge is one of the best sport climbing destinations in the country. You'll come for the famous climbing, stay for the addictive pizza, and daydream about coming back every day until you return again.
-Katie Boué is a southeastern climber who documents her travels, photography, and outdoor lifestyle on The Morning Fresh — including a yearlong road trip spent living in a big yellow van to explore America's greatest climbing destinations and National Parks. You can follow her adventures through her blog, or on Twitter via @TheMorningFresh.
Guide to Climbing at Red River Gorge
By Katie Boue
November 04, 2013
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