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Where to Go Rock Climbing in Kentucky: Red River Gorge

Last updated January 24, 2022| Inspiration

Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is a world-renown climbing destination. Beginning climbers should add this geological marvel to their list of must-do destinations!

The “Red” is home to some of the safest, longest ánd most fun routes in any location anywhere in the world. Climbers from every country make the pilgrimage because its mountains and cliffs are safe and as challenging/easy as you’d like. The area is justifiably known as one of the world’s best sport climbing crags!

You can spend your whole life at the Red and not even scratch the surface of what this amazing area has to offer.

Climbers have explored and set routes in the land around Red River Gorge for decades. Considered one of the world’s top 10 climbing destinations, The Red is home to many well-known rock climbing routes. There are plenty of climbs here for every style of climber, including sport, trad, and bouldering. Either bring your own gear or hire one of the trusted local guides to offer advice and training.

Where to Go Rock Climbing in Kentucky: Red River Gorge

Red River Gorge

Located within the Daniel Boone National Forest, the greater Red River Gorge area is spread over 26,000 acres. The Red River runs through the area for about 20 miles.

The area can be reached by car in about an hour driving from Lexington, Kentucky. If you’re traveling by plane, the best airport to fly to is Lexington, after which you can drive to the Red area. Cheaper flights might be had from Cincinnati or Louisville, each about two hours of driving away.

The area also offers great hiking trails, camping spots and other outdoor activities to enjoy during your (weekend) trip.

Where to Go Rock Climbing in Kentucky: Red River Gorge

The Red River Gorge is called Red because of the red color of many of its sandstone cliffs. It started becoming popular with rock climbers in the 1950s and early 1960s, and it became well known throughout the country during the 1970s with some of the earliest documented routes.

Climbing bloomed in the following decades, with a revolutionary change taking place in the 1990s. Sport climbing took off in a big way when Porter Jarrard began bolting overhanging walls that had not been previously deemed climbable due to their difficulty, and other developers soon followed suit.

Red River Gorge Climbing

Thanks to the river that runs through the gorge, the area around the water offers many great climbing opportunities to practice your over vertical technique with multi-pitch walls, boulders and climbing roofs.

Climbing the Red is an incredible experience and a great way to develop new skills and enhance rock climbing techniques in general. Red River Gorge offers plenty of places for you to try out climbing itself, or you can take advantage of the many top-rope areas already developed so you can concentrate on trying out new moves or techniques.

Rock climbing is permitted in most of the gorge, but you can generally not climb or descent on arches. All routes are also pre-set and rock climbers are required to ask permission from the forest rangers in case they want to set up any new ones.

Where to Go Rock Climbing in Kentucky: Red River Gorge

Rock/Trad Climbing Areas in Red River Gorge

When rock climbing in the Red, there are a few areas getting universal thumbs up. For traditional or rock climbing, the following locations are popular among climbers with ratings all well above 5:

  1. Pebble Beach
  2. Sky Bridge Ridge
  3. Fortress
  4. Long Wall

Sport Climbing Areas in Red River Gorge

Sport climbing presents an entirely different challenge, and the area is one of the best places to experience it. Top areas in this region include:

  1. Global Village with multiple climbs
  2. Military Wall
  3. Roadside Crag
  4. Pebble Beach
  5. Sky Bridge Ridge

If you’re new to the area, try hitting up Pebble Beach and Sky Bridge Ridge. These two locations offer a variety of climbs for all skill levels, so it’s a great opportunity to try out some techniques while challenging yourself with different climbing styles.

Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition

The Red River Gorge Climber’s Coalition, or RRGCC, is a group of climber volunteers that sets to preserve the rock climbing opportunities in and around the Red River Gorge. Through coordination among climbers and local landowners, they want to make climbing in Eastern Kentucky sustainable and beneficial for all.

The RRG preserves the natural resources found in the area so they can be enjoyed by all people. They value rock climbing and other forms of human-powered recreation as activities that are good for the body, mind, and community.

RRGCC website:

Where to Go Rock Climbing in Kentucky: Red River Gorge

Red River Gorge Climbing/Hiking Guides

If you’re looking for some additional resources, there are quite a few interesting guides about hiking, climbing and exploring the Red River Gorge area. Below are a few good options to check out.

Red River Gorge Select Climber’s Guide


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Red River Gorge Trail Guide 2020

$14.99 $17.95

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Last update: 13 hours ago

Climbing in Muir Valley

An area that offers great climbing opportunities is Muir Valley, which is located in the Red area.

Approximately 360 acres in size, Muir Valley is a spectacular mountain climbing locale in Kentucky that features over 400 climbs, magnificent waterfalls, and several hiking trails. It is walled in by over seven miles of majestic cliffs of hard Corbin Sandstone that range in height from 20 feet to over 200 feet.

The over 400 traditional and sport climbs provide a spectacular experience to visitors from all over the world. The waters of falls, rivers, and streams add to the natural beauty. Gorgeous wildflowers like mountain laurel and rhododendron can be found in abundance along the valley floor as well as the forested hillsides.

You can find more information about the Muir Valley on their official website here:

Where to Go Rock Climbing in Kentucky: Red River Gorge

Final Thoughts

There are other areas in Kentucky that offer solid rock climbing. However, The Red River Gorge is the king of the mountain when it comes to rock climbing areas in KY.

Red River Gorge is well known for its beauty and rock climbing opportunities. There are a variety of rock climbing areas to try out your technique on, from trad to sport. If you’re new to the area, Pebble Beach or Sky Bridge Ridge offer the best opportunity for beginners or those who want an introduction into different styles of climbing.

Also, Muir Valley is definitely worth checking out, with its stunning natural beautify and over 400 different climbing routes.

If you want to learn more about Red River Gorge and climbing there, we recommend checking out the official website here:

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