Red River Gorge, KY – Climbing in the Red is not for the faint of heart.
The Red River Gorge in Kentucky is a climbing mecca within a short drive from many metropolitan areas. Lucky for us, we happened to be in Dayton, Ohio for business which is about a three hour drive to this world class climbing destination.
Red River Gorge, or ‘the Red’ as the cool kids say, is composed of sandstone crags spread throughout the Daniel Boone National Forest and privately owned land (read: access issues). Although the Red is known for its seemingly never ending supply of relentless power house climbs, there are climbs for most climbing abilities. I do suggest being comfortable at the 5.10 grade, so you can start dabbling in the ‘moderate’ classics.
As I mentioned previously, the Red is spread out among forest and privately owned property. Organizations, specifically the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition (RRGCC) have done a huge part in maintaining climbing access at the Red and have a comprehensive timeline that sums up access issues on their website (see timeline). Please consider making a donation to the RRGCC, as the majority of the Red probably wouldn’t be accessible if it weren’t for these climbing angels.
DAY ONE – TORRENT FALLS
With an ambitious early morning departure from Dayton, we found ourselves at the Red just after sunrise. I guess we were pretty excited about this weekend warrior venture into Kentucky. We stopped and had a bite to eat to kill some time, as it was still freezing outside, then headed over to Torrent Falls for a full day of climbing. Torrent Falls was absolutely breathtaking.
The cranking goods:
- Wadcutter (5.9+) – pumpy warmup route… good introduction to hold shopping
- Bandolier (5.11a) – pumpier warmup
- Receiver (5.11b) – sustained, overhanging and straightforward enjoyment
- Sex Show (5.11c) – and who does not like one?
- Pocket Pussy (5.10d) – classic overhung fun
- Seek the Truth (5.11d) – don’t play chicken at the crux
- Windy Corner (5.11b) – trad line. Climbs out a corner at the start with the challenges starting early clearing the roof then rock the pump up the overhung jam party
- Tourist Trap (5.9) – lots of awesome… really unique and varied climbing for the grade. Way underrated in the guide, I would give it 4 or 5 stars.
NOTE: Torrent Falls is privately owned and you must visit TorrentFallsClimbing.com to request access to climb here. Once granted access, please make sure to drop a little something in the donation box found at the bottom of the stairs and remember to LEAVE NO TRACE.
After a full day of climbing, we decided to check out what the renowned Miguel’s Pizza was all about. Miguel’s did not disappoint these hungry rock feigns. Their pizzas consisted of homemade dough and a slew of unique toppings (sweet potato, avocado, chorizo…you get the point). The only drawback here was no beer (jump to Imbibing at the Red). Miguel’s is in a dry county, so if you want beer you best bring your own. I don’t know about you, but nothing tops off a long day of climbing quite like an ice cold adult beverage. Due to our preplanning failure of bringing beers and lack of energy to drive 5 miles out of county to purchase some, we settled for some Ale 8 gingerale. Full and tired, we cashed in at Abner’s motel in Stanton.
DAY TWO – MILITARY WALL
The Military Wall serves up a little something for everyone making it perfect for my climbing partner and me, seeing that he is a 5.12 climber and I am a 5.11-and under climber. There were enough climbs, with varying styles, to keep us both climbing until our fingers boycotted our mission. The weather was about 20 degrees warmer than yesterday which provided us with increased pleasure. In fact, the 5.12 wall received so much morning sun that it almost became too hot until the sun sunk low enough to tuck behind the wall, leaving us with shade around 1pm.
- Fuzzy Undercling (5.11b) – hard start to a super fun jug haul
- Gung Ho (5.12b) – a well protected 1 move wonder
- Reliquary (5.12b) – stout and sustained if you have no idea how to find knee bars
- Tissue Tiger (5.12b) – relatively easy until the 10 foot slap in the face near the top
- All Things Considered (5.11d) – seeking climbers with balance and technique. Based on where else you climb, this may seem easy compared to other climbs of the grade in the Red.
- Possum Lips (5.10d) – balance and technique take two
- Moonbeam (5.9) – glassy/polished but fun
Next weekend we return to the Red with a stout ticklist planned. Truth be told, we haven’t really put down the guidebook and are jonesing to thrash our fingers all over again on the glorious overhung sandstone.
Location: Red River Gorge, KY (map is set to the climbing headquarters, Miguel’s Pizza)
Access: Red River Gorge is located about 60 miles east of Lexington, KY. All crags are either located on forest or privately owned land. Please read and obey all signs regarding access to particular crags. If an area is closed, do not climb there. The Red has so many climbs so don’t poach routes that are closed as this can and will cause access problems for climbing in the future. Don’t be that guy (or girl).
Accommodations: You have a few options here – camping or lodging
- Primitive Camping: Permitted on forest land, at least 300 ft from the road, with an overnight permit. The permit can be purchased at the Shell Station in Slade (map) for $3/1 night, $5/3 nights, $7/7 nights, or $30/yearly pass.
Miguel’s Pizza – $2/night (showers and wifi extra) and open year round. This is THE PLACE to stay if looking for a social experience at the Red or if you are interested in picking up a climbing partner. They also happen to have the best pizza and a climbing shop in case you forgot something. 1890 Natural Bridge Road, Slade, KY (map).
Lago Linda Hideaway – $5/night and includes showers and wifi. The calmer and more plush alternative to Miguel’s. 850 Black Ridge Road, Beattyville, KY (map).
Li’l Abner Motel – open seasonally (web)
Abner’s Motel – open year round. Located outside of the Red in Stanton. Provides the basics – a bed, roof and shower (web).
- Cabins: Lots of options here so I will list my favorite and google can lead you beyond this.
Torrent Falls – located behind the gates, providing access to Torrent Falls’ world class climbing. The property is serene and beautiful (web).
Imbibing at the Red: Yes, a lot of accommodations you will find yourself at in the Red are in Powell County, a dry county. A dry county means there is no alcohol available for purchase; however, you can discretely drink your brews purchased elsewhere. Didn’t bring your own? Thankfully, neighboring Powell County is a not so dry county that houses your go-to beer supplier, C & S Carryout aka “The Beer Trailer”. Buy some beers to take away, buy some beers to enjoy on their patio, or do both. The Beer Trailer is about 5 miles from Miguel’s Pizza at 1163 N Ky 11, Torrent, KY (map). Hours are Monday – Thursday: 8AM to 10PM, Friday and Saturday: 8AM to 11PM and closed Sunday.
Recommended Guidebook: Red River Gorge Rock Climbs,, Ray Ellington