Climbing in Red River Gorge, Kentucky

In fall 2018 we finally made the pilgrimage to one of America’s most popular and lauded climbing areas - Red River Gorge, Kentucky. Here are some impressions. My perspective is flavored by my background climbing mostly in the western US and Europe. YMMV.

On the superb crack, Rock Wars (5.10-). One of the super classic cracks that should not be missed.

On the superb crack, Rock Wars (5.10-). One of the super classic cracks that should not be missed.

There is a ton of info and a whole library of guidebooks for the RRG, so I won’t attempt to duplicate that info. I will highlight a few key things that might be helpful to prospective visitors.

On the stellar route, Plate Tectonics (5.10a) in Muir Valley. Big holds and great climbing.

On the stellar route, Plate Tectonics (5.10a) in Muir Valley. Big holds and great climbing.

Steep pockets and edges typical of RRG. These routes are at the Chocolate Factory, an excellent, long cliff band near the Motherlode. The climber on the left is on Snozzberries (5.12a) - steep jugs to a hueco rest and a tricky finish. The climber on the right is on Naked (5.12a) - pockets all the way.

Steep pockets and edges typical of RRG. These routes are at the Chocolate Factory, an excellent, long cliff band near the Motherlode. The climber on the left is on Snozzberries (5.12a) - steep jugs to a hueco rest and a tricky finish. The climber on the right is on Naked (5.12a) - pockets all the way.

  • The sport climbing is fabulous. No surprise here, since just about everyone who visits would agree with this. The variety and quality of climbs is phenomenal, at pretty much any grade from 5.10 and up. There is a much smaller collection of routes at grades 5.9 and under, thought there is still plenty to climb at those grades - just not nearly as wide a selection.

  • Bring your endurance. This is also pretty common knowledge, but the majority of routes are steep for the grade, with plentiful holds. The key is moving efficiently and quickly to get to the chains before you run out of gas. There are slabs if you look for them, but the gems are mostly steep enduro-fests.

  • The trad climbing is great, but quality is inconsistent. There are some stellar classic cracks that make it very worthwhile to bring your trad rack if you have any interest in crack climbing. But many of the not-so-classic trad routes seem to be little traveled. Given the nature of the lush forests, less travelled routes become covered in plant growth, moss and mud. There were quite a few trad routes that were recommended in guidebooks that looked as though they hadn’t been climbed in a long time. It’s fun to mix up the sport climbing with some of the cracks, but stick to the super classics or expect to deal with considerable vegetable matter.

  • Bring a stick clip. More so than almost any climbing area we have visited, stick clips are nearly ubiquitous, and sometimes important if you are pushing your limits and want to stay safe. Many (most, actually) routes are bolted with high first bolts and the common practice is that the first bolt will be stick clipped from the ground.

  • It’s muddy. Expect to hike to almost every route on a muddy, mucky trail. This doesn’t impact the climbing, so it’s fair to call me a whining fair-weather desert rat.

  • It’s crazy crowded on the weekends. As the biggest destination area in this part of the country, and with many millions of people living within a 6 hour drive, the population of climbers explodes on weekends. At our campground (Land of the Arches), there were 10x (no joke) as many climbers on Friday and Saturday nights versus the remainder of the week. If you are staying for a longer visit, plan a rest day on the weekends. On the weekends, do all the normal stuff to avoid crowds - start early, climb late, and/or focus on more obscure routes.

  • Campgrounds. Miguel’s is well run and loaded with climbers. Prices are decent, and it’s easy to get info from other visitors or the very knowledgeable employees. The restaurant has pretty good pizza and other food, and the climbing store is excellent. But it’s also crowded and loud. The other campgrounds are mostly much more quiet do to smaller size, fewer visitors or remoteness. There are quite a few options, and I will only touch on a couple of others. Land of the Arches (where we stayed) is a private centrally located campground. It’s quiet, but has no food. It has a nice community hangar with showers, common space and wifi. Showers are hot, and not crowded. Very quiet on the weekdays (only about 10-20 people in high season). It explodes to hundreds of people on weekends. We liked it, but we’re old and like the quiet. The majority of the camping is not quite as scenic as at the other campgrounds. Lago Linda’s is another favorite for some people. It’s much further south and not centrally located, but reasonably close to PMRP and Miller Fork. We did not stay there, but we did drive thru. Pretty sites, beautiful locale, has showers and a small store. There are many other options - forest camping, multiple local RV parks, and camping at a few other small private businesses. Ask around and you’ll get a lot of info and options.

  • If it’s raining and you still want to climb, it’s worth a visit to the LEF gym in Lexington. Super nice new gym, and very friendly staff. Only about an hour drive from the RRG.



Camping at Land of the Arches campground. The “hangar” is visible in the rear, and has showers and space (unheated) to hang out. The gazebo on the left is the common cooking / eating area. Camping here is pretty informal. Sign up at the kiosk at the front of the hangar, then camp anywhere you like (there are no assigned sites). This pics shows only a small portion of the total camping space.

Camping at Land of the Arches campground. The “hangar” is visible in the rear, and has showers and space (unheated) to hang out. The gazebo on the left is the common cooking / eating area. Camping here is pretty informal. Sign up at the kiosk at the front of the hangar, then camp anywhere you like (there are no assigned sites). This pics shows only a small portion of the total camping space.

Camping at Miguel’s. This pic shows only one of several camping areas. This is the place to be if you want to be around a lot of other climbers. There is a ton of info about Miguel’s online.

Camping at Miguel’s. This pic shows only one of several camping areas. This is the place to be if you want to be around a lot of other climbers. There is a ton of info about Miguel’s online.

In Muir Valley, most of the routes have these small (quarter sized) metal plaques at the base of the route. They can be helpful to orient yourself if you are new to the area. They are so small that sometimes they are hard to locate.

In Muir Valley, most of the routes have these small (quarter sized) metal plaques at the base of the route. They can be helpful to orient yourself if you are new to the area. They are so small that sometimes they are hard to locate.

RRG local.

RRG local.