|Red River Gorge
With its central location in Kentucky and its huge volume of routes, the Red River Gorge is one of the most popular climbing meccas east of the Mississippi. Spread out through a wide expanse of national forest land and privately-owned acreage, the Red’s sandstone cliffs offer a lifetime of climbing opportunities at all levels.
As with many remote areas, climbing has been going on in the Red River Gorge since before people bothered to record any of their exploits. Proto-climbers were probably scrambling up Chimney Top Rock and the Caver’s Route at Tower Rock in the 50s and 60s. The 70s saw some of the earliest documented route development by climbers like Tom and Ellen Seibert, Larry Day and Frank Becker, who also produced the area’s first published guidebook. Other early pioneers included Tom Souders, Jeff Koenig, John Bronaugh and Martin Hackworth.
While the 70s and 80s saw increasing climber traffic, it was in the early 90s that a revolution of sorts hit the Red. Sport climbing took off in a big way with the arrival of Porter Jarrard, who began bolting overhanging walls that had previously been regarded as unclimbable. Other route developers followed suit, including Jeff Moll, Chris Snyder and Charles Tabor, among others.
As climbing grew, so did the potential for access issues, with strained relationships between climbers and the forest service or the oil companies that have drilling rights in the southern sections of the gorge. In large part as a response to new forest service land management plans, the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition was formed. The efforts of this grassroots organization have been highly fruitful, most notably with the purchase in 2004 of the huge Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve.
When people think of climbing in the Red, sport is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Crags like the Motherlode and the Dark Side are known for their ferocious bolted lines. World-class sport leaders gravitate to the Red to try their hand at testpieces like Thanatopsis (5.14b) or The Legend (5.13b). But hard overhanging sport lines are not all there is; Roadside Crag and many of Muir Valley’s crags have a plentiful assortment of routes for the 5.11-and-under leader.
Though it’s best known as a sport destination, the Red actually has almost as many trad lines to be led. Fortress Wall, Pebble Beach and Tower Rock are primarily trad destinations, while others like Roadside have a mix of trad and sport. Some classic gear lines include Roadside Attraction (5.7), Bedtime for Bonzo (5.6) and Rock Wars (5.10a). As with sport, there’s something for trad leaders at all levels, though be warned – the grades on many trad lines are “old school.”
No discussion of Red River Gorge would be complete without mentioning Miguel’s Pizza. Founded in the mid-80s by Miguel Ventura, Miguel’s isn’t just a restaurant, it’s the epicenter of climbing culture for the Red. When locals give you directions to a crag, chances are they’ll be telling you how to get there from Miguel’s. Many climbers take advantage of the cheap camping on Miguel’s grounds, and after a day of climbing, the restaurant is usually packed with climbers enjoying great pizza and other nourishments. Miguel’s also serves as a climbers’ store, carrying a wide selection of ropes, shoes, harnesses and other gear.
As noted above, climbing in the Red River Gorge is spread out over a large geographical area. For purposes of organization on Mountain Project, most crags are listed here on the main page. The two exceptions to this are the large privately-owned areas, Muir Valley and Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve; crags in these areas are listed in their respective subdivisions.
The definitive guidebook for the Red is “Red River Gorge Rock Climbs” (2nd edition) by Ray Ellington. Superbly well organized and chock full of information and photos, the Ellington guide is a must-have for RRG climbing.
The prime seasons for climbing at the Red are spring and fall. High humidity and temperatures make for miserable rock conditions in the summertime, but that doesn’t stop some climbers. Winter, aside from being frigid, has the added disadvantage of Miguel’s being closed for the off-season.
From Lexington, Kentucky take I-64 east about 15 miles to the exit for the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway, just past the second Winchester exit. Follow the parkway for 33 miles to the KY 11 exit (exit 33). Miguel's Pizza, the unofficial headquarters for climbing at the Red, is about two miles south on KY 11. Continue south for crags in the southern region, or north on KY 11 for northern region crags.
1,154 Total Routes
['4 Stars',176],['3 Stars',523],['2 Stars',339],['1 Star',98],['Bomb',7]
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Mountain Project's determination of some of the classic, most popular, highest rated routes for Red River Gorge:
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Latest Regional Forum Messages
From: Pittsford, New York
May 27, 2014
PMRP: Got stuck TWICE going back up the steep hill in perfect dry weather driving a new VW Jetta, however loaded with passenger and obviously rock/camping gear. Be extremely cautious about going into that area w/o 4wd w/ more street oriented tires
|By Chris Chaney|
From: Arvada, Colorado
Sep 29, 2006
For directions to individual areas and climbs there is a great online guide at: www.redriverclimbing.com/RRCGuideV2/ or an excellent printed guide written by Ray Ellington called "The Red River Gorge."
|By Ladd Raine|
From: Plymouth, NH
Apr 25, 2007
Red River Outdoors burnt down on Tuesday April 24th, 2007. Please everyone send your best thoughts their way. The owners and employees are all unhurt, however, they did lose their dog. Please note this if you are heading to the Red.
|By Luke Stefurak|
From: Mountain View, CA
Dec 21, 2007
I am going to start adding the southern region to MP.com. It will be a slow process but there are so many amazing routes there and MP.com is a great database that deserves to be updated. For complete route info for the RRG use the links to Ray Ellington's online guide.
From: Big Pine, CA
May 9, 2009
If you plan on camping at Miguels in the spring check the weather cause if it is gonna rain you might wake up swimming. definitely get the high ground!!
From: Thornton, CO
Jun 23, 2009
Not sure I like the way regions and areas are organized here. The guidebook, redriverclimbing.com, rockclimbing.com (ie, every resource I've seen for the RRG except this one) is organized by the traditional method. Yes, it is confusing at times, but this method is confusing at ALL times if you don't have a topographic map. In my experience, most climbers are much more likely to have a guidebook than a topo map for cragging areas, so organizing by the traditional method that the guidebook uses would make way more sense.
From: Decatur, GA
Nov 2, 2009
I agree with Jeff's concerns about the layout of the RRG here, so I've done some major reorganization. If you have comments, let me know.
From: Thornton, CO
Nov 2, 2009
Thanks sax! Big improvement for sure.
I still think it should just follow the guidebook method (Gray's Branch, Upper, Middle and Lower Gorge, etc) but this works fine too.
|By Danny Guestrin|
Feb 4, 2010
Any suggestions on where to camp in February when Miguel's is closed?
From: Thornton, CO
Feb 9, 2010
I believe you can still camp at Miguel's during the winter, but there's no water, bathrooms, or trash disposal. Fortunately, the rest area is not far away and has all those things. Don't quote me on that though.
|By Danny Guestrin|
Feb 21, 2010
Thanks for the reply Jeff.
Just to let others know, I just got back from winter camping at RRG and I ended up staying at the Koomer Ridge campground. It had washrooms, a well with running water, trash disposal, and was $7/night for the site. I recommend this to others camping in the off season.
Apr 4, 2010
was on the route " bleed like me" at the vol. wall, me and my girl friend both had trouble with it we dont know if we were on the right route. both rrg guides said it came in at 12b and was 65 ft, the route we were on the crux started at 65 ft or so it seemed??? if any body can shed some light on this first set of bolts just right of the huge cave. it was day 6 on so my pereption of the climb is probably skewed.
|By Ben Cassedy|
From: Denver, CO
May 3, 2010
There is a wealth of primitive camping in RRG. You can camp just about anywhere in forest service land for about $3 or 4 a night. The problem is that even that stuff is going to be packed on Memorial Day weekend.
You can drive up Chimney top road, auxier ridge, basically wherever, and you will find primitive spots in the pull-offs right by the road. There is a large site between Left Flank and Military; it will probably be taken. Same deal with stuff near Funk Rock. There are hike-in backcountry sites, but those are generally a pain in the ass if you're climbing and if you don't know what you're looking for.
I would shoot for either Miguels or Lago Linda's. I don't remember either of those places being more crowded than usual last year. Of course, they were still packed, but no more than usual...
From: plymouth, nh
Jun 11, 2010
I just did my first trip to RRG this past week, what an amazing place. A couple things I would suggest are, a stick-clip, eating at Miguels as much as possible, drinking as much ale-8 as your can, and train for endurance. RRG is an amazing destination!
|By Ezekiel Thornton|
From: Akron, Ohio
Jun 25, 2012
Wish more of the trad routes were posted. Oh and wish more of the trad routes were climbed. So many spiders haha
|By Caleb Hansen|
From: Rapid City
Aug 7, 2012
Climbing partners wanted!
Going to be coming down to the RED from October 25-Nov14. My partners have bailed so I'll be flying solo. Anyone able to climb those dates? or will it be easy enough to pick up partners day to day by hanging around miquels? Thanks
From: springfield, Mo
Sep 2, 2012
So I only got a weekend to climb at RRG. What should i climb? I climb mostly low 10s but enjoy 5.8 as well as 5.9
|By Josh Cox|
From: Andover, MN
Dec 28, 2012
In the Spring... how early does it get "good"? as in dry? I'm looking at the first full week of April. Of course, weather is unpredictable, but in general would this be a good time or should I try and push it back into May? Thanks.
From: Rapid City SD
Oct 20, 2013
My wife and i are going red river gorge at the end of this week for the first time. just curious if anyone had any recommendations for areas that have a wide range of grades and variety of sport routes. 5.7-5.12? We will have a rental car so we are hoping for fairly easy access far as roads go. Any suggestions would be awesome!
|By J Meagher|
Apr 17, 2014
Anybody have suggestions for a good first 12a at the Red? Mostly what Im looking for is a route that's really nicely bolted, not too exposed, and not too tall (ie. routes like Twinkie will scare the crap out of me)