The Mile High City is a rock-climber’s paradise, with incredible proximity to sport climbs, gear routes, and boulder problems on anything from sandstone and granite to quartzite and basalt. Beginning and elite climbers alike can enjoy quality crags just minutes from home, or venture out into some of Colorado’s best climbing areas not far from town. Denver has a lifetime of climbing for any skill set, and the dry, sunny climate makes it possible to climb almost year-round. Here are our top picks for exploring the variety of climbing to be found around Denver.
1. The Flatirons
Look west from just about anywhere in Boulder for a view of the five iconic Flatirons rising from the eastern slopes of Green Mountain. The Flatirons have hundreds of routes, ranging from single-pitch sport routes, multi-pitch gear routes, and boulder problems. Sport climbers can test their skills in the Central Flatirons area on 5.10 and 5.11 classics like Stone Love or Cardboard Monkey, or any one of the highly rated 5.12 routes. Boulderers will enjoy areas in the North such as the Mothership or Sputnik Boulders. Trad climbers can find solitude and slab in the South Flatirons, as well as fun lower-grade gear routes like the east face of Seal Rock. The best time to rope climb is spring through fall, saving bouldering for the colder months. Climbing resource: Use Richard Rossiter’s Rock Climbing the Flatirons for an overview of climbs as well as Mountain Project for additional route-finding beta.
2. Clear Creek Canyon
Clear Creek flows directly through Clear Creek Canyon in the Rocky Mountains just west of Denver, and has hundreds of routes with little to no approach. The rock is a combination of gneiss, schist, and granite: expect to find lengthy bolted lines interspersed with the occasional trad gem. Routes range from 5.6 to 5.14 with styles varying by area — this is a great crag for both those beginning their sport leading career and for the expert climber. Warm up at the High Wire Crag or the Canal Zone on 5.9s like 5th of July or Made in the Shade, and try classic 5.11s at Wall of the 90’s. With so much south-facing rock, it can be possible to climb at Clear Creek throughout the winter. Climbing resource: The most recent guidebook is Rock Climbing Clear Creek Canyon by Kevin Capps and Matt Lloyd.
3. Flagstaff Mountain
Flagstaff Mountain, north of Green Mountain, is one of the largest established bouldering areas in Colorado. Numerous conglomerate sandstone rocks scatter the flanks of the scenic mountainside; with pinches, sharp flakes, and sloping dishes, these problems will test your commitment as well as your skin. Climbs range from V0-V13 with most around V4-V6. The Cloud Shadow area has problems ranging from V0-V9, making it a great place to start and track your progression. Beer Barrel, near the famous V4 Monkey Traverse, has a few V0s. The peak season is usually around February through May, but if you seek out shady spots like the Flagstaff Amphitheater, it is possible to climb as the weather warms. Climbing resource: Mountain Project has printable guides with routes and maps.
4. North Table Mountain
A short basalt cliff band rounds the mesa of North Table Mountain, providing short, technical sport routes facing south and west. North Table Mountain is just a half hour from Denver, and a short and obvious steep hike leads to the cliffs from either of two parking lots. Conditions are best in the spring or fall, since the rock is exposed to sun with little to no shade. Routes range from 5.6 to 5.13, with the highest concentration in the 5.8 to 5.10+ grade. Top-rope access from atop the cliff band makes North Table Mountain a great place for groups and beginners, too. Begin at Brown Cloud Rocks and check out the excellent 5.10 and 5.11 lines on the Winterfest Wall. Climbing resource: Use the digital guide on Rakkup or Jason Haas and Ben Schneider’s North Table Mountain guidebook.
5. Three Sisters Park
The granite and quartzite boulders nestled in the heart of the Ponderosa pine forests of Three Sisters Park create a scenic and otherworldly bouldering experience. The park’s trails see heavy use from mountain bikers and hikers, but the boulders remain relatively quiet. This is a great area for beginners, with many interesting problems in the V0-V5 area. Gilligan’s Island in the West area is popular for the variety of problems in the V1-V6 grade, while the Eggs or Work and Play boulders have several interesting V1-V4 problems. The combination of shady forest and open areas provides climbing opportunities from March through November. Climbing resource: Recent bouldering books don’t do this area justice — it’s best to look on Mountain Project, ask locals, and use the Colorado Bouldering guidebook as a reference.
6. Eldorado Canyon
With tall, steep rock features combining the golden-red of sandstone and the (almost) hardness of granite, it’s no wonder that Eldorado Canyon is one of Colorado’s oldest and finest climbing destinations. Walls are over a thousand feet long and hold dozens of multi-pitch gear routes in the 5.6 to 5.12 range. Scenic top-outs lead to great exposure and stunning canyon scenery below. The Redgarden Wall is the tallest wall, with classic lines like the six-pitch Rewritten (5.7). The best beginner routes are the 5.6s on Windtower. It doesn’t hurt to be cautious, though — many pitches in Eldorado Canyon feel difficult for the grade. The park is less than an hour from Denver, but with the involved approaches and route-finding, it’s best to go prepared for a whole day of climbing and exploring. Purchase the annual state park pass or pay the $3 walk-in fee, and enjoy climbing from about March to November. Climbing resource: Steve Levin’s Eldorado Canyon Guidebook has the most comprehensive route information.
7. Boulder Canyon
Boulder Creek winds through the wide and scenic granite walls of Boulder Canyon, just minutes from downtown Boulder. It’s a great spot for setting up top ropes, leading sport routes, and plugging gear. Climbers of all levels can get in a few pitches after work, or spend the whole day at the crag. The Cob Rock area is north-facing and features a ton of classic gear routes, while the Sport Park has a variety of 5.6-5.12 routes with top-rope accessibility. Climb at the crags on the south side of the canyon in the summer and the northern crags in the spring or fall. Climbing resource: Find route information on Mark Rolofson’s Boulder Canyon Sport and Adventure Climber’s Guide, as well as on Mountain Project.
8. Castlewood Canyon
Castlewood Canyon, southeast of Denver, has some of the most varied beginning to moderate bouldering in the area, with year-round possibilities on conglomerate rock. The Inner Canyon has bouldering routes in the V1-V7 range — start at the north side of Warm-Up Wall, and then progress to the Buddha/Berthoud Cave. Choose south-facing boulders like the Playground in the winter, and shady, creek-side areas like the Fountain-bleau boulders in the summer. The East Rim and West Rim have short, top-ropeable sport and crack climbs that are perfect for beginners. Climbing resource: Thomas Hanson’s A Rock Climber’s Guide to Castlewood State Park, Colorado lists sport and gear routes for the area, and Phillip Benningfield’s Colorado Bouldering contains a few Castlewood Canyon boulders; that said, many routes are not documented in either of these guidebooks, so go prepared for adventure!