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Travel to Tennessee for some of the best climbing destinations this side of the Mississippi River. Climbing locations in the state feature astounding variety and opportunities for beginners and experienced enthusiasts alike. Read on for some of the best places, indoors and outdoors you can climb in Tennessee.
Trad Climbing in Tennessee
Located along the western side of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga lies Sunset Rock, known to have some of Tennessee’s best trad climbing. Interestingly, this area is quite historically significant, in that it was used as a major vantage point during the Civil War for observing troop movements during the Battle of Chattanooga. Today, it remains a top tier climbing location. With a variety of trad routes available for beginners and experts, there is a route for every skill level. Quick tip: Sunset Rock is located in a residential area, so no camping is allowed. Park your vehicle only in designated areas and follow all posted rules.
Discover the wonders of natural erosion by visiting Stone Door at the Savage Gulf State Natural Area in Beersheba Springs. Walk through the “stone door,” created by thousands of years of erosion, and climb the surrounding cliffs which offer varying difficulty, from 5.4 to 5.11 and a section that rises nearly 160 feet. Most climbing here is trad, but there is a top rope course known as the Vanderbilt Wall. Camping at Savage Gulf is great, and though climbing is only available at Stone Door, you can see a number of beautiful waterfalls and boulders as you hike the area. Quick tip: In order to climb Stone Door, you’ll need to register at the ranger’s office at the trailhead, so be sure to stop there before you start.
Sport Climbing Spots in Tennessee
Located about an hour’s drive from Knoxville, Obed Wild & Scenic River in Wartburg, Tennessee is home to a collection of stunning sandstone cliffs which deliver some of the best sport climbing in the Southeast. Offering year-round climbing, Obed’s cliffs are especially well-known for being “steep,” meaning many of the rocks overhang past vertical. With over 300 sport climbing routes varying in difficulty from 5.7 to 5.14, Obed also features a number of bouldering and trad climbing opportunities throughout the area. Quick tip: If you are looking to camp while visiting Obed, check out Clear Creek Campground which is within walking distance to the park; it’s $10 per night for an open layout tent site, pet friendly, Venmo accepted, and has several other great amenities.
One of the premiere climbing spots in the Nashville area, Kings Bluff is a limestone crag featuring over 160 routes throughout the 9.78-acre area. Now owned and maintained by the Southeastern Climbers Coalition, Kings Bluff has routes ranging from 5.3 to 5.13, most of which are sport climbing. The area does offer some mixed and trad routes as well. Though no camping is allowed on property, there are plenty of great places to stay in Clarksville. Consider stopping by Kings Bluff Brewery after the climb, a tap house named in honor of this local bluff which “exemplifies the spirit and culture within the people of the community.”
Bouldering in Tennessee
Nestled 2-3 minutes from Chattanooga’s St. Elmo neighborhood, the Boulders at Old Wauhatchie offer fantastic bouldering with nearly 80 total routes to attempt. Owned and managed by the Lookout Mountain Conservancy, this area provides super easy access and great bouldering opportunities only minutes from town. Difficulty of the boulders ranges from V0 to V10, with majority of boulders presenting mid-range difficulty from V2-V6. After climbing, make sure to check out the ADA-accessible, 5-mile Guild-Hardy trail where hikers, runners, and bikers can enjoy views of Downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River.
Well-known in the climbing community as one of the best bouldering locations in the entire country, Stone Fort (also called Little Rock City) offers top tier sandstone and plenty of problems to tackle. This destination is great for the whole family, as there are plenty of areas for children to safely explore. With such a versatile array climbing opportunities, ranging from V0 to V14, Stone Fort will provide an experience unlike any other. Quick tip: Stone Fort is owned by Montlake Golf Club, so be sure to stop by the club to pay the day use fee ($9 for adults). No camping is allowed, though there are a number of camp sites nearby like Stevenson Branch Campsite and Chester Frost Park.
Only 40 minutes from downtown Nashville, visit the Greenway Boulders in Murfreesboro. With a small area of climbable boulders just off the greenway trailhead, roam around the area and enjoy the variety of different grade boulders ranging from V0 to V6. Several of the routes offer nice views of the river and intriguing problems for beginners and experts alike. Quick tip: Parking for this area is in the 84 Lumber lot near the intersection of Thompson and Broad; the boulders are downhill towards the river.
Explore a multitude of boulders and climbing opportunities at Laurel-Snow State Natural Area in Dayton. Here, there are a number of different rocks ideal for bouldering with over 150 problems scattered next to a beautiful creek. Attempt one of the more infamous problems, Vapor Roof, which offers a dozen different routes graded at V6 and higher. There is also trad and sport climbing available at Laurel Falls, featuring over a dozen 5.11s, ten 5.10s, and several easier routes. Quick tip: Wind down after a long day of climbing with drinks at the local Monkey Town Brewery in downtown Dayton.
Locations for Top Roping in Tennessee
Located west of Knoxville and resembling a huge labyrinth consisting of various tunnels formed by the towering cliffs and boulders, navigate Black Mountain in Crossville for a wide-ranging climbing experience. With a majority of the routes being top rope, there are a number of sport and trad climbs available as well as hundreds of boulders with established problems. Grades in the area range from 5.4 to 5.10 for the rock climbing and V0 to V6 for bouldering. Quick tip: For top ropers, be sure to bring plenty of webbing (50ft+) for anchors.
Found within Bays Mountain Park & Planetarium in Kingsport, the largest city-owned park in the state, are over a dozen climbs. With mostly top rope routes, there are a couple trad and sport climbs available. Cliffs range from 25-40 feet and grades span from 5.4 to 5.10. Unique to this location is a wide variety of other activities that you can check out before or after climbing, including mountain biking, boating, hiking and even a planetarium. Quick tip: Admission to the park is $5.
Indoor Climbing Gyms in Tennessee
You don’t have to travel very far from Nashville to have a great climb. Twenty minutes outside downtown Nashville lies The Crag, an indoor climbing gym fueled by a passion for the sport. Featuring a top-rated facility with a great layout, the Crag offers a variety of climbing walls with and without auto-belay. It also has a number of bouldering walls to attempt. Perfect for small children to adults, The Crag safely accommodates all climbing proficiency levels and has guided instruction classes available for those new to climbing. Best of all, the climbing courses are constantly changing, so once you master a wall, new challenges await to hone your skills.
As the largest indoor climbing center in East Tennessee, Onsight Rock Gym in Knoxville provides opportunities for skill development and plenty of fun. Onsight has a dedicated kid’s climbing area in addition to regular walls for adults of all skill levels, making it a great place for family-friendly climbing. Grades on the walls range from 5.6 for beginners all the way to 5.13 for experienced climbers. Opportunities to boulder are available, with a number of areas dedicated to problem solving. The staff is super friendly, helpful, and always poised to personally help each climber. Visit Onsight for an amazing climbing experience sure to please. Quick tip: Check out Onsight’s social media channels for information on fun events and classes.
Take the family to High Point Climbing & Fitness in downtown Chattanooga for an experience sure to get your heart pumping. Featuring an outdoor climbing wall that offers great views of downtown, enjoy over 100 boulder problems and over 150 routes set up throughout the facility. There is a kid-friendly zone where children can safely explore and climb walls and skyscraper towers. More experienced climbers can attempt grades up to 5.13+ and boulders V12+. There are also plenty of walls that are perfect for beginners to tackle. Quick tip: Try to get to High Point right around opening because the facility can get busy throughout the day.
Deep Water Soloing in Tennessee
For an experience like none other, make a trip to Lake Nickajack for a deep-water solo climbing adventure. Only accessible by boat or canoe, the cliffs are located on the south side of Little Cedar Mountain facing the Tennessee River. The cliff line stands roughly 50 feet tall and offers a variety of features and problems you can climb, most of which are 5.9 or higher grade. The water underneath the cliff is 60-80 feet deep, so fun falls to the water after a short climb will be a highlight. Quick tip: To reach the cliffs, the fastest way would be to set off at Shellmound Campground’s boat ramp and paddle/row approximately 1 mile east, where the cliffs will be on your left.
Helpful Rock Climbing Terms to Know
Grading System – Climbing grades fall into a basic scale of difficulty; 5.0 to 5.7 is easy, 5.8 to 5.10 is intermediate, 5.11 to 5.12 is hard, and 5.13 to 5.15 is extremely hard (only very experienced and talented climbers should attempt); bouldering has a slightly different scale which ranges from V0 (easiest) to V16 (hardest)
Top Roping – Climbers are securely attached to rope which is held by a belayer and anchored to a secure point at the top; this is the best option for beginners and most common indoor climbing setup
Traditional (Trad) Climbing – Type of climbing where climbers carry their own gear which they place into the rock as they ascend; this type of climbing requires advanced knowledge and experience to perform safely
Sport Climbing – Often the most popular type of rock climbing which involves clipping quickdraws into bolt hangers permanently affixed to the rock or wall; this can be done outdoors and indoors
Bouldering – Climbing on a very short boulder or cliff without needing a rope; this type of climbing involves using “crash pads” placed below climbers as well as spotters to ensure they land safely
Problem – In bouldering, a route which requires thought and mapped out movements to successfully climb
Family-friendly activities in and around Nashville are abundant - from waterfall hikes to farm tours and attractions kids will love.