Rock Climbing in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

Take in the views of the New River Gorge — America’s newest national park — from new heights this summer on a rock climbing trip. What was once an activity that attracted thrill-seeking adventurers to wild places, rock climbing has now become widely accessible to just about anyone craving a climb. Before you tackle your first cliff, here are some climbing basics. 

Photo Credit: @kate.climbs

According to the Mountain Project, the New River Gorge region is one of the largest, most diverse and highest quality climbing areas in the east. Located between three major river gorges, the New, the Gauley and the Meadow, there are over 3,000 established routes expanding across 60 miles of cliff line, as well as hundreds of authorized bouldering areas. 

The rock in the Gorge is Nuttall Sandstone, which is some of the oldest and hardest sedimentary rock in the world. 

“Since the Nuttall sandstone is some of the hardest sandstone in the world, it allows for great friction and has amazing features to hold,” said Eric Fizer, a former rock climbing instructor and enthusiast. “The sandstone also gives you confidence in not breaking hand and foot holds.” 

The routes offer great protection while climbing including drilled bolts and traditional gear placements. Within these miles of sandstone mountains, you are sure to find the perfect route of any style. The New River Gorge has every type of climbing, including trad, sport and bouldering. Climbers can expect to face plenty of cracks, roofs, slabs, faces, overhangs and more.

Types of Climbing 

Trad climbing, or traditional climbing, is a type of rock climbing where a climber will place all the gear required to protect against falls and remove it when a passage is complete. In trad climbing, a leader ascends a section of rock and places their own protective devices while climbing. This type of climbing can be as short as the length of one rope (one pitch). Examples of trad climbing in the Gorge can be found at popular spots like Junkyard Wall and Bridge Area Crags

Sport climbing is a form of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock and possibly bolts for protection. Sport climbing places an emphasis on strength and endurance. This type of climbing heavily contrasts traditional climbing because the rock is typically without fixed anchors and bolts. Climb sport routes in the Gorge at Bubba City, Kaymoor Slabs and Beauty Mountain

Bouldering is a style of rock climbing completed without a rope and normally limited to very short climbs over a crash pad so that a fall will not result in an injury. Spend a day bouldering at Needleseye Park in Oak Hill. This park includes a 2-mile rock wall and other natural rock features that are perfect for bouldering

In addition to the different styles of climbing, there are also different roping choices. Most beginner climbers start out top-roping. Top-roping uses ropes that run through anchors at the top of a climbing route. One end of the rope is attached to the climber’s harness and the other end is attached to the belayer, a person on the ground who takes in the excess rope as the climber ascends. Another style is lead climbing, which also involves two people. The lead climber attaches the rope to bolts as they go up — either permanent (sport climbing) or self-placed (trad climbing) — while the belayer feeds enough rope to keep the lead climber safely moving. Multi-pitch climbing is lead climbing but completing more than one pitch at a time.

“The New River Gorge has the best single pitch (one rope length) climbing in the country,” Fizer said. “I’ve traveled and climbed at a majority of the single pitch locations out west, and I’m yet to find almost any comparable areas.”

In Fizer’s own opinion, single pitch routes in the Gorge are so good because of the excellent rock quality, interesting features it creates, the beautifully colored rocks and of course, the stunning scenery. 

“There is amazing exposure in the Gorge,” Fizer said. “If you are climbing the New River Gorge properly, you feel like you’re 1,000 feet off the ground when most of the routes are 100 feet and below.”

Where to Learn The Ropes

Since most of the routes in the New River Gorge tend to be more technical and intricate due to bolts appearing farther apart and holds that are small and more sparse, it may seem intimidating to a beginner. Have no fear! We have many professional climbing companies that offer beginner-friendly trips to some of the most popular and scenic climbing spots in the area. Appalachian Mountain Guides is an owner-operated climbing school that offers half-day, full-day and lake climbing trips for up to six guests. New River Climbing School specializes in instruction for beginners through advanced climbers and offers functional trips and clinics, and New River Mountain Guides provides year-round rock climbing instruction for all climbing abilities, with the option of Women’s Climbing Courses taught by female guides. Each company will supply your group with the necessary equipment (helmet, shoes and harness), as well as have their expert certified guides match participants’ ability and adventure levels. 

Get the Gear

Once you get hooked to the sport, you’ll want to invest in some equipment. Here in the Gorge, there are a few places to get your gear. Waterstone Outdoors is a fully-stocked outdoor store that sells a wide collection of climbing, as well as whitewater, backpacking and camping gear in-store and online. Located in Fayetteville, Waterstone also has a host of outdoor recreation information and is home to New River Mountain Guides. Another great place to purchase quality climbing gear is at ACE Adventure Gear Shop. From rock climbing shoes to hardware and harnesses, this shop has you covered! Browse the equipment at their store in Fayetteville or shop from the convenience of your home by using their website

Stay Near the Fun

To complete your ultimate New River Gorge climbing trip, stay close to all the action. Our campgrounds are the ideal place for outdoor enthusiasts to stay. Choose from primitive tent sites located adjacent to popular crags, or hook up your RV at our local campgrounds with full amenities. Look through our listings to find a campsite that fits your needs. 

Ready to climb? Start planning your adventure in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve now!