Colorado’s “Front Range,” the north-to-south stretch of granitic and sedimentary foothills and mountains, gives climbers thousands of routes to climb. From the bulletproof sandstone of world-famous “Eldo,” to the towering alpine routes of Rocky Mountain National Park, there are too many routes to do in a lifetime – and they’re all within 90 minutes of Boulder. Dirtbagging can be a challenge, but there are camping and van-bivying options here and there. Short-term rentals abound in Denver and Boulder, too, so whatever your travel budget you can make some quality climbing happen on the Front Range.
Eldorado Canyon State Park
Pros and cons
Infamous, celebrated, intimidating, and overall awesome, “Eldo” demands a full toolbox of skills from climbers. Fixed anchors exist, but not everywhere. Some of the rock is bulletproof, while small sections are loose and unpredictable. Some locals swear by specialist gear like RP’s and Tricams, but everyone agrees a cool head and steady technique help keep the stress levels under control.
Once the home to Mountain Utes and then a marquee luxury resort where Dwight and Mimi Eisenhower honeymooned, Eldo today is a world-class destination for traditional climbing. Even the moderates can be surprisingly spicy, so heads up when tying in…even for an “easy” climb!
Steve Levin’s excellent guidebook Eldorado Canyon, is a must-have for its accurate information and crisp color photography, but also for its authoritative history of the canyon. Expect phenomenal climbing interspersed with shattered ledges, unobvious route-finding, and antique, fixed gear.
Hiring a guide for a day can help you get a sense of the area and strategies for managing the complexities. Whatever your psych level, Eldo delivers a rewarding day of climbing, hard won on the towering cliffs.
Climbing in Eldorado Canyon is like taking a journey through the early history of modern North American rock climbing. Little has changed on these walls since the first climbers ventured here, and Eldo maintains a reputation as a challenging and “heady” climbing area, where the full arsenal of traditional climbing skills are required.
by Steve Levin, AMGA Certified Rock Guide at Colorado Mountain School
Eldorado Canyon State Park - good to know
Plenty of west-facing climbing; mornings are awesome! Afternoon winter climbing is also a great option
Steve Levin’s Eldorado Canyon: a Climbing Guide
It’s tricky, but Golden Gate Canyon State Park and the RV Park downtown Golden can work; check out Boulder Canyon Adventure Lodge for tent sites, too
Neptune Mountaineering is minutes away, in south Boulder
Lumpy Ridge, Estes Park
Pros and cons
Technically part of Rocky Mountain National Park, Lumpy Ridge is less alpine rock than fantastic multipitch cragging. Compact granite, distinguished by flaring cracks, gives Lumpy its own feel on the Front Range. Relatively few bolts and mostly multi-pitch routes, Lumpy requires a competent climber to get on its longer, bigger routes. The rewards, though, are many: great climbing, an epic view of Longs Peak to the south, and moderate classics in the mountains.
Lumpy Ridge is one of the most scenic and beautiful rock climbing areas in North America. Dozens of granite slabs and buttresses adorn this mountain side in Rocky Mountain National Park with Monday blowing views of nearby elk covered meadows and the snow covered high peaks of the Continental Divide. The rock climbing is a nice mix of styles that are a blend of Yosemite style cracks and slabs with Joshua Tree textured granite.
Eli Helmuth, IFMGA Mountain Guide
Lumpy Ridge, Estes Park - good to know
Bernard Gillett’s Rocky Mountain National Park: Estes Park Valley: The Climber’s Guide has great topos and accurate info
The Mountain Shop in Estes has a modest climbing/bouldering gym, as well as a good gear selection.
Ed’s Cantina is where it’s at for climbers
Rocky Mountain National Park
Pros and cons
“Rocky” is home to 4000m peaks, one of the highest paved roads in North America (Trail Ridge Road), and some of the best alpine rock anywhere. While the true alpine terrain requires self-sufficient climbers, don’t be too intimidated: there are tons of moderate routes here, starting at lower fifth-class. The rock is generally good, but it is alpine: inclement weather, rock- and icefall, altitude, and tricky descents are all part of the game.
Rocky Mountain National Park - good to know
Bernard Gillett’s Rocky Mountain National Park: High Peaks: The Climber’s Guide is your go-to for route details and topos
Pros and cons
Staring down at the college town of Boulder, the slabby, picturesque Flatirons mark the spot where the Rockies push up from the Great Plains. The east faces are all relatively mellow with routes as forgiving as 5.3. Young kids, first-time climbers, and everyone in between routinely climb the featured sandstone lines.
Widely spaced protection stresses out newer leaders, but if they can stomach the sparse gear options, the summits look towards Rocky Mountain National Park to the north, the Indian Peaks to the west, and across the endless plains to the east. The steeper west faces, many of them overhanging, hide bunches of sport routes and morning shade, too. It’s an awesome venue with great hiking, trial running, bolt clipping, and long moderates.
The Flatirons - good to know
Summer info HERE
Jason Haas’s guidebook is a must-have: Climbing Boulder’s Flatirons
Larger gear can help with finding belays, a number 3 for sure and maybe even a Hex (woh!) will help with building anchors
Trail crews have been working to repair flood damage from 2013 – check for updates HERE
Pros and cons
The Platte! Huge granite domes, part of an enormous batholith, jut into the sky just west of Denver. This is Joshua-Tree style granite climbing on friction-y crystals in the tan rock.
There are granite splitters here, as well as multipitch slab routes, all detailed in Jason Haas’s new guidebooks, South Platte Climbing. Note that because the formations are extensive enough and spaced enough, Haas wrote both a northern and southern volume of the book. This gives you an idea of the depth and quality of the climbing – awesome!
South Platte is always putting the traditional backcountry rock climber to the test!
Joey Thompson, AMGA/IFMGA mountain guide and Director of Mountain Guide Development at the Colorado Mountain School.
South Platte - good to know
There are a few super-quality beginner routes like Classic Dihedral, but mainly 5.9 and harder terrain
Jason Haas, South Platte Climbing. Note that there is a southern and northern volume
Pros and cons
Tumbling from the mountains into the college town of Golden, Clear Creek cuts a deep canyon through granite, schist, and gneiss. Well bolted and with climbs ranging from 5.5 to 5.13, Clear Creek offers a dizzying array of most sport climbs – but the occasional trad route, too. South-facing routes climb all winter and the dozens of routes help keep crowded days manageable. Clear Creek is an awesome venue for every level of climb, practically year round, too.
Sport climbing destination with routes and terrain that would suit almost whatever bolt-clipping desires you may have; as well as quick and fun roadside ice to stay busy in winter.
Sean Smith, AMGA Apprentice Rock and Alpine Guide