The Best Front Range Climbing in Colorado

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. 

Colorado

Eldorado Canyon State Park

TOP CHOICE FOR ADVENTUROUS CLIMBERS
World famous Eldo, challenging gear, tricky climbing, awesome rock
Epic climbing within 15 minutes of downtown Boulder
Single-pitch moderates to runout 5.13 climbing
Gorgeous setting and a river for swimming
Challenging gear and tricky climbing!
$9 entrance fee/car ($4 walk- or bike-in; $80 annual pass)
Weekend crowds
No reasonable camping nearby

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

Sasha sends The W...

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Eldorado Canyon State Park - good to know

Skill Level

Advanced. Better destination for more experienced climbers, or hire a guide

Weather

Summer can be hot; early start recommended

Aspect

Plenty of west-facing climbing; mornings are awesome! Afternoon winter climbing is also a great option

Wildlife

The chipmunks are notoriously enterprising. Hang packs at the base of routes or at least remove all food from them!

Guidebook

Steve Levin’s Eldorado Canyon: a Climbing Guide

Camping

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

Gear shop

Neptune Mountaineering is minutes away, in south Boulder

Restaurants

Just beside and below Neptune are great options: Southern Sun brews its own beer and Tandoori Grill is some of the best Indian on the Front Range

Colorado

Lumpy Ridge, Estes Park

Cooler temps than down in Boulder/Denver most of the year
Epic setting; you’re looking at the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park
Compact granite and great crack climbing
Longer approaches to formations like Sundance Buttress keep some of the crowds away
Not much single-pitch climbing
South facing rock can get hot in summer
Approaches can be longer
Generally no winter climbing

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 - Bat...

Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado with Lumpy Ridge in the background
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Lumpy Ridge, Estes Park - good to know

Guidebook

Bernard Gillett’s Rocky Mountain National Park: Estes Park Valley: The Climber’s Guide has great topos and accurate info

Weather

Reliable cell coverage (keep an eye on the radar; lightning can be deadly up there!)

Inside scoop

Early starts required for the classics on weekends

Lodging

Moderately priced hotels down in town and camping in the national park; reserve early in high season

Aspect

Bring plenty of water, there’s south-facing rock and dry Colorado air

Gear shop

The Mountain Shop in Estes has a modest climbing/bouldering gym, as well as a good gear selection.

Entrance fee

None for Rocky (cool!)

Extra

Ed’s Cantina is where it’s at for climbers

Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park

True alpine radness!
“The Diamond” is one of the biggest alpine walls in the lower 48 with easy 5.10 climbing on “The Casual Route.”
World class bouldering
Plenty of sunshine (but don’t let your guard down!)
Serious weather (fierce winds in winter, epic lightning in summer)
Long approaches to some climbs
High altitude (AMS a real concern)
Committing climbing

“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.

Backpacking and R...

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Rocky Mountain National Park - good to know

Skill level

Solid intermediate and advanced climbers will get the most here

Guiding services

The Park Service only allows six companies to guide here, among them Jackson Hole Mountain Guides and Colorado Mountain School

Guidebook

Bernard Gillett’s Rocky Mountain National Park: High Peaks: The Climber’s Guide is your go-to for route details and topos

Inside scoop

Popular routes can be crowded; early starts are mandatory and hit the backcountry desk early to get bivy permits.

Weather

Afternoon thunderstorms are certain; start early and know how to retreat efficiently

Entrance fee(i)

A Day Pass for Rocky is $25; Seven Day Vehicle Pass is $35; annual pass $70.

Entrance fee(ii)

No park pass required at the Longs Peak Trailhead

Colorado

The Flatirons

Great moderate climbing
Close to town
Easy to pass other parties
Spectacular rappels off the 1st and 3rd Flatiron
Runout routes, even on the low-fifth-class options
Certain formations closed for raptors, February to July (3rd Flatiron in particular)
Easy routes attract epic crowds on weekends
Parking for the northern Flatirons can be a hassle late May through August ($2.50/hour to park in Chautauqua Park and in the neighborhoods adjacent; shuttle available from nearby)

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.

Climbing Colorado...

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The Flatirons - good to know

Skill level

The Flatirons have something for everyone

Parking

Summer info HERE

Guidebook

Jason Haas’s guidebook is a must-have: Climbing Boulder’s Flatirons

Aspect

The popular moderates are generally east facing, start early in summer or at least wait for the sun to pass by the summits and climb in the shade

Extras

Sunset on top of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Flatirons is must

Inside scoop

Larger gear can help with finding belays, a number 3 for sure and maybe even a Hex (woh!) will help with building anchors

Trail status

Trail crews have been working to repair flood damage from 2013 – check for updates HERE

Colorado

South Platte

Bomber rock
Tons of rock and plenty of formations to choose from
Beautiful setting, often cooler than Eldo and Boulder
Some routes are old-school and runout
Occasionally longer, steeper approaches
Grainy rock is unforgiving of poor crack technique!

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. 

Turkey Rocks - Tu...

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South Platte - good to know

Skill Level

There are a few super-quality beginner routes like Classic Dihedral, but mainly 5.9 and harder terrain

Access

Plan on driving between crags, often on dirt. Some crags are spaced by miles. 

Weather

Heads up during thunderstorm season! 

Guidebook

Jason Haas, South Platte Climbing. Note that there is a southern and northern volume

Aspect

South-facing routes can be surprisingly warm in winter, and hot in summer. Choose your aspect carefully

Wildlife

Some formations, like Cynical Pinnacle, are closed for raptor nesting. Check before you go

Getting there

The bulk of the Platte is an hour due west of Denver, on Highway 285

Crack climbing

Turkey Rocks hosts world-class crack climbing, in the southern extent of the Platte

Inside scoop

Some bolted routes are still widely spaced; the Platte is not overbolted!

Local guiding service

Denver Mountain Guiding

Colorado

Clear Creek

Quick drive from Boulder, Denver, and Golden
Hundreds of routes!
Great rock, beautiful scenery, well-bolted sport routes
Crowds; fixed gear and the big city nearby
Can get hot in summer!
Rattlesnakes. Watch where you step!

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 climbsbut 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

Denver Mountain Guiding belays a client over the raging creek at Clear Creek Canyon

Rock Climbing Cle...

Laura Capps on Mighty Dog 5.12c in Clear Creek Canyon, photo Kevin Capps
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Clear Creek - good to know

Skill Level

All levels of climber will find something at Clear Creek

Inside scoop

Moderate crags like Canal Zone and High Wire can get crowded

Gear

Some routes require a 70m rope – check the guidebook! 

Guidebook

Kevin Capps’s Clear Creek Canyon is indispensable for finding the goods

Gear shop

Bentgate Mountaineering sells great gear, in downtown Golden

Extra

There’s also fun, moderate ice climbing in Clear Creek in the winter

About the author

Rob Coppolillo

Rob Coppolillo

Certified AMGA/IFMGA rock, alpine, and ski guide. Rob is the owner of Vetta Mountain Guides

Rob Coppolillo holds rock, alpine, and ski certifications through the American Mountain Guides Association and was the 97th American to earn IFMGA certification. He's also a co-author of The Mountain Guide Manual (Falcon, 2017) and countless magazine articles. He splits time between Boulder, Colorado; and Chamonix, France.

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