Chattanooga Now A climber's guide to the 6 best climbing spots in Tennessee

Chattanooga Now A climber's guide to the 6 best climbing spots in Tennessee

October 1st, 2017 by Carley Olejniczak in Get Out - Features

In almost every nook and cranny of the Tennessee mountains, there's bound to be a rock face worth conquering.

But among the many crags hidden throughout the state, there are a chosen few that every climber — whether beginner or expert — should hit.

This month, we challenge you to grab your helmets and harnesses, crash pads and chalk bags as you check out the six best climbing sites recommended by pros throughout the state.

A climber's guide to the 6 best climbing spots in Tennessee:

A climber tackles "Mister Green Jeans" on the Lonesome Wall.

A climber tackles "Mister Green Jeans" on the...

Photo by zekem via mountainproject.com

Best for: Beginners

KINGS BLUFF

36.5015, -87.3234

Located along the Cumberland River in Clarksville, Tennessee, this limestone crag is well worth the drive — especially for those new to the sport.

The extremely accessible site has some of the easiest routes available in Tennessee thanks to the rock's abundance of big, easy-to-grip holds. Beginners can really learn a lot here without having to dive head-first into big-game climbing walls.

"Kings Bluff is a great place to get your feet wet in outdoor sport climbing," says Newton Dominey, a veteran rock climber and co-owner of The Crag climbing gym in Nashville.

Though the hotspot mostly caters to sport climbing and is best for beginner lead climbers, other disciplines can be found here with varying grades.

Drive time: 2 hours, 45 minutes from Chattanooga

Highest point: Approximately 60 feet

Number of routes: 160+

Difficulty range: 5.3-5.13

Recommended routes: For beginners, "Dip in the River" is a simple 5.6 with minimal anchors climbers will need to clip into. For more experienced visitors, "Ritz Bitz" is a grueling 5.10c that keeps climbers busy with the mixed, technical challenge it provides.

Pro tip: Some climbers say this 9.8-acre crag has some rocks that are rough on the hands. But with the proper equipment, such as chalk, durable climbing tape and half-finger crag gloves, it can still be a great spot to start your outdoor climbing experience.

Dylan Rigler, 20, works on climbing a problem called "Manute Bol" while bouldering with friends at Stone Fort.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.
Best for: Bouldering

STONE FORT

35.24772, -85.22079

Also known as "Little Rock City," this tucked-away climbing spot in nearby Soddy-Daisy is a bouldering paradise.

Professional climbers worship the rock quality, the variety of routes and the sheer size of the massive boulder field. Some even say it's the best stone in the country.

The boulders here are so revered that they have become one of the three hosts of the yearly Triple Crown Bouldering Series, part of Chattanooga's annual River Rocks event.

Drive time: 30 minutes from Chattanooga

Highest point: Approximately 20 feet

Number of routes: 250

Difficulty range: V1-V12

Recommended routes: For beginners, "Storming the Castle" is an easy-going V1+ with the fun illusion of scaling a castle's parapets. For experienced climbers, "Tennessee Thong" is no laughing matter. A V7, it tests finger strength by requiring crimp grips and powerful moves to make it to the top.

Pro tip: Stone Fort is owned by and on the property of Montlake Golf Club. In order to use the area, a waiver must be signed at the clubhouse, and each climber must pay a $3 cover charge. "Just try not to get hit in the head with a golf ball," Dominey jokes.

Sam Latone and Ana Jimenez (not pictured) simulate a multi pitch climb at Sunset Rock atop Lookout Mountain in preparation for an upcoming trip to Colorado.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.
Best for: Rewarding Climbs

SUNSET PARK

34.9992, -85.3554

As the most well-known outdoor rock climbing site in Chattanooga, Sunset has certainly earned the right to its fame.

The routes here are rigorous, but climbers who conquer them are graced with a view that makes the struggle worth every second. Perched on Lookout Mountain, the summit overlooks Chattanooga, giving each climber a glimpse of breathtaking mountain scenery they won't find anywhere else.

"It's the best view in Chattanooga," says Jamie Cummins, an employee at High Point Climbing and Fitness and a seasoned climber of 10 years.

Because of their easy gear placement and ledges, several of the park's routes are best suited for first-time lead climbers. But experienced climbers won't be bored, with plenty of obstacles to overcome on the more challenging routes.

Drive time: 20 minutes from Chattanooga

Highest point: 120 feet

Number of routes: 113

Difficulty range: 5.6-5.11

Recommended routes: For beginners, the 5.7 "Blonde Ambition" offers an exciting challenge with some awesome overhang and crack climbing. For experienced climbers, "Rusty's Crack," a 5.10a, is a local favorite that presents a daring adventure with lots of leans and risky fist jams in the crack system that runs along the route.

Pro tip: Trad climbing is king at this site. Those with knowledge exclusively on top-rope and sport should practice trad before attempting to conquer this beast. Trad is a unique climbing style and takes time to master.

A climber scales the Tennessee Wall at Prentice Cooper State Forest.

Photo by Bruce Willey via MountainProject.com
Best for: Trad Climbing

TENNESSEE WALL

35.07196, -85.40344

It's hard to beat the rock quality and route superiority found at the Tennessee Wall, located in Prentice Cooper State Forest.

"It's the best trad climbing in Tennessee," Cummins says. "The rock quality is so great it practically eats nuts and cams."

This popular trad and sport climbing site, also known as "T-Wall," stands out in part because of its endless opportunities for corner climbing and because the ways to place gear are different than most trad areas, Cummins says. The placements are more subtle here than on other walls, and climbers sometimes have to get creative during their ascent.

Best of all, T-Wall is fantastic for climbing year-round. The crag is in direct sunlight all day, making each route warm to the touch even during the coldest winter months.

Drive time: 30 minutes from Chattanooga

Highest point: 100 feet

Number of routes: 200

Difficulty range: 5.7-5.13

Recommended routes: For beginners, the 5.7 "Jay Walker" has some fun crack climbing sure to boost a climber's proficiency. Experienced climbers will enjoy the 5.10a "Cakewalk," and for the hardcore enthusiasts, the 5.13a "Burn" offers quite a test of strength.

Pro tip: Be prepared to hike. This crag isn't as easy to access as most of the other sites recommended here. It takes an arduous 45-minute hike uphill to start this climbing expedition.

Jamie Cummins climbs the route "Critter of Darkness."

Jamie Cummins climbs the route "Critter of Darkness."

Photo by Jamie Cummins

Best for: Climbing Variety

OBED WILD AND SCENIC

36.1166, -84.7317

Located just outside of Knoxville, in Wartburg, Tennessee, this extraordinary site is home to bouldering, trad and sport climbing alike, along with some top-rope courses, as well. Though more geared toward the experienced climber, there is something for everyone.

"Obed is one of the most unique climbing areas in the state, or even beyond," says Reuben Hoyos, an employee at Climb Nashville. "There are so many different sections, so you can get a lot of different types of climbing."

Many routes on the marble-textured walls are known for being steep with lots of overhang. This attribute draws in crowds of climbers who crave a thrilling challenge and mesmerizing view.

Drive time: 2 hours, 15 minutes from Chattanooga

Highest point: Approximately 110 feet

Number of routes: 340+

Difficulty range: 5.7-5.14

Recommended routes: "Best Seat in the House," a 5.9, overlooks the Clear Creek and Obed rivers and has scenery to die for. Along with the 5.12a "Solstice," it is among the Obed's top-rated routes.

Pro tip: Make it a weekend trip! The nearby campground, the Lilly Pad, is just a short 15-minute hike away from the Obed's bouldering area and six crags. The Lilly Pad is safe, clean and well taken care of, and it gives weekenders a chance to check out the swimming hole conveniently located near the crags, as well.

Jamie Cummins climbs the route "Eclipse."

Jamie Cummins climbs the route "Eclipse."

Photo by Jamie Cummins

Best for: Sport Climbing

FOSTER FALLS

35.18235, -85.67386

South Cumberland State Park is home to what is arguably Tennessee's best climbing site: Foster Falls.

This premium climbing destination offers the most fun and most difficult sport climbing in the Southeast. The sandstone crag is easygoing on the hands, which makes the climbing a lot more comfortable and enjoyable, while the routes themselves are steep, technical and absolutely amazing.

"If I was sending anyone to sport climb in Tennessee, I would send them to Foster Falls," Dominey says.

While the routes are excellent practice for moderately experienced climbers, there are also dozens of problems difficult enough for even the most hardcore athletes.

Drive time: 45 minutes from Chattanooga

Highest point: Over 90 feet

Number of routes: 125

Difficulty range: 5.8-5.13+

Recommended routes: The easiest climbs, with grades of 5.9, are "Twist and Shout" and "Ankles Away." The hardest route recommended by climbers is "Bottled Up Warrior," a whopping 5.13c. This monster is not for the faint-hearted, but if managed, is well worth the struggle.

Pro tip: Some routes are "sandbagged," meaning their grades might make them seem harder than they really are. So don't be intimidated by the numbers, just get out and climb!