Outdoors

Get Outside: Ten Beginner Rock Climbing Areas Near Denver

The East Colfax crag within Clear Creek Canyon.
The East Colfax crag within Clear Creek Canyon. Abigail Bliss
From safety and skills to mastering your mental state, there are many things beginner climbers must consider to become successful at the sport. Before venturing outdoors, many practice in the controlled environment of climbing gyms. With a few classes, you’ll quickly learn the ropes — knot tying, belaying, commands and basic techniques. You’ll also come to know climbing rating systems (5.1-5.8 routes are considered easy to intermediate), as well as the lingo. Common terms include:
  • Belay: creating friction on a climbing rope to offset a climber’s weight when they fall
  • Approach: the route taken to the base of a climbing route
  • Crag: often used to refer to a rock climbing area
  • Slab: a rock face that is angled at less than 90 degrees from the ground
  • Lead climb (in sport climbing): climbing with a rope and clipping into existing bolts on a rock face; no protections exist above the climber
  • Top rope: climbing with a rope that is anchored above the climber
  • Send: to victoriously reach the top of a climbing route!
With your glossary and the necessary know-how, check out these ten beginner rock climbing areas near Denver:

Clear Creek Canyon
Evergreen
With more than 1,000 routes, Clear Creek Canyon is a favorite among expert and new climbers alike. As a bonus, most of these beginner ascents involve little to no approach. The East Colfax crag near Tunnel 6 is a great area for those looking to accomplish their first lead climb. Here you’ll find several 5.4-5.8 sport routes with generous holds. The same applies to the lower slab of The Safari, as well as Other Critters next door. Both are located between Tunnels 5 and 6.

North Table Mountain
Golden
Climbing at North Table Mountain is so popular that in some areas, the rock has become quite polished, making certain routes often more difficult than rated. However, it’s still a fantastic choice for beginners, mostly because of the abundance of top route options. You’ll find several in the Brown Cloud Rocks area, best accessed by parking at the Golden Cliffs lot. Just be careful setting your anchor, as loose rock is present on the cliff’s edge — and potentially rattlesnakes, too!

Boulder Canyon
Boulder
Similar to Clear Creek Canyon, Boulder Canyon is home to routes for all skill levels. If you’re a beginner that prefers top roping, look to Happy Hour Crag and The Boulderado, located just 1.5 miles apart. Sport climbers seeking a bit more challenge should head to the Upper Tier of the Bihedral, or across from the Bihedral (Cascade Crag). Here, a short but steep approach will lead you to several 5.7-5.8 routes.

Lookout Mountain
Golden
Lookout Mountain Crag is one of the smaller climbing areas on this list, but it makes for a great after-work spot given its close proximity to Denver. However, note that this area can be tricky to find the first time you visit. You’ll want to enter Lookout Mountain Road from the north (via U.S. 6), then look for a parking pull-off at the 1.7-mile mark. The trail heads east before descending to the base of the crag. From there you can enjoy climbing six 5.7-5.8 sport routes, nearly all of which can be top roped, too.
click to enlarge
Jurassic Park, found within the Estes Park Valley.
Abigail Bliss
Estes Park Valley
Estes Park
The Estes Park Valley allows beginner rock climbers to explore dozens of routes, each surrounded by incredible views. The largest collection of 5.4-5.8 routes can be found in Big Thompson Canyon, namely at the Outer Gates and The Lion’s Den. Set near the scenic Lily Lake, Jurassic Park is another popular choice. While most routes in this area are for sport climbing, you’ll find a couple of easy top rope options here, too. If you send them early enough, consider adding one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park to your day trip itinerary.

Staunton State Park
Pine
If you’ve ever trekked to Elk Falls, one of the best waterfall hikes near Denver, you may have seen signs pointing to the climbing access trail. This 2.1-mile approach is lengthy compared to the other climbing areas on this list, but Staunton Rocks includes several rewarding routes. In particular, Park View Dome and King’s Landing are best suited for beginner climbers. Between the two, you’ll find more than a dozen 5.6-5.8 sport routes.

The Flatirons
Boulder
The Flatirons are iconic to North American climbing history, and continue to be a celebrated destination among those who enjoy the sport. Here you’ll find hundreds of routes for all experience levels. However, if you’re looking to practice lead climbing, this may not be the best area for you, as beginner-level sport routes are limited. New climbers open to top roping should head to Flatirons Central, namely the Der Zerkle, Babyhorn and Finger Flatiron areas. The approach to these 5.5-5.8 routes is roughly a mile in length.
click to enlarge
The approach to Devil’s Gate, a climbing area in Deckers.
Abigail Bliss
Devil’s Head
Deckers
Along Rampart Range Road, you’ll find some of the best camping near Denver, as well as one of the best climbing areas in Colorado. Devil’s Head is dominated by sport routes, several of which are inviting to beginners. Waffle House, in the upper West Valley, is one of the best locations for new climbers, as most routes are 5.8 and easier. Devil’s Gate has many routes in this difficulty range, too — check out Slabulous, in particular.

Red Rock Canyon Open Space
Colorado Springs
Red Rock Canyon Open Space is neighbors with Garden of the Gods, a place where you’ll often see novices on guided climbing tours. But if you prefer fewer crowds and more route options, this Open Space park is another great choice for beginners. You’ll find over a dozen 5.5-5.8 sport routes on The Whale, plus several more on the Quarry Wall just to the south. Note that after rain, the red sandstone here is quite fragile — even for a few days. Keep this in mind when visiting, and watch for poison ivy, too.

Performance Climbing Park
Estes Park
Technically, Performance Climbing Park is within Estes Park Valley. But this unique area is deserving of its own section, as it's vastly different from the other climbing spots on this list. Rather than being in a remote canyon or mountain forest, Performance Climbing Park is set in downtown Estes Park, directly next to an amphitheater. Just behind this structure is the Amphitheater Wall, where you’ll find seven beginner-friendly routes extending just 30 to 60 feet. The belay area is flat concrete, making this an especially great option for new climbers.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.

Latest Stories