Defined by the Outer Banks on its eastern fringes and the Appalachian Mountains to the west, the state of North Carolina provides outdoor enthusiasts with a wide range of opportunities for adventure. Many climbers consider North Carolina one of the best places in the Southeast for climbing. From the old-school trad routes located at Looking Glass Rock to famous boulders in Linville Gorge, the state is speckled with spectacular climbing destinations.
- Location: Linville Falls, NC in the Linville Gorge Wilderness
- Route Types: Mostly trad climbing with some sport options
- Rating: <5.6 to 5.12
- Best For: Multi-pitch climbs that follow meandering cracks
One of the top climbing destinations in the Southeast, Linville Gorge features a wide selection of trad routes thanks to the rugged cliff exposed by the persistent abrasion of the Linville River. With routes ranging from beginner-friendly, single-pitch options to sustained and strenuous multi-pitch climbs, Linville Gorge’s quartzite offers up something for everyone. Sweeping vistas and old-growth forests make this area perfect for climbers looking to find spectacular views from the top of each pitch. The uninterrupted wilderness views come at a cost though, as Linville Gorge is remote. Expect lengthy approaches and true wilderness conditions. Seasonal raptor closures shut down many crags from mid-January to mid-August, making this a perfect fall destination, particularly when changing leaves enhance already stellar views. Spring and fall visitors will particularly enjoy the dense rhododendron “tunnels” that line the approaches, which are either in bloom or losing leaves in fiery displays during these times of year.
- Location: Lake Lure, NC, near Chimney Rock State Park
- Route Types: Trad climbing and bouldering with a handful of sport routes
- Rating: Trad climbing: <5.6 to 5.12; bouldering: V2 to V11
- Best For: A winter climbing escape
With an equal mix of trad routes and bouldering problems, Rumbling Bald offers options for many climbers. Though route names like Shredded Wheat (5.11a) and Snap, Crackle, and Pop (5.11b) might make you crave your favorite childhood breakfast cereal, the variety of climbing styles and difficulties will leave you feeling thoroughly satisfied. This area is perfect for climbers who are seeking easier access and modern amenities. Approaches are typically short and easy to navigate, which means more time spent climbing and less time spent bushwhacking. This area is particularly accessible and popular in the winter months, when low temperatures and an even lower chance for precipitation make Rumbling Bald a bouldering paradise. Visitors hoping to avoid chilly nights have a range of accommodation options including private campgrounds and bed-and-breakfast-style hotels in nearby Chimney Rock.
Looking Glass Wall
- Location: Brevard, NC in the Nantahala National Forest
- Route Types: Granite wall trad routes with room for aid exploration
- Difficulty Rating: Some <5.6 options with most routes in the 5.8 to 5.12 range
- Best For: Trad climbers seeking to challenge themselves
Sport climbers and boulderers need not apply—Looking Glass Wall is a true trad and aid climber’s paradise. Monolithic faces and Yosemite-like “eyebrow” features leave many wondering if they took a wrong turn to California’s Sierra Mountains. This massive dome rises out of the surrounding forest, providing a formidable obstacle even for experienced climbers. Most routes have grades of 5.10 to 5.12, meaning the routes at Looking Glass are best suited for comfortable trad climbers looking to tick difficult routes off their list. If you’re hoping to flash a personal best, autumn and winter tend to offer cooler temperatures in addition to scenic views. Take on classics like Bombelay (5.11+), Cornflake Crack (5.11-) or The Glass Menagerie (5.13a) before retreating to one of many idyllic campsites located in Pisgah National Forest. If you need a down day, be sure to check out the ample mountain biking trails in the area. This area is often impacted by peregrine falcon closures, so be sure to check the Carolina Climbers Coalition closure page for more information.
- Location: Traphill, NC in Stone Mountain State Park
- Route Types: Mostly trad with some sport options and limited bouldering problems
- Rating: <5.6 to 5.12.
- Best For: Trad climbers longing for high-friction, high-exposure thrills
If the climbing at Stone Mountain were a movie, it would certainly have a PG-13 rating. Sparse protection and long runouts make even lower-grade routes mentally difficult, and visitors should expect a psychological challenge as well as a physical one. However, this mentally tough climbing is tempered by the high-friction granite that differentiates Stone Mountain from other areas. In order to get the best grip, visit in the winter when humidity is low and the rock tends to be the stickiest. If you visit, be sure to tackle The Great Arch (5.5), one of the most visible and recognizable routes in the area. Though it’s not a typical Stone Mountain route, it’s an iconic climb.
- Location: Sapphire, NC in the Nantahala National Forest
- Route Types: Trad climbing with some sport elements
- Rating: 5.7 to 5.12
- Best For: Climbers seeking adventurous and remote multi-pitch routes
A shining achievement of local advocacy and organization by the Carolina Climbers Coalition (CCC), Laurel Knob was the first area the CCC purchased from a private landowner in 2005 to open the spot to the climbing public. Because of the close quarters between the CCC-owned land and privately owned land, climbers should rappel off all routes (walking off leads to private property), and can only legally approach the crag through Panthertown Valley. Be aware that this approach to the towering wall is lengthy (think upwards of a two-hour hike), but pristine slab and water groove routes await. As an added bonus, climbers aren’t likely to experience crowding or backups. In fact, if you’re lucky, you just might find yourself feeling like the only climber for miles. At a soaring 1,200 feet, Laurel Knob is perfect for multi-pitch routes and long days. Be aware that the hike out can be longer than anticipated at the end of the day.
- Location: Pinnacle, NC in Pilot Mountain State Park
- Route Types: Top-rope routes with some sport climbing mixed in
- Difficulty Rating: <5.6 to 5.12
- Best For: Climbers transitioning out of the gym and looking to build confidence outside
Because many climbing areas in North Carolina boast particularly difficult grades and approaches, climbers who are just getting their fingers in the chalk bag might be wondering where to go to learn the basics of outdoor climbing. Featuring easier grades and a wide range of top-rope options, Pilot Mountain is a must for climbers looking to progress their outdoor climbing skills. Whether you want to practice slab routes or prefer overhanging jug-hauls, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for at Pilot Mountain. The ease of access from Winston-Salem means that crags are often crowded, particularly on weekends. Like many crags in North Carolina, the best time to visit is in the spring and fall, when temperatures are lower. Once you’ve mastered top-roping and want to challenge yourself on lead, head to the Amphitheater for a large selection of sport routes.
- Location: Westfield, NC in Hanging Rock State Park
- Route Types: Mostly trad routes with a wide variety of boulder problems
- Rating: Trad climbing: <5.6 to 5.13; bouldering: V2 to V11
- Best For: Adventurous trad climbers and boulderers looking for a variety of options
Moore’s Wall showcases the same quartzite as Linville Gorge, but with its own twist. Climbers at Moore’s Wall can expect overhanging routes with plenty of jugs. A quick 40 minutes from Winston-Salem, this is a great option for trad climbers hoping to conquer the same type of multi-pitch routes that can be found at other crags, minus the remote access and long approaches. Be aware of the often-adventurous descents as there are few rappel stations, and protection consists of a creative combination where climbers will need to sling chocks or trees to supplement fixed gear. The most popular time to visit Moore’s Wall is in spring, when temperatures are mild. Keep an eye out for peregrine falcon closures via the Hanging Rock State Park Website.
- Location: Kings Mountain, NC, in Crowders Mountain State Park
- Route Types: A variety of trad, top-rope and sport routes
- Rating: <5.6 to 5.12
- Best For: Charlotte residents seeking a quick getaway to the crag
North Carolina may be famous for its crags hidden deep within wilderness areas, but it’s tough to beat a 30-minute commute. Charlotte locals can find a varied hometown climbing area in Crowders Mountain. A short drive from downtown and equally short approaches make climbing in Crowders Mountain State Park a popular weekend activity, so plan a midweek or an early morning weekend visit. Luckily, crags vary in their position, which makes it easy to find shade in the summer and sun in the winter. A little less than half of the routes in the park require trad gear, but there are also many options for those who want to top-rope or sport climb. Be sure to fill out a free permit, as park rangers frequently check in on climbers.