Climbing with Kids: Best Crags in the Southeast

11 family-friendly climbing areas that are worth the trip

Finding good crags that are both fun to climb and safe/suitable for children isn't always easy (see my guidelines for choosing a family-friendly climbing area), but it's definitely possible.

The following is a compilation of several baby and kid-friendly climbing areas that our Charlotte, NC-based family frequents throughout the Southeast. By no means is this list comprehensive. I stuck with the most well-known crags. I didn’t include any bouldering areas, but we have found that at the majority of the bouldering areas we’ve gone to with Cragbaby, we’ve been successful in finding safe terrain for him, in addition to great climbing for us.

STARTER CRAGS
From local jaunts to world-class rock, these areas are great first time crags suitable for the whole family, regardless of age.

  • Pilot Mountain, NC—It's certainly not a destination crag, but easy access and short approaches make it a great first-time spot.
  • Sandrock, AL—This is the Alabama version of Pilot Mountain, but with even shorter approaches.
  • New River Gorge, WV (Junkyard, Bridge Buttress)—Both have short approaches on great rock. Both are primarily trad areas that also have easy top access, so be prepared to fight off the crowds of top-ropers.
  • Red River Gorge, KY (Volunteer Wall at Pendergrass)—More great rock with an easy approach and several nice flat areas.
  • The Obed, TN (Lilly Bluffs)—The approach is moderately steep in some areas, but no scrambling is required. The cliff base is wide and flat, for the most part.

Keep in mind that starter crags like this are perfect for more than just small families. Odds are you’ll be sharing ropes with Boy Scouts, Meetup groups and guiding services. If you’re not in the mood to battle the crowds, consider going on a weekday your first time out, so that you can figure out the logistics without the added stress of searching for open routes.

Sasha DiGiulian.  "Pure Imagination"  5.14d (9a). on Vimeo by Adidas Outdoor

Red River Gorge, KY (Flickr/Danny Lim)

THE NEXT STEP
Chances are, after you’ve gotten a few trips under your belt, you’ll have developed a system that works for your family, and you’ll feel more comfortable maneuvering the trails with your child in carrier. Which means that you’re ready to expand your repertoire of climbing areas. The following areas won’t be as crowded, but the trade-off is a more difficult approach.

  • Red River Gorge, KY (Muir Valley)—It's a long, steep hike to access this crag, but no scrambling is involved. There are many different walls within the same area, so you can try to avoid crowds. Much of the cliff base is flat.
  • New River Gorge, WV (Sandstonia)—The long, strenuous hike into this crag can be very steep in places, and is especially treacherous when wet. Some parts along the base have a lot of open space, but others are pretty narrow and rocky.
  • New River Gorge, WV (The Brain at Beauty Mountain)—The approach is short, with a very steep (only about 30 feet or so) initial descent, along with a very tame stream crossing. Keep an eye out for poison ivy! The base is totally flat, with plenty of room.

Puppychow 5.12c

New River Gorge, WV (Flickr/Adam Bove)

READY FOR A CHALLENGE
The following are areas that are definitely not good choices for a first outing together as a family, or even for children/babies without much experience hiking or traveling in a backpack.  Our family really enjoys climbing in these areas, so we’ve gotten creative and found ways to make the approach safe. (Don’t forget #5 of Cragbaby’s Rules for the Ropes: Don’t be a Moron!)  If you want specifics about how we handled a particular area, let me know.

  • Summersville Lake, WV—This area has a longish approach that is somewhat steep, but with fairly moderate terrain. It is somewhat of an obstacle course, with a small stream crossing, a bit of boulder hopping and a 15-foot wooden ladder. The area around the cliff base is flat in places, but in others it drops off into a lake with calm but really deep water (which makes a nice spot for older kids and adults to cool off at the end of a hard day’s climbing).
  • New River Gorge, WV (Endless Wall)—Both the Fern Point and Honeymooner’s entrances involve tall ladders. I always gear up before descending, and shuffle two personal anchors as I go down the rungs. The routes are spread out and crowds are usually not a problem. There are a lot of flat areas around the base, but getting around requires some scrambling through boulder fields.
  • The Obed, TN (South Clear Creek)—The hike is long and steep, with a couple of 5th-class moves. There is one section at the base involving a traverse along a hand rail (again, I gear up beforehand and anchor in as I go along). Many parts of the cliff base are great for kiddos, especially the Stephen King Library.

The Move

The Obed, TN (Flickr/Zach Stone)

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To read more gear reviews, helpful tips and how-to’s for taking your family into the great outdoors, check out Erica's blog, Cragmama.com, an online resource for adventurous families and families-to-be.

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