Best climbing areas in WV (and we’re not talking just NRG)
West Virginia is a climber’s Almost Heaven—and the New River Gorge may get the fame, but it’s far from the only great climbing area in the Mountain State.
Don’t get us wrong— there’s no denying that the New River Gorge is a top-notch climbing area. A lot of climbers would even go so far as to say it’s the best single-pitch crag in the entire nation for its technical crimp fests, overhanging jugs, crack climbs, slabs, traditionally protected face climbs, endless supply of bouldering problems and, of course, the incredible scenery of the gorge itself. With more than 2 dozen different Nuttall sandstone climbing areas, thousands of climbs and a growing collection of bouldering areas, it’s definitely a world-class destination.
But there’s way more world-class climbing in West Virginia than just in the New River Gorge. There is no shortage of options for any level climber looking to get their hands on real rock, including excellent trad and sport routes with a mix of rock type.
Here are a few other lesser-known spots that are just as worthy of your rope:
The NRG is the most well-known destination for West Virginia rock climbing, but Seneca Rocks is surely one of the most iconic. Seneca’s jagged, rocky fins form an awe-inspiring skyline. It is geared toward trad climbers with routes that require fitness and creativity.
Seneca Rocks is where rock climbing began in West Virginia, and it was one of the first established climbing areas in the eastern United States. Tuscarora quartzite isn’t quite the quality of the rock at the NRG, but it makes up for it with adventurous multi-pitch climbing. The ratings at Seneca reflect old-school authenticity— experienced climbers have found themselves humbled time and time again when confronted with the diversity of skills needed to master even modestly rated lines.
Try classic routes like Ecstasy 5.7, Soler 5.7, Pleasant Overhangs 5.7+, The Burn 5.8, Triple S 5.8+, Climbin’ Punishment 5.8+, Castor 5.10a, Marshall’s Madness-Crack of Dawn 5.10a, Madmen Only 5.10a, Pollux 5.10a, Cottonmouth-Venom 5.10b, Malevolence 5.10c, Terra Firma Homesick Blues 5.11, Drop Zone 5.11b, Muscle Beach 5.11a and The Bell 5.12a.
Within 30 minutes of Seneca Rocks are 2 smaller crags that introduce Seneca-style rock in a sport climbing setting: Franklin Gorge and Smoke Hole Canyon. Both of these are primarily bolted crags, although there are still a few trad routes.
The climbing at Franklin Gorge falls into 2 categories: beginner-friendly bolt climbs on the Main Wall (that are mostly vertical in nature) and steep, overhanging, pocketed routes that are mostly 5.11 and up at the Riverbend sector. The rock at Franklin is high-quality limestone that forms sinker pockets, mailslots and juggy ledges. The routes are well-bolted and have modern hardware.
Expect mostly single pitch affairs, 50 feet or less, at the Main Wall. The Riverbend’s single-pitch lines are more run out, steeper, and top out a bit higher (around 75 feet).
Start with a classic route like Blood, Sweat, and Chalk 5.9+, Bircham’s Beach 5.10b, Barnacle Bill 5.11b, The Bends 5.11, Dynosaurus 5.12a and Sanitary Fish Market 5.12a.
Bozoo is a much smaller version of the New River Gorge with very similar rock. Since it’s close to the college town of Blacksburg, you’ll find mostly locals here. You’ll find around 100 developed routes (both sport and trad routes) and more than 200 established boulder problems, so there is plenty of climbing to try. While not as varied or scenic as NRG, it’s still an excellent area with its own personality.
Classics boulder problems include Sloper Madness V4 and Roadside Euphoria V6.
Some classic routes are Recycle your Soul 5.10c, Rigor Mortise 5.10d and Marge 5.11b.
Smoke Hole Canyon
The Smoke Hole Canyon area is still being established, so there’s a lot of potential to grab a first ascent. It already has nearly 100 established climbs, from beginner-friendly to high-end sport climbs. Like Franklin, this area has modern hardware and is well bolted.
Smoke Hole can be difficult to navigate in places. It’s spread out over a large area, making it an adventure lover’s crag.
Good routes to start with here include Zendo 5.8, Guide’s 11 5.11b, Big Johnson 5.12a, The Lightness 5.12+ and Cartography of Spirit 5.13+.
The most condensed bouldering area in West Virginia is Coopers Rock, just outside of Morgantown. Coopers Rock State Forest has hundreds of boulder problems from V-easy to V-mutant. Although there are a few shorter routes that are worth bringing out the rack and rope, come here if you love bouldering.
Slapping overhanging slopers, squeezing blunt prows, hand jamming up 20-foot crack lines and crimping on ripples are all par for the course. Many of the sectors at Coopers Rock form a rock labyrinth, making it a great destination for kids to run off some steam. Scrambling around on easy boulders and playing hide-and-seek in the maze make this a fun family-friendly climbing destination.
Jump on some of the best problems at Coopers: Tomb Raider V3-, Poundin’ The Pooch V3, Electric Avenue V4, Roundhouse V5, Twist Dah Hick V5, Pocket Problem V6 and The Allusionist V7.
Wilderness Climbing Around West Virginia
Along with the developed areas, West Virginia has a number of areas that are undeveloped and waiting to be discovered.
Forge your own path on the boulders off of Camp Rd. 70 just outside of Davis, or at Bear Haven Recreation Area near Shavers Mountain. There you will find a handful of top rope, sport climbs and boulder problems. North Bend State Park in the western part of the state has a lot of sandstone that is just waiting to be developed. Or be the first to put up a top-notch route at wilderness areas like Dolly Sods, Otter Creek, and the Cranberries.
This post was last updated on March 1, 2022