From safety and skill to mastering your mental state, there are many things beginner climbers need to consider to be successful in the sport. Before venturing outdoors, many practice in the controlled environment of climbing gyms. With a few lessons, you will quickly learn the tricks of the trade: knots, belaying, commands and basic techniques. You will also learn about climbing rating systems (routes 5.1-5.8 are considered easy to intermediate), as well as lingo. Common terms include:
- Belay: creating friction on a climbing rope to compensate for the weight of a climber when falling
- Approach: route taken to the foot of a climbing route
- Crag: often used to refer to a climbing area
- Slab: a rock wall inclined at less than 90 degrees from the ground
- Lead climbing (in sport climbing): climbing with a rope and clipping into existing bolts on a rock face; no protection exists above the climber
- Top rope: climbing with a rope anchored above the climber
- Send: Victoriously reach the top of a climbing route!
With your glossary and the necessary know-how, check out these ten beginner rock climbing spots near Denver:
Clear Creek Canyon
With over 1,000 routes, Clear Creek Canyon is a favorite among experts and new climbers alike. As a bonus, most of these beginner climbs involve little or no approach. East Colfax Rock near Tunnel 6 is a great spot for those looking to accomplish their first lead ascent. Here you will find several sport routes 5.4-5.8 with generous grips. The same goes for the Safari’s bottom slab, as well as Other Critters next to it. Both are located between tunnels 5 and 6.
North Table Mountain
Rock climbing at North Table Mountain is so popular that in some areas the rock has become quite smooth, making some routes often harder than expected. However, it is still a fantastic choice for beginners, mainly due to the abundance of route options. You’ll find several in the Brown Cloud Rocks area, best accessed by parking at the Golden Cliffs lot. Just be careful placing your anchor, as loose rocks are present on the edge of the cliff – and potentially rattlesnakes too!
Similar to Clear Creek Canyon, Boulder Canyon is home to routes for all skill levels. If you’re a beginner who prefers roping, check out Happy Hour Crag and The Boulderado, located just 1.5 miles apart. Sport climbers looking for a little more challenge should head to the upper level of the Bihedral, or opposite the Bihedral (Cascade Crag). Here a short but steep approach will take you to several 5.7-5.8 routes.
Lookout Mountain Crag is one of the smaller rock climbing areas on this list, but it’s a great after-work spot given its proximity to Denver. However, note that this area may be difficult to find the first time you visit. You’ll want to enter Lookout Mountain Road from the north (via US 6), then look for a parking stop at the 1.7 mile mark. The trail heads east before descending to the foot of the rock. From here you can enjoy climbing six sport routes 5.7-5.8, almost all of which can also be roped.
Estes Park Valley
The Valley of Estes Park allows beginner climbers to explore dozens of routes, each surrounded by incredible views. The largest collection of 5.4-5.8 routes are found in Big Thompson Canyon, including the Outer Gates and Lion’s Den. Located near scenic Lily Lake, Jurassic Park is another popular choice. Although most of the routes in this area are for sport climbing, you will also find some easy top rope options here. If you send them off early enough, consider adding one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park to your day itinerary.
Staunton State Park
If you’ve ever hiked Elk Falls, one of the best waterfall hikes near Denver, you may have seen signs for the rock climbing access trail. This 2.1-mile approach is long compared to other rock 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 will find more than ten sport courses 5.6-5.8.
The Flatirons are iconic in North American rock climbing history and continue to be a famous destination among those who love the sport. Here you will find hundreds of routes for all levels of experience. However, if you are looking to practice lead climbing, this may not be the best place for you, as beginner level sport routes are limited. New climbers open to the top rope should head to Flatirons Central, namely the Der Zerkle, Babyhorn, and Finger Flatiron areas. The approach to these 5.5-5.8 routes is approximately one mile long.
Along Rampart Range Road you’ll find some of the best camping near Denver, as well as one of the best rock climbing areas in Colorado. Devil’s Head is dominated by athletic routes, several of which invite beginners. Waffle House in the Upper West Valley is one of the best places for new climbers, as most routes are 5.8 and easier. Devil’s Gate also offers plenty of routes in this difficulty range – check out Slabulous, in particular.
Red Rock Canyon Open Space
Red Rock Canyon Open Space neighbors the Garden of the Gods, a place where you’ll often see first-timers on guided rock 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 to 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 keep an eye out for poison ivy as well.
Performance climbing park
Technically, Performance Climbing Park is in the valley of Estes Park. But this unique area deserves its own section, as it is very different from the other rock climbing spots on this list. Rather than being in a secluded canyon or mountain forest, Performance Climbing Park is located in downtown Estes Park, right next to an amphitheater. Just behind this structure is the amphitheater wall, where you’ll find seven beginner-friendly routes spanning just 30 to 60 feet. The belay zone is made of flat concrete, which makes it a particularly attractive option for new climbers.