Climbing The High Country

When visiting the High Country, make sure you make a point to take in a climbing trip, provided that’s not why you came here in the first place. This area is known countrywide for it’s wide variety of climbing routes, beautiful scenery, and dizzying exposure. So, if heights don’t bother you, take a day for a climb or plan a multiple-day trip to a more remote area.


There are many climbing locales that can be accessed in an hour or less depending on where you’re traveling from. While others can require a serious hike in, they can be the most rewarding trips because you won’t have to wait on other climbers or fight for a parking place. Depending on your skill level, there are many options for beginner climbers to the most advanced in this region of the North Carolina Mountains.

If a day trip is what you have in mind, Ship Rock can provide you with full day of climbing adventure. Ship Rock is located near the Rough Ridge hiking trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It offers a multitude of mostly traditional climbing routes, though a few routes are bolted for sport climbing. The climbs range from single-pitch with top-roping possibilities to multiple pitch routes that require traditional climbing gear and knowledge of the area. There are bolted anchors at the top of some of the multiple pitch climbs, look for the central rappel station. Due to the presence of endangered lichens and fragile plant life at the top these climbs, it is prohibited to walk off the top and hike down.

Please respect our local endangered species and come prepared with double ropes and gear to rappel back down to the ground. The climbing routes at Ship Rock range from one, easier 5.5 to a few very difficult 5.12s, but most of the climbs fall in the 5.8 to 5.11 range. Most routes tout extreme exposure, which can be a draw for some or a drawback for others. To access Ship Rock, park at the Rough Ridge pull-off on the parkway and follow the road towards the viaduct and across the bridge. When you spot a trail up to the right, follow it over the boulders until you arrive at the base of the cliff. An easier place for beginners wanting to top rope is Holloway Mountain, a small climbing area with 5 or 6 routes and located off of Holloway Mountain Road near Foscoe.

For those wanting a longer trip, the drive out to Linville Gorge and Table Rock is worthwhile. Table Rock offers a range of climbs that are mostly multiple-pitch, traditional routes, although some bolted routes can be found. These climbs range from an easy 5.4 up to an advanced 5.12. The views from the routes at Table Rock overlook the surrounding Pisgah Forest and can be exposed, but gorgeous. Linville Gorge climbing areas require a longer hike in (a mile to five miles depending on your destination) that can be treacherous and muddy depending on the weather. But once in the Gorge, the climbs are spectacular and classic.

Almost predominantly traditional, multi-pitch routes, they offer amazing views of the Gorge and a serious gain in vertical feet. All climbs require a branching off of the main rim trail onto smaller trails that quickly drop down steep slopes into the bottom of the Gorge. But be warned that it may take some bushwhacking or creeping along vague trails to find the main trail again. Remember, the standard rule for climbing in the gorge is to always bring rain gear and a headlamp. First time visitors to the Gorge should allow extra time for ascents and route finding. There are multiple climbing areas in the Gorge including the North Carolina Wall and Shortoff Mountain. The North Carolina Wall includes the Apricot Buttress, the main North Carolina Wall, the Amphitheater, the Reggae Wall, and the Chimneys. Be aware that several local areas are partially or totally closed at the moment until August 15, for Peregrine falcon nesting. Show some respect for these threatened birds and heed the closure signs.

Some closed areas include routes on Shortoff Mountain and Moore’s wall. For a full listing of closed routes, check out The Access Fund website at To access these areas, take Highway 105 out to Linville, and then veer off left onto Highway 181 and drive South until you reach the turnoff for Gingercake Acres on the Right. Follow the signs to Table Rock and drive along the sometimes rough dirt road for about 7 miles. There, the road turns back to pavement and switchbacks up to the parking area. Table Rock shares the same parking area as Linville Gorge (Table Rock to the right, Linville Gorge to the left). And remember, Linville Gorge is a designated Wilderness Area, so practice “Leave No Trace” ethics by packing out anything you pack in and leaving only footprints on the land when camping or hiking. Another issue to be aware of is that there is virtually no water in the Gorge or at Table Rock.

Make sure you bring along enough water for yourself and your companions. It is possible to camp along the road leading into the Gorge, but camping is prohibited in the Table Rock parking area and surrounding picnic areas, yet, hike 100 yards beyond the picnic area for open range tent camping.

To get a better grasp on the different climbing areas, check out either of the following climbing guide books: Selected Climbs in North Carolina, by Yon Lambert and Harrison Shull, and/or The Climber’s Guide to North Carolina, by Thomas Kelley. These two books together encompass all the local rock climbing and give ratings, route drawing, photographs, and detailed directions as to how to get there.

Also, if you are new to the sport, find yourself a personal climbing guide. There is one premier guide service in the area. Rock Dimensions Climbing Guides, which is based out of Footsloggers, the premier climbing shop of the area which has an 35 ft. tall outdoor climbing tower with 4,000 sq. ft. of climbing surface. Rock Dimensions Climbing Guides can be accessed on the web at or by calling (828) 265-3544 or toll-free at (888) 595-6009 and the contact for Footsloggers is (828) 262-5111 or toll-free (800) 262-5121 and Climbing in the High Country takes experience and knowledge of the area and the know how of gear placement. Make sure you get familiar with the area you are visiting and allow plenty of time for route finding.

Take in mind that climbing can be dangerous, but exhilarating with the right knowledge and gear. It can be a very rewarding sport which teaches many lessons of life, gives you a chance to meet a diverse and fun group of people and is a great excuse to travel . And don’t forget to take a moment to notice the beauty that surrounds you in these mountains and as it’s an ideal place to get you prepared to climb in other great ranges of the world.

Climbing Safety & Ethics:

Above all, BE SAFE! Always climb with a partner, and inform others as to your whereabouts. Contact the local shops and experts before attempting anything beyond your current ability level. Make sure your equipment is in good working order before departing - it's much better to detect errors and problems before rather than during your climb!

Finally, practice common sense. It's easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of the climb, but if you lose your wits out there, you could also lose your life. Many High Country residents are knowledgable climbers as well. Several of these experts offer instruction and guide services. Rates and services vary, so see a local climbing store for details.

Any of the many good climbing books currently on the market will tell you how important it is to practice low-impact ethics when climbing. Climbing, in many instances, is a privilege, and many great climbing sites have been closed due to careless climbers leaving trash behind, destroying vegetation or just making a lot of noise. Always take all trash with you when you leave, stick to the main trails and avoid trampling vegetation, and be considerate of other climbers, landowners, and of anyone else who may use the area.

Scott LaLiberte, a local climbing expert who works for Rock & Roll Sports, notes that "climbing conditions change almost monthly, so it's best to call and check on current conditions."

Climbing Equipment:

Unless you're bouldering, you will need to invest some money into good, quality climbing equipment. The rule of thumb here is NEVER PURCHASE SOMETHING JUST BECAUSE IT IS REASONABLY PRICED! After all, this is an investment in your safety - a kind of 'life insurance', if you will - and the best equipment is that which you know you will be able to rely upon, should something go awry.

According to Heather Clark, an avid local climber who manages the climbing department at Footslogger's, in addition to "an adventurous attitude," there are four things you will need to begin participating in the sport: A harness, a pair of climbing shoes, rope and a belay device.

A good harness will run anywhere from $30 to $100 and up. A comfortable pair of climbing shoes will usually start at $80, and the cost of a good rope and belay device will normally range between $100 and $200 each. Later on, you may also wish to purchase other items, such as chalk bags, quick draws, long slings, etc. Any of the area's climbing stores can set you up with quality equipment.

See also:

Bouldering | North Carolina Outward Bound | Climbing Spots

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