So you want the lowdown on rock climbing in the Arkansas Ozarks? We assume you do, because here you are. Let's get right to business. If you've never heard of rock climbing in the Natural State it's fine...it's FINE! You’ve just been missing out the entire time you've been here but no worries! This post will hopefully shed light on everything you need to know to get you started in the area or help you find something new if you have been here for awhile.
This lowdown covers two categories of climbing in the Ozarks-- indoor or outdoor. All info on indoor climbing can be found first, followed by hot spots + what to expect in the massive outdoor climbing world. But first, whether climbing indoors or outdoors let’s get gear outta the way--
If you want to climb, you're gonna need the gear, especially if you’re headed outside. Locals buy most of their climbing gear at one of two local shops, Packrat Outdoor Center or Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters. If you happen to be a student at the University of Arkansas it gets even easier. Located on campus is UREC Outdoors, your one stop shop for gear rentals, climbing clinics, and programs. Below is a little more on each of these locales.
Location: 36.097728, -94.159964
Services: Offering the Fayetteville community a full service gear shop. More selection than any other shop in town.
Best Beta: Don’t miss out on Pack Rat’s Pint Nights. Throughout the year, these events offer local brews by donation that give money to local, outdoor nonprofits. The easiest way to make a change is by voting with your dollar. Keep it local.
Location: 36.081838, -94.154378
Services: Specialty gear shop located in Evelyn Hills. Uncle Sam’s has been there for years and is handsdown the best place to buy wool socks in town. Insider knowledge: “Cosmetic Defects” are half off.
Best Beta: After Uncle Sam’s, take a stroll on over to Ozark Natural Foods and grab a hot coffee and breakfast to go. The Vegan Breakfast Burrito is amazing!
Location: 36.064658, -94.178369
Services: Provides students, faculty, and staff of the University of Arkansas access to outdoor rental equipment, wilderness medicine courses, trips, activities, and a full service bike shop.
Best Beta: Get strong with climbing clinics and access to both a bouldering wall and indoor rock climbing wall.
INDOOR CLIMBING GYMS
Local gyms in the Ozarks area are few and far between. For now, we have Ozark Climbing Gym in Springdale and the infamous La Casa Pollo in Fayetteville. If you go to the UofA, don't forget UREC Outdoors. Rumor has it a new gym is coming in the area but we will believe it when we see it.
Location: 36.166600, -94.123181
Services: The local bouldering gym in the Fayetteville area. Unique problems and adequate training equipment allow the local community to get together, train, and compete.
Best Beta: Show up to one of their competitions for good food and brews. Also “Ladies Night” is every Tuesday and allows ladies to get in for half price. What are you waiting for?
Location: 36.062741, -94.044716
Services: The only local rock climbing gym (ie. big wall indoor climbing). Rick is an interesting character and you'll know what I mean when you show up.
Best Beta: Friday nights is blacklights and pizza. Or it used to be… See for yourself.
GET OUTSIDE: AR'S BEST CLIMBING DESTINATIONS
Arkansas has more rock and more variety than you can shake a stick at. Most of the gems are located about 1.5 - 2 hours outside of Fayetteville so prepare for a long day trip or camping on some open public lands. Oh, and don't forget to bring extra water. Most places don't have water access when you get deep into the backwoods.
Location: 35.998689, -94.426529
Access: Two locations from which you can access Lincoln Lake - Dam Side and the North Side parking area. Both areas can be accessed via economy two wheel drive vehicles. This is a great place for hiking, trail running, mountain biking, and fishing.
No Camping: Lincoln Lake is a park owned by the City of Lincoln and no overnight camping is allowed. Day trips from Fayetteville take about an hour, round trip.
Style: Sport Climbing, Bouldering, and a dash of Trad
Difficulty: Lincoln is great for the beginner and moderate climbers coming out of Fayetteville. High quality stone in the Beauty School area will keep you focused up to V9. The North Side sport climbing and trad climbing has easy access and great routes for beginning leaders or anyone pushing towards that 5.11 zone. Finally the Dam Side boulders are a great entry level to outside bouldering. Although the stone is a bit dirty, it offers V0-V6 boulderers a necessary climbing destination.
Location: 35.617261, -94.006458
Access: Fern is located just outside of Shores Lake southeast of Lake Fort Smith. It is a good intermediate destination located just over an hour from Fayetteville making it the next closest spot to Fayetteville. Roads are rough but manageable in most vehicles.
Camping: A free camping and access area. The pine forest allows natural bedding if you want to skip the car camping.
Style: Sport Climbing, select bouldering
Difficulty: Fern has a wide range of difficulties but is best enjoyed under the 5.12 grade. Most climbs are extremely short and 8 quickdraws will probably be more than enough if you are short on gear.
HORSESHOE CANYON RANCH
Location: 36.004936, -93.292707
Access: The almighty HCR. This dude ranch has it all for most any climber. You can zip line, disc golf, and see the infamous grounds of 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell. You can get here with any car you want and once here will have access to bathrooms, showers, water, and cabins for rent.
Camping: $10 to Climb, $5 to camp. This will give you access to over 400 rock climbs and fields on fields of boulders. If you don't bring food you can even buy food and coffee at the HCR Trading Post.
Style: High quality boulders and great rock for sport and trad
Difficulty: If you are climbing trad you have to hit the classics on the west side. The boulders are beautiful and everywhere. If you climb from 5.7-5.11+ then come sport climbing.
SAM'S THRONE REGION
Location: 35.875176, -93.047339
Access: Sam’s Throne is located about 20 minutes southeast of Jasper, AR, home of the infamous “Ozark Cafe”. Sam’s Throne is a recreation area with pit toilets, great hiking, and more rock than you can shake a stick clip at. Although Sam’s itself is most known for its quality moderate trad climbing, just around the corner are loads of rock for sport climbing. All areas can be accessed via low clearance two-wheel drive vehicles.
Camping: Sam’s Throne is a free camping area with the nicest facilities in the region. The downside is that it can be pretty busy at times during the Fall and Spring. Other areas have camping at their trailhead or nearby. Check out the Rock Climbing Arkansas guidebook to be sure.
Areas: Valley of the Blind, Sam’s Throne, Cave Creek, Candy Mountain, Deliverance
Style: This area contains a myriad of different sport and trad climbs.
Difficulty: Sport 5.9-5.13, Trad 5.6 - 5.11+
Location: 35.872358, -93.128787
Access: Now we are getting into the true backwoods of Arkansas. From here on down the drives are going to be at least 1.5 hours if not two from Fayetteville. All of the following areas have camping areas within them so if you aren't down for the four hour down and back from Fayetteville then bring some sleeping gear. Also, again, don't forget the water. 4x4 isn’t a mandatory vehicle for the rest of these locations but it is highly recommended. However, we’ve seen trusty Hondas do some crazy things…
Camping: Each region here has its own camping area. To find more info on this, look on Mountain Project, our FC Team Athlete Cole Fennel’s second edition guidebook or contact our FC Team Athlete and author to this article, George Bieker (firstname.lastname@example.org). No water access here so bring extra and make sure you got a trusty rig.
Areas: Invasion, Font Red, Hudson, The Dreamery, The Garden, and more.
Style & Difficulty: Hiqh Quality bouldering in the Font Red area for all grades, V0-V12. The Cowell region has a sparse mix of moderate sport 5.9-5.11 if you are willing to look for it. The real gem, besides the bouldering, is the vast amount of quality sport climbs in the 5.12 grade. If that’s your style check this place out. If you are solid on 5.12+, 5.13-...keep scrolling.
Location: 35.74198, -93.27251
Access: If you have made it this far then you are in for adventure and the real treat of Arkansas climbing. In the Rock Creek and Prohibition areas it truly feels as though you are in the sticks. Hard sport climbing is king here and you better bring a AWD or 4X4.
Camping: Camping at Rock Creek would be considered communal. There is essentially one spot right where you park. Most of the time it's okay because most won't make the drive. Prepare for a beautiful Arkansas creek bed surrounded by water and gorgeous stone.
Difficulty: Although there has been some bouldering in the creek bed most people come here for the hard sport climbing. If you are flirting with 5.12 and 5.13 then this is the area for you. “The Tomb” is a must see in person. Bring your own draws and prepare for pure pumpage.
RICHLAND CREEK WILDERNESS
Location: 35.86791, -92.92144
Access: The farthest region into the Ozarks you can go for established rock climbing. This region hosts some of the best rock in the state and if you are down for the 2+ hour drive then you will rarely see a crowd. Expect at least 30 minutes via dirt roads. Some spots can be accessed by two wheel drive but don't expect to get to Prohibition or Shangrila in your Corolla.
Camping: You’re in the wilderness now. Each area has an obvious camping site. Please use existing fire rings and keep the wilderness as wild as you found it.
Areas: Prohibition, Stack Rock, Heaven Boulders, Shangri La
Styles & Difficulty: Varied styles here depend on the area in which you are located. Stack Rock hosts a number of trad lines all in the moderate realm 5.9-5.10ish. It also offers some classic sport in the 5.10+ and up to 5.12 range. Heaven Boulders offer high quality rock but a sparse amount of problems V6-V10. Prohibition is the king of the region in my opinion. Quality warm ups and classic 5.11s lead you into one of the coolest crags around, the Prohibition Wall itself. Nothing checks in under 5.12a but be warned the grades are stout.
Got Questions? Need more beta on any of these areas? Want a Guide? - FC Team Climber, George Bieker is your guy. Hit him up at email@example.com.
Lastly, a note from Cody Roney, the mouthpiece of our Non-Profit Partners, the Southeastern Climbers Coalition:
The SCC, Access Fund, and other local climbing organizations don't only exist to secure access to climbing areas. Stewardship and leave no trace practices are vital to the health of our beloved climbing areas and we work hard to host trail days at our local crags and educate the community on proper stewardship practices. If you are interested in learning more about what the SCC is up to, check out what they are doing in preserving the Denny Cove area for generations of climbing and outdoor recreation here. As more people are enjoying the benefits of climbing and the outdoors, it's important to practice ethics that will sustain the environment for future generations.
Do your research before going to any new climbing area to find out about things like--
- Is there a drinking water source nearby...if so, learn how to properly dispose of human waste
- How long must you wait to climb on certain rock after rain (some types of sandstone easily crumble and need 2-3 days to dry out)?
- Are their neighbors close by? If so, keep noise down and be sure you don't trespass onto private property.
- It's important to follow general good practices. Be sure to always hike on marked trail, pack out what you take in, clean tick marks and excessive chalk when you finish at an area, and follow the general guidelines for the areas you recreate to ensure positive relations with landowners.
If the entire climbing community works to ensure good stewardship practices, our outdoor climbing and recreation areas will give our children and grandchildren the same life changing experiences we are currently enjoying!