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Destination: Estes Park, Colorado

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In Partnership with Visit Estes Park

By Melissa Strong

Estes Park has enough climbing for two, maybe three, lifetimes, which is why it’s one of the top climbing destinations not just in Colorado, but in the Western states.

Everywhere you look there is granite. To the north, the granite of Lumpy ridge, a collection of thirty or so crags and home to over 500 routes—cracks, slabs, multi-pitch trad climbs and the occasional bolted sport route. To the south, the stunning formations of the Monastery, with its nails-hard sport climbing on orange and red, you guessed it…granite. To the west lies the land of Rocky Mountain National Park, which hoards the best bouldering and alpine granite formations in the state—Spearhead, the Petit Grepon, Hallett peak, the Diamond.

You get the point.

It doesn’t matter if you paw your way up a 5.7 or dance up a 5.13, Estes Park will keep you busy and can offer any adventure (kids or otherwise) you’re looking for.

Even better, downtown Estes Park can be walked end-to-end in under ten minutes, will slake any thirst you have worked up at the crag, and has more than enough going on to kill a few rest days.


Climbing has been one of Estes Park’s defining actives since the 1800s. The Stone Beaver, the native American nomenclature for Long’s Peak, was a landmark for Native Americans and Western settlers. This magnificent 14er, one of the most popular in the state, lured travelers from the 1800s to test their fortitude attempting to summit this peak, including Isabella Bird who summited Longs with Mountain Jim’s help in 1873, among many others.

Home to famous prolific climbers like Tommy Caldwell, Kelly Cordes, Josh Warton and Bob Siegrist the climbing areas in and around Estes Park have continued to grow because of their efforts and dedication.

A climber on the Estes Park classic Edge of Time. Photo: Bradi Covert.

Lumpy Ridge

Here you will find beautiful vistas, pinnacle summits, alpine granite, cracks, face climbing and slabs. Most of the routes here are trad.

Access to Lumpy is had from the trailhead off of Devils Gulch Road, approximately 1.5 miles from downtown Estes Park. Expect an approach from one to five miles. The climbs range from 2-5 pitches of traditional granite climbing with a few bolted routes including El Camino and the Renaissance Wall.

Area classics include:

Kor’s Flake (5.7+), on Sundance Buttress

J-Crack (5.9+), Fat City Roof Crack (5.10c), Loose Ends (5.9), on the Book

Clown Time is Over (5.9+), on Batman Pinnacle.

Chaos Canyon

Chaos Canyon is home to some of the best summer bouldering in the country, in the stunning alpine setting of Rocky Mountain National Park. Early fall and late spring are also good seasons.

Boulders are located around Lake Haiyaha and littered throughout the talus field of the canyon starting at 10,000. Access the lake from the Bear Lake parking lot in RMNP or take the visitors shuttle. A park pass is required to access this area.

Area classics include:

Potato Chip Layback (V3)

Deep Puddle Arete (V5)

Tommy’s Arete (V7)

Lea Linse on Tiger Stripes in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Photo: Jordan Hirro.

The Wizard’s Gate

Stellar single-pitch sport and trad climbing. Access these crags on Twin Sisters from the dirt road across from Lily Lake. A steep 45-minute approach veers off north after the 3rd switchback on the Twin Sisters trail. Head to the Lower Great Face and continue around the northside to the cave by the Central Buttress.

There are 26 bolted climbs from 5.9 – 5.13d. Put up by locals Scott Kimball, and father-son team Bob and Jonathan Siegrist.

Area classics include:

Gremlin (5.8)

White Raven (5.11a)

Magic Dagger (5.13a)

Jurassic Park

Mostly sport climbing in a scenic setting with a view of Lily Lake and the Diamond on Long’s peak. Park at Lily Lake, walk counterclockwise around the lake to the northwest. The climbers trail is marked by cairns leading you up to the saddle in between granite outcroppings approximately 20 minutes. Mostly sport climbing from 5.6 – 5.12a.

Area classics include:

The Edge of Time (5.9)

Fin (5.11a)

Andrology (5.12)

Performance Park

Newly bolted lines—about 20 or so sport routes—in downtown Estes Park a short walk from downtown, literally. Parking for Performance Park is right in front of the park, leaving you with a 1-minute approach. Great for beginners or getting some climbs in between monsoons. Mostly sport ranging from 5.3 – 5.11.

Area classics include:

Exit Stage Left (5.6)

Mr. Toads Wild Ride (5.9)

Shrek (5.11b)

Performance Park has the closest climbing to town. Photo: Visit Estes Park.

The Monastery

Beautiful granite climbing, yielding the most sport climbing in the area. Father-son team Mike and Tommy Caldwell established many of the routes on the granite, gneiss and schist rock. Climbs are predominantly sport but some mixed trad and sport climbing. They range from 5.6 – 5.14d.

From Estes Park head down Hwy 34 to Drake, Colorado. Turn left on County Road 43. After .3 miles turn right onto Colorado 128 aka Storm Mountain Road. The parking lot is 5.1 miles from this turn. Continue 2.5 miles to T-intersection, turn left. At the Y-intersection go left. Stay on 128 until you go 5.1 miles. Parking camping area on the left. The trail is about 450 feet up the road off of a switch back to the left. It takes 45 minutes to an hour hike uphill both ways.

Area classics include:

The Hot Zone (5.9-)

Tabula Rasa (5.10d)

Psychedelic (5.12d)

Lumpy Ridge, Then Wizard’s Gate and Jurassic Park are located in the Rocky Mountain National Park; however, a park pass is not required. Check for closures before heading out.

How to Kill a Rest Day

For a rest day, go hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and cool off with a dip in an alpine lake. The terrain is endless for hiking and exploring. For something shorter, try Mills Lake (2.7 miles out of Glacier Basin) or the magnificent Spectacle Lake at the foot of Mt. Ypsilon (5.3 miles from the Lawn Lake trailhead).

If you want to give your legs a rest, there is $2 mini golf at Tiny Town on Hwy 36.

Ghost Tours at the famous Stanley Hotel (where Stephan King penned The Shining) are never a letdown. Stop at the bar to sample some whiskey from one of the world’s most extensive whiskey collections.

Check out local Colorado artwork at Aspen and Evergreen Gallery in downtown Estes Park.

Needing some speed? Light up some single track on one of the many mountain bike trails around town. Pole Hill road is a fine introduction, a 6.7 mile single-track loop just minutes from downtown.

Where to Eat

Bird & Jim has excellent cocktails, amazing views of RMNP and delicious local Colorado cuisine. They are located on Hwy 36 on your way out of the Park.

Fuel up with a hearty Italian meal at The Dunraven Inn, which also has killer steaks and seafood.

Ed’s Cantina is a classic climber hangout in downtown Estes. Great place for Margaritas … and don’t miss their buffalo tacos.

Elkin’s Distillery is making tasty whiskey locally and serving delicious cocktails. It is a great place to celebrate sending.

Lumpy Ridge Brewery on Hwy 7 aka South Saint Vrain is a fun local hangout with live music on occasion and the town’s favorite food truck, Rations, is there on weekends.
Rock Cut Brewery–another local favorite brewing great beer and they always have fun events including trivia night, hiking day groups, and rotating nightly food trucks.

Where to Stay

Some better values around town:

The Blue Door has affordable rooms, great reviews, a pool, grills, horseshoe pits, a campfire area with live music in summer and not far from Lumpy Ridge trailhead.

Colorado Mountain School’s hostel is tried and true.

Camping–there are many campgrounds in the National Park and around town but be sure to book ahead of time since they fill up quickly with the summer travelers.

Free short-term camping is allowed in Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forrest. These sites can be difficult to find, and four-wheel drive is often necessary. Some areas to explore for free camping are Johnny Park, Pole Hill, Bunce School Road and on Storm Mountain, the camping/parking lot for the Monastery.