5 Top Spots for Bouldering Near Birmingham

Horse Pens 40 feature some of the more unusual rock formations in the southeast.
Horse Pens 40 feature some of the more unusual rock formations in the southeast. Curtis Palmer
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Cool weather has finally graced the Birmingham area with crisp breezes and gorgeous fall colors. Now that the blazing summer heat is behind us, it’s time to dig out the crash pads and go bouldering. Get your forearms, back and shoulders warmed up and get ready to tackle some crags. Pull fresh air into your lungs and head into the wild for the best fun that Mother Nature can provide. To Alabamians who love bouldering, sandstone overhangs are nothing more than a series of problems waiting to be crushed.

Here are the top 5 places to go bouldering within two hours of Birmingham, all approved or preserved by the Southeastern Climbers Coalition.

1. Horse Pens 40

Boulders are abundant at the ever-popular Horse Pens 40.
Boulders are abundant at the ever-popular Horse Pens 40. Curtis Palmer

We’ll mention Horse Pens 40 first because of its popularity. Hailed as one of the most concentrated, best bouldering fields in the world, many come from all over the U.S. to experience what challenges HP40 can offer. There are more problems than a climber can do in a single day, so pick your poison and give it all you’ve got.

Ranging from V0 to V12 problems, you’ll never run out of routes or fun. In Adam Henry’s guidebook, Horse Pens 40 Bouldering (which includes guides for Moss Rock Preserve and Palisades Park), this boulder field is described as one of the “premier winter bouldering sites in North America.” With cabin rentals, camping sites and showers and even a store, all privately owned by the generous Shultz family, there’s no reason for rock wrestlers not to stay the weekend.

HP40 is also the home of at least a couple of competitions per year, such as Chandler Mountain Challenge, HP40 Rocks and the Triple Crown Bouldering Series. According to the Travel Channel, this location is ranked as one of the top 5 places to go bouldering in the world. Not only is this historic park the home to more than 60 rare, threatened, protected, or endangered species, it is a great location for music and arts festivals due to its acoustic quality of the natural amphitheater. Check out the website for upcoming events.

2. Moss Rock Preserve

Moss Rock Preserve may be small, but it offers some excellent challenges.
Moss Rock Preserve may be small, but it offers some excellent challenges. Will Gurley

In Moss Rock Preserve’s 349 acres, the boulder field was protected from suburban development by several local climbers and sandstone lovers. The boulder field may be small, but it is considered among of the best bouldering in the state. You may have an audience of trail runners, nature enthusiasts, and hikers admiring the strength and stamina of climbers, but sandstone tacklers of all skill levels will love this place.

Print out a field map and let the fun begin. The problems range from V4 to V8, and a few as hard as V10. Unfortunately some of the natural stonefaces are stained by mild graffiti, but that won’t take away from your experience in nature’s gorgeous scenery. Traverse these pumpy, challenging problems and be prepared to kill your core. Visit during the first week of November and check out the eco-creative Moss Rock Festival, where artists and organizations feature art, green-living ideas, live music, and beer tasting.

3. Sand Rock (Cherokee Rock Village)

Beautiful rock face in the Cherokee Rock Village park.
Beautiful rock face in the Cherokee Rock Village park. Ben Britten

Sand Rock, or Cherokee Rock Village as it’s also known, is the ultimate place for climbers—with ample camping sites near the parking lot to make your life easy. This location is ideal for sport and trad climbers, but boulder lovers will certainly get their fix. Sand Rock has had the reputation in the past as being a little tarnished by litter and obvious abuse from visitors who don’t live by the “leave no trace” idea. But thanks to the Southeastern Climbers Coalition, this has been changing.

Every year the SCC sponsors an annual cleanup and boulder comp to raise money and clean up, and it has made attempts to keep out the ATV’s with a stone wall. A top-notch bathhouse with showers and toilets allows climbers to freshen up after a day of climbing. The series of tall boulders lining the side of the mountain are great for beginners and advanced rock pushers alike, with problems ranging from V0 to V5.

4. Palisades Park

Palisades Park is full of lovely boulders like these at nearby HP40.
Palisades Park is full of lovely boulders like these at nearby HP40. Curtis Palmer

Tucked away in Oneonta, Palisades Park has a cliff loved by local climbers. With Horse Pens 40 only a few minutes away, there’s no reason not to tackle this smattering of boulders. It’s one of the first stops on the Sandstone Belt that traverses north to Chattanooga. There is no camping allowed in the park, and it closes at 5 p.m. in the winter, so be prepared to fold up your crash pad earlier than you would prefer. Although Palisades is more ideal for trad climbers with nearly 100 established routes, there are still plenty of problems to challenge your skills.

5. Hospital Boulders

Hospital Boulders has 150 to 200 developed boulder problems.
Hospital Boulders has 150 to 200 developed boulder problems. Eddie Freyer

Since the Southeastern Climbing Coalition acquired this boulder field in 2012, Hospital Boulders is a favorite among Alabama climbers. Only 30 minutes away from the ever-popular Horse Pens 40, you can expect high-quality sandstone boulders here. Hospital Boulders boasts about 150-200 developed boulder problems, with slopey tops, overhangs, pinches, and great holds that provide the ideal place to get pumped out. This location has previously kept a low profile but since 2012 is becoming more and more popular by word-of-mouth.

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