Climbers across the Carolinas are rejoicing now that the air is crisp and the holds are grippy. With brisk temps, bright leaves and ample sunlight, fall is the ideal season for spending long days on the rock. The Blue Ridge is home to some of the best bouldering in the Southeast—perhaps even the country—yet there are still plenty of projects to be discovered. Whether you’re looking to top out on a classic route or claim your own first ascent, you can find it here in southern Appalachia. Grab your crash pads and check out these six spots for bouldering in the Blue Ridge region.
1. For the Best of the Best: Rumbling Bald
If you’ve spent any time in Asheville gear shops, rock gyms, or within 50 yards of a local climber, then you’ve no doubt already heard of Rumbling Bald. For world-class routes and endless exploration, nothing comes close to rivaling the Bald. We owe a hearty dose of gratitude to the Carolina Climbers Coalition for ensuring our ability to access what is surely the most popular bouldering spot in the Southeast.
Twenty five miles of winding back roads will lead you from downtown Asheville to this sprawling boulder field, located in the heart of the Hickory Nut Gorge. You could spend a lifetime chiseling away at the 882 established routes, eyeing new lines and claiming a first descent here and there. To help you navigate through all your options (which range from cakewalk to downright impossible, classic lines to freshly discovered projects, and everything in between) we recommend purchasing a copy of Rumbling Bald Bouldering.
2. For a Quick Session After Work: Corner Rock & Walker Creek
This area is located in the Big Ivy Section of the Pisgah National Forest, known to locals as the Coleman Boundary. Well worth a visit in its own right, the Big Ivy is most famous for Douglas Falls, a tributary of Waterfall Creek that plunges 60 feet off Craggy Pinnacle. Climbers would agree, however, that the true gem lying within this lush forest is Corner Rock, an enormous, overhanging boulder stitched with big, pumpy lines.
Corner Rock is only a 25-minute drive from Asheville, making it the city’s closest outdoor bouldering venue. On top of that, the approach is a mere two-minute jaunt from the parking area. Most of the climbs on this overhung giant are V5 and up, with the notable exception of a super fun V2 highball. Bring a couple of extra crash pads.
The Walker Creek Boulder also can be found in the Big Ivy. This area has considerably more to offer for beginners, including a handful of friendly V0 routes, a nice long traverse, and a handful of V2-V4 overhanging lines—and those are all on the main boulder! If you fancy yourself a pioneer, there are a few rocks speckling the forest with new lines just waiting to be cleaned and claimed. This area is located 30 yards off the Walker Creek Trail from the Walker Creek/Mountain Light Sanctuary trailhead in the Big Ivy Wilderness.
3. For Exploration: Jones Gap State Park
Jones Gap State Park is one of most lovely and pristine wilderness destinations in South Carolina, located just outside the tiny town of Travelers Rest. The bouldering scene here is up and coming and mostly yet to be discovered. Still, there are some noteworthy routes on a small cluster of boulders 1.5 miles down the Standington Mountain Trail. If you’re looking for a first ascent (and naming privileges!) then bring a your brush and dive into this corner of the Blue Ridge Foothills, just over the border from North Carolina.
4. For Convenience: Nowhere Boulders
The Nowhere Boulders are nestled in the Pisgah National Forest beneath the John Rock overlook, in a verdant, shady spot known as Horse Cove. A nice collection of V3 and V4 await you at this local hot-spot, as well as a number of shorter and slightly moss-encroached V0-V2 on the Cave Boulders for warming up.
Although Nowhere feels protected and removed, engulfed by dense greenery and a gurgling creek, it’s actually just 100 feet away from the John Rock Trail, one of the more popular trails in Pisgah. In fact, Nowhere isn’t Nowhere at all. It’s close to the Looking Glass Rock crag, swimming holes, and an endless offering of mountain bike trails. While you’re there, check out the V3 Creekside route on the main Creekside Boulder, a sequence of underclings and side pulls that are grabby and fun. When your fingertips can’t take anymore, treat yourself to a beer at the Pisgah Tavern, a pocket-sized bar located in the Hub Gear and Bike Shop, directly outside the entrance to Pisgah.
5. For a Day Trip: Grandmother Mountain
There’s nothing like a climbing road trip to make the weekend count. Head to the High Country to get a taste of Boone’s best and biggest bouldering fields at Grandmother Mountain. This stone Mecca boasts more than 400 established routes in 20 separate areas, scattered among a beautiful sub-alpine forest. The routes range from beginner to pro, with friendly jugs, graceful traverses, eyebrow crimps, and plenty of steep overhangs to pump out on. Many locals consider their beloved Grandmother Mountain to be the best bouldering in the world.
If you’re feeling social, park your pad at the bottom of the super-popular Mighty Mouse boulder, home to the classic Mighty Mouse (V5), or tackle the infamous Have Guns Will Travel (V7) on the Have Guns Wall. Before you go, cool off with a hike to the top of the mountain, where you’ll find a rare spruce fir forest and dazzling views. Don’t leave Boone without a stop at the Appalachian Mountain Brewery for a well-earned pour of Belay On V5 Saison.
6. For When It’s Raining: Iron Palm Bouldering Gym
Autumn can bring sunny days and picture-perfect climbing conditions to the Blue Ridge; it can also bring tropical storms and days on end of much-needed rain. When the wet weather arrives, head over to Iron Palm Bouldering gym on Hendersonville Road in Asheville. The routes in this rope-free facility are set by experts and swapped out every month, which means you’ll never run out of new projects. Iron Palm is great place to improve technique and build stamina while immersing yourself in the climbing community.