Alabama is the unexpected home to some of the best bouldering in the country. The northeast part of the state marks the end of the southern Appalachian Mountains, creating a unique topography that has become a haven for bouldering in the Southeast. Highlighted by the world-class boulder field at Horse Pens 40, there are quite a few opportunities in the Yellowhammer State for adventurous boulderers to explore.
Whether you have years of experience or are looking for a new way to enjoy the outdoors, grab a few crash pads, a bag of chalk, and a couple friends, and try out our list of Alabama’s best bouldering spots.
1. Horse Pens 40
Any discussion of bouldering in Alabama begins northeast of Birmingham at Horse Pens 40. HP40 is a privately-owned property and one of the most boulderer-friendly sites in the world. The Schultz family maintains and lives on the land, making almost everything you need available on-site, including cabin rentals and camping, along with a restaurant and even a store where you can rent crash pads.
Sand rock formations that are millions of years old have created nearly 300 climbs on this highly-concentrated boulder field, most of which are in the V5 range. For those who are more experienced, there are climbs all the way up to V14. Any type of feature you desire will be found here, including world-class slopers, which dot the landscape and require their own special technique. Horse Pens, like many climbing spots in Alabama, can be climbed year-round, but conditions are best during the cooler fall and winter seasons. Adam Henry’s guidebook on HP40 goes into immense detail, giving you the ins and outs of Alabama’s best boulder field.
2. Hospital Boulders
Another easily-accessible boulder field is Hospital Boulders near Gadsden. Because the Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC) owns the property, visitors need a gate entry code, which you can obtain on the SCC website. Less than a one-minute walk from the parking lot you’ll encounter the first of nearly 200 developed boulder problems spread out over 39 acres.
The sandstone formations of Hospital Boulders will challenge you with a wide array of problems, including everything from slabs to steep overhangs to slopey tops rated from V0 to V14. There are also many areas that have yet to be cleaned and climbed, so be sure you stay on the portion of the property that the SCC owns.
3. Cherokee Park Village
Formerly known as Sandrock, Cherokee Park Village located in Centre has been an Alabama climbing institution for decades. However, it was a contentious climb due to the amount of litter and graffiti left behind after local parties. Ownership now resides with Cherokee County, which keeps an on-site manager and has added amenities like bathrooms and camping.
Trad and sport climbing rule here, but there are a few solid bouldering opportunities. Of the 10 bouldering routes, all are under V6, making Cherokee Park great for beginners, or as a warm-up to trad and sport climbing.
4. Moss Rock Preserve
Rescued from development 20 years ago, Moss Rock Preserve in Hoover is now one of the most popular bouldering sites in Alabama. While sandstone boulders make up a small area of the preserve, you will find close to 50 routes ranging from V0 to V7. You’ll need pads and spotters to make the most of your climb on the sloping mantles and highballs scattered amongst the boulder field. A small amount of graffiti breaks up the beauty of the park but doesn’t take away from a fantastic Alabama bouldering site.
5. Smith Mountain
Recently opened to climbing, Smith Mountain is located east of Lake Martin and offers nearly 30 bouldering routes, with the potential for more. The mountain is home to a variety of climbs for all experience levels, including a few tall boulders that are rated V7 to V8 and require multiple pads and spotters. Smith Mountain holds quite a bit of bouldering potential. While there are areas that may need to be cleaned, make sure you only remove plant life that is necessary for the route and avoid removing any rare species.
6. Yellow Bluff
Another SCC-owned climbing area, Yellow Bluff is known more for sport and trad climbing, but it also gives beginner boulderers near Huntsville a place to get their hands in the rock. One of the states most well-known crags, Yellow Bluff has 10 bouldering problems below the cliff trail, all of which range from V-easy to V2. Only a portion of the cliff is owned by the SCC, so make sure you don’t trespass onto private property.
7. Monte Sano State Park
While it’s not known as a popular bouldering spot, Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville holds a handful of problems rated V2 to V3, and you can tackle them while hiking the beautiful hardwood forests of Monte Sano State Park. To reach the small boulder field, begin at the South Monte Sano Trailhead and take the Arrowhead Trail. This path cuts through a 25- to 30-foot high limestone passageway, giving access to a few fun climbs.
8. Chewacla State Park
One of Alabama’s impressive network of state parks, Chewacla in Auburn is a low-key bouldering destination. A popular park for trail running and biking, there are a handful of boulders to climb with more waiting to be found. Documented problems range from V1 to V5, and none are more than 20 feet tall, but there are some technical routes to tackle.
Written by Hap Pruitt for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.