Summersville Lake - Rock Climbing

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It’s like a tiny bit of Thailand plopped itself in the heart of southern West Virginia. Rock climbing at Summersville Lake will have you cooling down in crisp, clear waters between sweaty redpoint burns.

Written by

Jay Young


0.1 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

41.4 miles


3 of 5 diamonds

Summersville Lake has an impressive array of routes from 5.8 to 5.14. Home to a host of high-quality, single-pitch sport and trad routes, Summersville Lake is not in the New River Gorge proper, but due to its proximity, it’s considered a part of the area commonly called as "The New."

Time To Complete

2 hours

As long as you like.


All Seasons

Despite its name, Summersville Lake is the quintessential year-round crag.

Dog Friendly


There's a ladder you have to climb down to get in, and it's a tightly packed thin strip of land between the cliff and the water.

Fees Permits




If you could wave a magic wand and create a climbing destination that can’t possibly exist in America, you’d probably put it next to a body of fresh, clear water, a la Thailand, so you could swim, climb, rinse, and repeat all day long. You’d install hundreds of star-worthy classic climbs. If you were creative, you’d add a splash of adventure and create a landscape that changes so dramatically with the seasons, that it literally triples the route volume on south-facing stone—right when the bottom falls off the thermometer. Well, keep dreaming. A crag like that can’t possibly exist.

Or can it? Ladies and gentlemen, Summersville Lake!

What Makes It Great

In its seasonal namesake, Summersville Lake boasts an impressive array of top-notch sport climbs at a wide range of grades. Whether you’re a 5.8 beginner or a 5.14 hardcore climber, there are routes aplenty for you. And here’s the thing: they’re almost all outstanding in terms of quality of movement and hardness of stone. The bolt placement is sane, if not overprotected, and its climbs are mostly packed into a tight little zone, which means members of climbing parties with diverse skill levels can all lay down pitches at nearly a gym-climbing rate.

Virtually every route at Summersville Lake proper sits mere meters from the edge of one of the cleanest and clearest bodies of freshwater east of the Mississippi, which makes for excellent cool-down swim sessions between sweaty redpoint burns. This is the main reason for Summersville Lake’s popularity, but also its only real drawback—throngs of climbers and lines for climbs. Of all the crags in the region surrounding the New River Gorge, Summersville tends to be the most packed on any given weekend.

But then Labor Day passes, and the Army Corps of Engineers begins its annual draw down for whitewater’s Gauley Season. As the lake’s water level creeps down over the course of weeks, it exposes whole sections of cliff to foot traffic in the dry lake bed. This opens the potential for a couple hundred more routes: trad, sport, 5.easy to 5.hard, and boulders more plentiful than sprinkles on the hot fudge sundae of your dreams. There are whole other areas like Whippoorwill and the stunning Long Point, that boast gloriously long routes on the same perfect rock—nearly all of it south facing to drink up the winter sun.

Who is Going to Love It

Pretty much every sport climber in the universe—and trad climbers too, once winter hits. With one of the widest ranges of grades, almost all of them on impeccable stone, Summersville Lake will please beginners and experts alike. Add a mainly-southern aspect, a selection of routes that magically triples in the winter, swimming galore, and the potential to climb from the deck of a boat in the summer, and Summersville Lake would be a destination crag in its own right, even if it weren’t just 20 minutes north of the New River Gorge.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

There actually aren't many regulations at Summersville Lake other than the one that makes deep-water soloing (DWS) illegal. The Corps and the DNR, both of which patrol these waters, have written hundreds of fines over the last few years. Don’t even try it.

For Summersville proper, park in the big pull out just north of the Highway 19 bridge over the Lake, on the northbound side of the road. Hike a wide, obvious trail over the hill and down again to ford a small creek. After the creek, take the next right to stay on the wide trail, then begin looking for a single track that heads right, down a hill toward the water and cliff line. Dog owners beware: there is a 20-foot ladder here to get to the base of the cliff.

For more detailed climbing information, pick up a copy of Mike Williams' 2-volume guidebook, New River Rock.

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Summersville Lake

38.24443, -80.855802

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