Your Guide to Rock Climbing in Arkansas 2020

The Four Best Climbing Areas in Northwest Arkansas

Compared to other climbing hotspots around the country like Colorado, Utah, California, Kentucky and Nevada, the small state of Arkansas doesn’t land on too many rock climbers’ radars. And I mean, who can blame them? When you think of Arkansas, your mind probably fills with images of river plains, rice fields, and low-lying timberlands. But never forget that the Northwest part of the state is home to a pristine corner of the Ozark Mountains.

Once you dig deep into the variety of rock climbing that can be found in Northwest Arkansas, you’ll quickly realize the sandstone crags and boulders are nothing to sleep on. Hell, even Chris Sharma realized this when he established professional-grade lines like Witness the Fitness (V14) and Paying the Rent (5.14a).

If you’ve never been climbing down in the Natural State, it’s time to load up the car and make your way over – because here are the five best places to go rock climbing in Arkansas!

1. Horseshoe Canyon Ranch

Projecting the Crescent, V3

Nestled deep in the Ozark Mountains between Ponca and Jasper lies the picturesque Horseshoe Canyon Ranch – a privately owned dude ranch that’s home to some of the best sandstone you can find in the state. Without a doubt, this is where you can find the greatest concentration of routes and boulder problems in Arkansas.

Types of Climbing

There are predominantly three types of climbing at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch: trad, sport, and bouldering. Without a doubt, sport climbing is the most prevalent style of climbing in the canyon, with a route count that reaches up to 361 and ranges in difficulty from 5.6 to 5.14a.

You can also trad climb out at Horseshoe and have over 90 routes to pick from that range from 5.7 to 5.12c.

And last but not least, there’s 155 boulder problems that you can tackle at HCR that range from V0 to V10.

Best Time of the Year to Visit

Because the weather stays pretty mild in Arkansas year-round, you can actually get a lot of climbing done at any time of the year. I will say this, though. The summer months can get pretty toasty, not to mention humid. Extra moisture in the air when it’s that warm makes climbing a bit impossible.

That being said, the best months to go in the Spring are March and April (if April isn’t too rainy), and the best Fall months to go are September, October and November. My friends and I will even go in December when you get the occasional 50- or 60-degree day.

Classic Lines

Trad Climbing:

  • Hackberry Crack (5.9)
  • Deft Jam (5.9)
  • WMA Crack (5.9+)

Bouldering:

  • Dig Dug (V4)
  • Warbonnet (V5)

Sport Climbing:

  • Green Goblin (5.8)
  • Swamp Rat (5.8)
  • Mr. Magoo (5.10c)
  • Learning to Fly (5.10c)
  • Crimp Scampi (5.10d)
  • Horseshoes & Hand Grenades (5.11a)
  • Big Top (5.11b)
  • Taliban Soup (5.11)
  • Boronocus (5.11b/c)
  • Fat Hand (5.12a)

Getting There

From the North: From Harrison, go south on Hwy 7 towards Jasper. In Jasper, pick up Hwy 74 west for 7.6 miles and turn left on the dirt road that’s marked with the HCR sign. This road leads to the entrance of HCR after a half-mile.

From the West: From Fayetteville or Springdale, take Hwy 412 east towards Marble and pick up Hwy 21 south. Continue on 21 through Kingston to the junction with Hwy 43. Take 43 north to Hwy 74 east. From this junction, drive 6.6 miles on Hwy 74 and take a right on the dirt road marked with the HCR sign. This road leads to the HCR entrance.

From the Southwest: From Clarksville, take Hwy 21 north to HWY 43 north. Take 43 north to Hwy 74 east. From this junction, drive 6.6 miles on Hwy 74 and go right on the dirt road marked with the HCR sign.

From the Southeast: Out of Russellville, take Hwy 7 all the way to Jasper and turn left on Hwy 74. After 7.6 miles, turn left on the dirt road marked with the HCR sign.

Where to Stay

If you’re wanting to stay near the climbing at Horseshoe Canyon, the two easiest options are to either rent a cabin or set up shop in one of the many camping spots marked across the canyon.

Standard cabins typically go for $95 a night for up to four guests, with all additional guests costing $10 per person. To reserve a cabin for yourself, visit the HCR website.

Camping at HCR costs $5 a night, with spots set up in the northwest corner of the canyon. The campground does include amenities like pay showers, flush toilets, a large pavilion and a communal fridge (the lodge, hot tub, and barn are for cabin guests and employees only).

To learn more about climbing at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, visit the Mountain Project for more details about areas, routes, directions, and accommodations.

2. Sam’s Throne

Photo courtesy of Mountain Project

Much like Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, Sam’s Throne is also an Ozark sandstone haven that’s a great place to find trad and sport routes that range from beginner to expert in terms of difficulty. If you’re looking to enjoy some classic Arkansas climbing but wish to avoid some of the crowds that you see at HCR and Lincoln Lake, Sam’s Throne is a great place to visit.

Types of Climbing

When it comes to styles of climbing at Sam’s Throne, the area is predominantly known for its rope climbing, and roughly half of these routes are for trad climbing. Specifically, there are about 192 trad routes that range from 5.6 to 5.12c.

Beyond that, you’ve got about 147 routes that are dedicated to sport climbing, which range in grade from 5.8- to 5.13b. There’s no doubt that compared to HCR, the grades at Sam’s Throne are definitely skewed towards the Intermediate and Advanced experience levels.

Now compared to the tall walls, Sam’s Throne is a bit scant in the way of bouldering. However, there are about 25 problems that range from V0 to V6+, which are scattered across 3 or 4 areas. 

Best Time of the Year to Visit

The prime times to climb at Sam’s Throne are the Spring months of March, April and May; once you hit May though, there’s no telling how warm or humid the climbing will get. Some years or drier, wetter, warmer, and colder than others. As things cool off though, the best months to visit in the Fall are September, October, and November. While Falls are reasonably consistent in the Ozarks, Springs can be fickle – so just be sure to check local weather stations if you’re planning a trip to Sam’s Throne.

Classic Lines

Trad Climbing:

  • Boston Rag (5.7)
  • Diagonal Crack (5.7)
  • Poison Ivy (5.7+)
  • Albino Rhino (5.7+)
  • Silverfish (5.8+)
  • Razorback Roof (5.9+)
  • Stems & Seeds (5.9+)

Sport Climbing:

  • Red Faced Lizard (5.9)
  • Willy Wonka (5.10b)
  • Processed Meat (5.10d)
  • Dead Dog (5.11a)
  • Achilles Heel (5.11b)
  • Flying Elvis (5.12a)
  • Brick Attack (5.12a)

Getting There

Sam’s Throne is tucked away near Mt. Judea. To get there, take Hwy 123 at the intersection of State Hwy 74 and 123 (in Mt. Judea, AR). You’ll go south down Hwy 123 for 4.1 miles to Sam’s Throne campground sign and take a right.

You can also get to Sam’s Throne from Jasper, AR. Just take Hwy 74 east towards Hwy 123, then take 123 north for about 10 miles to the campground sign and take a left.

Where to Stay

There is very basic camping that can be found in and around Sam’s Throne. Amenities include fire rings and a pit toilet at the trailhead. There is currently no fee for camping at Sam’s Throne.

To learn more about climbing at Sam’s Throne, visit the Mountain Project for more details about areas, routes, directions, and accommodations.

3. Cowell, AR

Photo courtesy of Mountain Project

Despite being hella off the grid compared to other climbing hot spots like Horseshoe Canyon Ranch and Lake Lincoln (and frankly, I think this is a selling point for the area!), Cowell has one of the largest, concentrated areas of climbing that can be found in the backwoods of Arkansas. The area has a great collection of classic boulders, and a nice range of moderate and difficult sport routes. Let’s dive in!

Types of Climbing

Climbers who come to Cowell can expect to find a variety of trad and sport routes, as well as many boulders. When it comes to rope climbing though, the majority of the area is dedicated towards sport climbing. More specifically, there are 89 sport climbing routes that range from 5.7 to 5.14a.

If you are looking to get in some trad climbs, there are roughly 14 routes that you can do, with grades that range from 5.7 to 5.11a.

Now for bouldering – there are 91 established problems at Cowell, and there’s something for everyone there! Boulder problems range from V0 to V13. If you’re bringing a group with diverse experience out to Cowell, everyone should be able to find a boulder problem or two that’ll make them happy!

Best Time of the Year to Visit

Given the woods-y nature of Cowell, visiting in the Fall is definitely ideal. Temperatures are cooling off and the vegetation is more in check. I’d definitely suggest planning your trip between the months of September and November. That being said, February and March aren’t bad months to visit either. Just be sure to avoid those super warm months if possible!

Classic Lines

Trad Climbing

  • Hudson Crack (5.8)
  • Fearless (5.11a)

Sport Climbing

  • The Clowning (5.9+)
  • Hudson Hangover (5.10a)
  • Bucket Brigade (5.10b)
  • Deer Cam (5.10c)
  • PMA (5.10d)
  • Fogell (5.11c/d)
  • Burn in Hell (5.12a)
  • White Noise (5.12c)
  • The Invasion (5.12d)

Bouldering

  • Left Spooge (V1)
  • Rings of Uranus (V3)
  • Le Beak (V4)
  • Planet Earth (V5)
  • Electralica (V6)

Getting There

There are two main ways that people approach the boulders and crags at Cowell. First, if you’re approaching from Jasper, take Hwy 7 until you reach the fork for Hwy 16, then take a right and drive on Hwy 16 until you hit the town of Deer.

You can also take Hwy 7 from Jasper until you reach County Rd. 1204 on your left. Your main marker here is a house with Christmas lights and a bunch of junk scattered around. That’s the county road you’re looking for.

There is a local gas station in Deer that you can hit up for supplies, but after that you’re off into the woods!

Where to Stay

Like Sam’s Throne, staying at Cowell means primitive camping – that means no running water or bathrooms. While it is nice having amenities like the ones you see at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, the primitive camping dissuades large crowds and makes for a very peaceful getaway. Come prepared, garner up a good attitude, and bring the psych!

To learn more about climbing at Cowell, visit the Mountain Project for more details about areas, routes, directions, and accommodations.

4. Lake Lincoln

Goofing off after working on a 10a

If you’re short on time, looking for a super convenient day trip, or crags with virtually no approach, then Lake Lincoln is the place for you! The entire area sits only a half hour or so from Fayetteville and is super easy to get to.

Types of Climbing

The majority of the climbing you can find at Lake Lincoln is geared towards sport. There are approximately 61 routes at your disposal, with grades that range from 5.6 to 5.12. Supposedly there’s a 5.13 in the area, but there’s some contention among climbers about the grade on that one.

As for trad, there are roughly 13 routes you can tackle, with grades that range from 5.6 to 5.12a. If you prefer trad over sport, do bear in mind that the majority of these routes are lower grades.

And last but not least – bouldering. For its size, Lake Lincoln boasts quite a few boulder problems (41 to be exact). These range from V0 to V10, with the majority of the problems more or less sitting at that moderate level. That being said, there are plenty of boulders for all experience and strength levels.

Best Time of the Year to Visit

When it comes to planning your trip to Lake Lincoln, people tend to come during the early Spring months, predominantly March and April. May isn’t terrible, but it can definitely heat up depending on the year. October, November, and December are also popular months for visiting these crags.

Classic Lines

Trad Climbing

  • Access Zero (5.7)
  • Triple Technique (5.7)
  • 13 Crack (5.12a)

Sport Climbing

  • Differential Equations (5.7)
  • Triple Token (5.7)
  • The Quest for the Sticky Stuff (5.10a)
  • Lincoln it Up (5.10a)
  • Arachnophobia (5.10a)
  • Smeaglin It Up (5.10a/b)
  • Paco’s Taco’s (5.10c)
  • Charlie Don’t Surf (5.11a)
  • The Wasp (5.11a)
  • Ivory Coast (5.11a)
  • Steeple Chase (5.11c)

Bouldering

  • America (V0)
  • PJ (V3)
  • a ‘lil Higher Cole (V3+)
  • Roofies (V4)
  • Shoehorn (V5)

Getting There

The easiest way to get to Lake Lincoln is to approach from Fayetteville. Take Hwy 16 west out of the city, drive past Lake Wedington for a few miles, follow the sharp bend to the right, and then take a left on N. Jackson Hwy or Hwy 669 heading south. Follow this road until Lincoln Lake pops up on your left. Then turn down a small dirt road until you see the designated parking area on your right.

An alternative route is to pick up Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Fayetteville in the directin of Farmington. You’ll follow MLK for several miles, and then take a right on County Road 62. Follow CR-62 for several miles, and then take a left on N. Wedington Blacktop Rd (you’ll know you’re in the right place if you can see the barn with a smiley face painted on the side). Once yo’ve turned onto N. Wedington Blacktop Rd., you’ll take that first right onto County Road 68 and follow it until it takes a definitive curve to the left. In that curve you’ll see a large gravel shoulder next to a metal gate. You can park there and hop the fence to approach the Lincoln Lake Dam.*

*Please note there are two main areas you can park at Lincoln Lake – the parking lot where visitors can launch their watercrafts, and the gravel lot described above. Be sure to choose your parking spot based on the type of climbing you want to do. If you’re wanting to rope climb, definitely go for the designated parking lot. If you’re wanting to boulder, choose the gravel lot near the dam, because walking the length of the dam and then dropping into the woods is the easiest way to approach some of the boulders. For more detailed information about parking and finding your designated climbing areas, click here!

Where to Stay

Unlike the previous climbing areas I’ve broken down in this post, camping is currently not allowed at Lake Lincoln. Get caught setting up an overnight shelter of any kind and you’ll be fined. That being said, there are places to camp in and around Fayetteville and an RV park with easy access to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. I also can’t emphasize enough how fun of a town Fayetteville is, and if you have time to hunt down some entertainment in between sending some sick lines, it’d definitely be worth your while to book an Airbnb! Popular sights in Fayetteville include Dickson Street, the Fayetteville Square, Mount Sequoyah, and Lake Fayetteville.

To learn more about climbing at Lake Lincoln, visit the Mountain Project for more details about areas, routes, directions, and accommodations.

And that’s it! That’s my breakdown of the Top 4 Climbing Areas in Northwest Arkansas (at least in my humble opinion!). If you guys have any suggestions about other areas or questions about climbing in the area, comment below or shoot me an email!

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