Austin is known to be packed with outdoor amenities located both within and around the city limits. From hiking to cave exploring, there’s never a lack of options for a day in the great outdoors.
In addition to Austin’s regular bucket list, our city also offers a plethora of rock climbing possibilities within a two-hour radius: Reimers Ranch, Enchanted Rock, Lake Travis, Monster Rock and, of course, the Green Belt. All of these Central Texas destinations have their own unique qualities while also offering great climbing experiences. To get the scoop on Austin’s popular climbing scene, AFM spoke with a couple climbing professionals to learn more about the community, getting started and best spots around the city.
“What makes Austin unique from say, Colorado, is not only the proximity of climbing but also the ability to climb year-round,” Mitchell says. “We don’t have to worry about ice and snow shutting anything down.”
Like many unique communities in Austin, the climbing community has grown and evolved over the years. Mitchell, who is a certified climbing instructor, says the sport also used to be taught through more of a mentorship-style of learning.
“It used to be someone would take you out and teach you how to do it all,” Mitchell says. “Now, there’s just so many people interested in climbing that that’s not possible and increases the spread of wrong information and more opportunity for injuries.”
It’s also because of this growing, loyal community that climbing continues to be a top activity in Austin. Troy Wilson, co-owner of Austin Rock Gym and owner of White Star Mountain Guides & Climbing School, says that, with Austin’s constant interest and support for the sport, Austin Rock Gym has been able to stay in business for so many years, making it Austin’s oldest climbing gym.
“Austin is also made a great place for climbing through the accessibility and support from the city, county and state parks,” Wilson says. “Groups like TCC, American Alpine Club, Access Fund, Texas Parks & Wildlife and more take climbing very seriously and work hard to keep it accessible.”
With the many climbing gyms around Austin, there’s a clear path for physical training, but when it comes to learning the ropes, literally and figuratively, it may be safest to talk to a professional.
“Connecting with experienced and knowledgeable climbers or a professional guide or instructor is highly recommended,” Wilson says. “This will ensure your safety and help you understand what is required.”
Guide services like Mitchell’s Rock About and Wilson’s White Star provide specific and critical training for technique and safety like knots, commands and mental preparedness. It’s important to ensure that any teacher is certified.
“It’s important to know how to fall, how to belay, how to communicate,” Mitchell says. “You need a teacher that really knows what they’re doing.”
The ATX Climbing Spots
The Greenbelt offers some 15 access points and around 200 climbing routes. With it being so close to downtown, Austin is lucky to have this natural escape so close to the city. It’s because of this accessibility that Austin has such a broad climbing community and provides easy access to those interested in trying out the sport themselves.
Mitchell explains that this isn’t something most cities in the U.S. come close to offering.
“Actually, it’s very hard to find climbing within 10 minutes of your house or work,” Mitchell says. “Most places are 30 minutes to an hour away, and here we can add in an easy, after-work climb.”
In addition, with the Greenbelt being so shaded, climbing year-round is easy—even in the hot months of summer. The area is heavily trafficked with all sorts of runners, bikers and nature lovers, but that’s just part of the deal with such a close, natural gem.
Located off of Hamilton Road in Dripping Springs, Texas, Milton Reimers Ranch Park offers a great weekend coupled with a fun and easy climbing experience—perfect for a family outing. Since Reimers is a popular Central Texas destination, the park has a limited capacity and can fill up quickly. (Add in graphic: AFM Tip: Book early and make sure to bring cash!)
“Reimers Ranch probably has the most variety available for beginners,” Mitchell explains. “There’s just a diverse set of pretty great options overall.”
Ranging from beginner to more advanced, there’s a diverse mix of vertical and overhanging routes. The property offers a lot more than just climbing, so it’s best to arrive early to beat the crowds and to ensure entry before capacity is hit.
Recently purchased by the partnership between Texas Climbers Coalition and Access Fund, this climbing experience at Monster Rock takes place in a fissure between two rock walls and offers a variety of routes and challenges for advanced climbers. The property boasts 45 lead routes, 7 top rope sections and over 35 bouldering challenges. It’s important to wear a helmet if climbing here due to the risk that the wall behind a climber in the fissure causes a risk in the case of a fall.
Ever heard of deep-water soloing? It is an especially popular climbing style during the summer—only when the water is high enough. In this particular climbing style, one takes a boat or other means to a cliff bottom and boulders their way up without the use of gear.
“Deep-water soloing is another unique thing Austin offers for the summers,” Mitchell says. “Once you’re done climbing or if you fall, you just splash down into the water.”
Rock About, Mitchell’s climbing guide service, is the only guide service in the state and U.S. to offer this style to clients. Although accessible without a service, being able to have the boat and locations taken care of leaves more time to climb.
There are several great climbing gyms around Austin like Crux, Austin Bouldering Project, Austin Rock Gym and more. Many fitness gyms also offer climbing walls, though they are typically smaller in scale and don’t have the support available for teaching new climbers.
“Climbing gyms are set up to be very accommodating to all climbers,” Wilson says. “Some gyms offer slightly different experiences but relatively exist for the same reason: get people climbing.”
Wilson explains that the style and experience of climbing indoor rather than outdoor is very different. He says that while outdoor climbing is an amazing experience and allows one to connect with nature while being physically challenged, it requires a deeper understanding of gear, skills and technique that should be learned and practiced before setting out alone.