Climbing and Mountaineering
Climbing has been a popular activity in and around the area known today as Rocky Mountain National Park since the 1800's. The wide variety of peaks and granite rock formations in the park provide excellent opportunities for a wide spectrum of climbing including rock, big wall, snow and ice, bouldering and mountaineering. It is a mecca for local climbers, as well as those from around the world. Opportunities for climbing exist in many areas of the park including Lumpy Ridge and Longs Peak. Whichever activity you select, it is your responsibility to respect the areas you visit, minimize your impacts, and know and obey all park regulations.
With the advent of sport climbing in the United States, this recreational pursuit has increased significantly in recent years. As the attractiveness of the sport continues to grow, it becomes necessary to balance this recreational activity with responsible management of the park's resources. In balancing preservation versus use, the objective is to allow climbing to continue as freely as possible, while minimizing impacts on environmental resources and other park visitors. Respect for the environment and a commitment to Leave No Trace climbing techniques are required of the climbing community to maintain a mutually beneficial partnership.
With its long history of climbing activity, RMNP and the surrounding area has long been known for a strong traditional climbing ethic and concern for the resource by its users. The local climbing community does not accept practices such as placing bolts on existing routes or establishing new bolt-intensive routes and chipping or gluing new holds. Clean-climbing techniques are generally the norm. It is incumbent on the local climbing community, along with the park, to inform and educate climbers new to the area of this fact for the ultimate protection and maintained access to climbing areas.
Climbing opportunities range from bouldering for a few hours to multi-day big wall experiences. Day use in the park requires no special registration or permit. For those climbers planning multi-day climbs, 3.5 or more miles from a trailhead, consisting of four or more technical pitches, a bivouac permit is required. Contact the Backcountry Office for information on permit procedures, backcountry conditions, and climbing regulations.
If you are interested in learning climbing, advancing your knowledge or would like a guide, the Colorado Mountain School is authorized to lead trips in Rocky Mountain National Park. See our concessionaire activities page for information.
For safety considerations, climbers are encouraged to notify family or friends on route selections and contact them at the completion of any climb. Hazards in the form of violent weather (lightning, wind, snow, and rainstorms), snowfields, avalanches (even in summer), waterfalls, rivers, and the dangers associated with climbing, cause injuries every year and can ruin a climb. Be responsible. Always let a friend know your plans. You are responsible for notifying someone when you return. National Park Service rangers will not start a search until after a climber is reported overdue. Call 911 or the Dispatch office at 970-586-1399.
The Bivouac Permit
You must be within a designated bivouac area. Your bivouac should on a durable surface such as rock or snow as close to the base of the climb as possible or on the face. Reservations may be made for the restricted areas on or after March 1st, by mail, in person, and by phone (through May 15th).
Stay limits are seven nights in the summer (no more than three nights at one spot), and an additional 14 nights in winter. Tents are allowed in winter.
A vehicle/parking permit will be issued for all vehicles parked at the trailhead. Have the vehicle license number(s) available when you get your bivouac permit. The parking permit must be displayed on the vehicle dashboard.
Raptor Protections Closures
Rocky Mountain National Park contains excellent habitat for birds of prey. Golden eagles, kestrels, turkey vultures, peregrine and prairie falcons, and re-tailed and Cooper's hawks are especially suited to the park's craggy rock outcroppings.
Unfortunately, the same cliffs that lure raptors also attract rock climbers. The presence of climbers is likely to affect the nesting success of raptors.
In order for wildlife managers to gather information and ensure that raptors can nest undisturbed, specific areas within the park are closed temporarily to public use during nesting season. With your support and cooperation, birds of prey - superb indicators of an ecosystem's health - can thrive in Rocky Mountain National Park.
When and Where
Conscious Climbing, Ethics To Live By
Climbing has been a popular activity in the Front Range of Colorado since the turn of the century. The variety of rock formations, from sandstone to granite, provide excellent opportunities for a wide spectrum of climbing. As the popularity of the sport grows, it is important that climbers are aware of the increasing impacts to a fragile resource. Parks and open spaces are visited by millions of people, all intent on the pursuit of their own special interests. Balancing these recreational needs with the responsibility of protecting and preserving the natural resources of the area can be complex and controversial.
Respect for the environment and a commitment to low impact climbing techniques will enable climbers to work together with resource managers in a mutually beneficial partnership. A quality climbing experience in a wilderness or backcountry setting is a unique outdoor opportunity to challenge your climbing and your low impact skills.
Soaring the Winds
Golden eagles are highly sensitive to disturbance during their courtship and nesting cycle. Courtship and nest selection begins in February, and the eagles often rotate between several established nest sites in an area. Once the nest has been established, the eagles become committed to the nest and eggs, and disturbance is not as critical as during courtship. However, climbers near the nest site will cause the incubating eagle to leave the nest, exposing the eggs and the young to stress. Disturbance prior to fledging may cause the young birds to fall from the nest to their deaths.
Prairie falcons, peregrine falcons, and various owl species are also commonly encountered near climbing areas. Although some birds of prey vigorously defend their nests, raptors in general are very vulnerable to human impacts. In fact, their future and our enjoyment of them may well be dependent on our ability to respect their requirements for life. Closures may be put in place to protect raptors and other wildlife.
All Around You
Beneath Your Feet
The access trails which we use to approach climbs, even if no formal trail exists, can be carefully chosen to avoid the heavy impact of the human foot. Rocky slopes will withstand foot traffic far better than delicate canyon bottoms, and will not present erosion problems as quickly. Where rock is not available, thoughtfully traversing slopes with minimum impact in mind can help protect natural areas. Often climbers can work with the local resource managers to develop access which is not damaging to the environment.
A Climbing Ethic...
Only by following a low-impact climbing ethic can we protect our outstanding natural features and their biological diversity for future generations.
Did You Know?
The Holzwarth Historic District is a former guest ranch on the Colorado River. Open to visitors during the summer, the property features a dozen small cabins including the Mama cabin, named after Sophia Holzwarth, who ran the rustic resort.