Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

On Choosing a Crag (Part 2)

“On Choosing a Crag (Part 1)” discussed some tips for choosing a great crag with a perfect approach.  This is the continuation of that post – applying those ideas to real life scenarios.  The following is a compilation of several baby and kid-friendly climbing areas that our family frequents throughout the Southeast.

Who wants to go exploring?!?

STARTER CRAGS –  From local jaunts to world-class rock, these areas are great first time crags suitable for the whole family, regardless of age.

  • Pilot Mountain, NC – Certainly not a destination crag, but easy access and short approaches make it a great first-time spot.
  • Sandrock, AL – the Alabama version of Pilot Mt, but even shorter approaches.
  • New River Gorge, WV (Junkyard, Bridge Buttress) – Short approaches on great rock.  Both are primarily trad areas that also have easy top access, so be prepared to fight off the crowds of top-ropers.
  • Red River Gorge, KY (Volunteer Wall at Pendergrass, *Roadside) – More great rock with an easy approach and several nice flat areas (*Its definitely worth noting that Roadside is currently closed at the moment, so until further notice DO NOT climb there…for more info check out this link)!
  • The Obed, TN (Lilly Bluffs) – The approach is moderately steep in some areas, but no scrambling is required.  The cliff base is wide and flat for the most part.

Keep in mind that starter crags like this are perfect for more than just small families – odds are you’ll be sharing ropes with boy scouts, meetup groups, and guiding services.  If you’re not in the mood to battle the crowds, consider going on a weekday for your first time out so that you can figure out the logistics without the added stress of searching for open routes.

Babies that arent yet mobile dont require much space to be happy!

THE NEXT STEP –  Chances are after you’ve gotten a few trips under your belt, you’ll have developed a system that works for your family, and you’ll feel more comfortable maneuvering the trails with your child in carrier.  You’ll probably be ready to expand your repertoire of climbing areas.  The following areas won’t be as crowded, but the trade off isa more difficult approach.

  • Red River Gorge, KY (Muir Valley) A long steep hike, but no scrambling is involved.  Lots of different walls within the same area so you can try to avoid crowds.  Much of the cliff base is flat.
  • New River Gorge, WV (Sandstonia) – Long hike that is strenuous and very steep in places, it can be especially treacherous when wet.  Some parts along the base have a lot of open space, but others are pretty narrow/rocky.
  • New River Gorge, WV (The Brain at Beauty Mountain) – A short hike with a very steep (only about 30 feet or so) initial descent, along with a very tame stream crossing…also keep an eye out for poison ivy.  The base is totally flat with plenty of room.

A few small rocks allow the wee ones to practice their climbing skills too!

READY FOR A CHALLENGE – The following are areas that are definitely not good choices for a first outing together as a family, or even for children/babies without much experience hiking or traveling in a backpack.  Our family really enjoys climbing in these areas, so we’ve gotten creative and found ways to make the approach safe.  (Don’t forget #5 of the Cragbaby’s Rules for the Ropes: Don’t be a Moron!)  If you want specifics about how we handled a particular area, let me know!

  • Summersville Lake, WV – Longish approach that is somewhat steep, but with fairly moderate terrain.  There is a small stream crossing, a bit of boulder hopping, as well as a 15 foot wooden ladder.  The area around the cliff base is flat in places but in others drops off into a lake with calm but really deep water (but it makes a nice spot for older kids and adults to cool off at the end of a hard day’s climbing!)
  • New River Gorge, WV (Endless Wall) – Both the Fern Point and Honeymooner’s entrances involve tall ladders.  I always gear up before descending, and shuffle 2 personal anchors as I go down the rungs.  The routes are spread out and crowds are usually not a problem.  There are a lot of flat areas around the base, but getting around requires some scrambling through boulder fields.
  • The Obed, TN (South Clear Creek) – The hike is long and steep, with a couple of 5th class moves.  There is one section at the base involving a traverse along a hand rail (Again, I gear up beforehand and anchor in as I go along).  Many parts of the cliff base are great for kiddos, especially the Stephen King Library.

Who needs "real" toys when you have ropes and trekking poles!

By no means is this list anywhere near complete – I didn’t want to bog down the list by ranking every single place we’ve ever  climbed with Cragbaby, nor did I refer to some of the lesser known smaller climbing areas that a lot of folks reading wouldn’t be familiar with.  I just stuck with the most obvious/well-known crags.  I also didn’t include any bouldering areas, but we have found that at the majority of the bouldering areas we’ve gone to with Cragbaby, we’ve been successful in finding safe terrain for him, in addition to great climbing for us.  I also only included areas in the Southeast, because that’s as far as we’ve road-tripped with Cragbaby…so far anyway!

Please feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section below to beef up the list a little bit, regardless of whether its about climbing areas in the Southeast, Northwest, or Central Asia!  I’d love to expand this list so that its a more complete resource!



10 Responses to “On Choosing a Crag (Part 2)”

  1. Well if you’re climbing in Thailand – I know Tonsai beach is totally kid friendly. Beach to play on, ocean to swim in, and lots of climber adults lazing around to keep an eye on kids (I ended up with a 5 year old Italian girl following me around when I was there, she was very cute and happily chatting away to me despite the fact we didn’t have a word in common).

    In Australia – at Arapiles (that awesome trad climbing destination) there are some very kid friendly walls – the easiest would be things like the Plaque wall, and Bushrangers Bluff. Mitre Rock would have some too. Back in my pre-kid days I remember seeing families camping with kids there at the campground (with friendly kangaroos and all sorts of other wildlife to see too).

    As for the Canadian Rockies – I’m still trying to work that out myself, so I’ll get back to you!


  2. Thailand, Arapiles…jealous! Thailand is definitely on our to-go-to list, but we’ll probably wait til Cragbaby is a little older and will be able to remember it!

    As far as the Canadian Rockies go, hubby and I have been to Squamish a couple of times pre-Cragbaby. From what I can remember there were a lot of areas that would be family-friendly (Little Smoke Bluffs, Murrin Park, Cheakamus Canyon come to mind initially).

    Thanks so much for your comment Megan!


    • Oooh, Squamish would be awesome – I’ve climbed there a couple of times and I absolutely love it (and from memory you’re right about the child-friendly areas). We’re out in the Banff/Canmore area though, smack in the middle of the crumbly Rockies limestone, so a lot of areas have rockfall as a problem

  3. Those sound awesome! We live out west and most worthwhile climbing areas are very cliffy, with lots of potential rock fall and long hikes. The rock is amazing, but not so great for toddlers. We first took our daughter climbing when she was 6-weeks old at a small, local, chossy area. It was okay, but after that, we always needed a 3rd person to have eyes/hands on her. Now that she’s almost 3 and too big for the backpack but too small to hike very far, it has been a HUGE challenge. It can be exhausting to drive 3 hours to Smith Rock only to climb 2 routes and spend the rest of the time keeping a toddler safe and occupied. (and to carry 30-lb toddler up the trail when she’s too tired). 🙁 Yes, that is my sad face. Sigh.


    • Hi-
      We climb at Smith often with our 4 year old daughter. We should try to climb together sometime. She loves to hang out with other kids at the crag and play pretend games like “family” and “princesses”. She may even help motivate your little one to hike back out under her own power! Let me know if you’re interested in climbing together sometime. You can friend me on facebook- search Aimee Roseborrough

  4. Yeah I can only imagine that the “too big for backpack too small to hike” age group is probably way tougher than climbing during any of the baby stages…Thanks for reading Eryn!


  5. In our excitement over our interview with @cragmama we missed her Part 2 on choosing a family-friendly #climb ing crag:


  6. Thanks for these lists! My climber husband and I will definitely look at this again before our July 4th weekend trip to the New. We just moved to central PA last summer and have only been to the New once so far. We have a 4.5yo daughter and 20mo son, both of whom have spent many hours playing near crags. I was very excited to find your blog through Nature Rocks (on FB, I think), and have started sending links to my outdoorsy mama (or mama-to-be) friends.


  7. Thanks for your comment Mamabee! Hope you have a wonderful time at the New over the 4th…we will be back out there in both July and August, not sure of exact dates. Maybe we’ll run into you guys at the crag sometime!


  8. Brandy Walters


    My friend Jen has a 1 1/2 year old, mine is now 1. We are heading to the New, climbing Sun, Mon & Tue, and we are camping on the lake. You mention getting creative and I thought I read something about how you made the ladder ascent/descent safe with the baby.

    Also, can you make a recommendation on where you’d go on Sunday when it will be most crowded? I would like to sport lead probably up to 5.11-, and my compadres can trad lead 5.8. What would you recommend?


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN