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Rock Climbing Adventures in Pennsylvania State Parks and Forests

Tags: Recreation
May 24, 2023 12:00 AM

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State parks and forests across the Commonwealth are home to stunning cliffs, challenging routes, and an array of experiences for rock climbers of all skill levels.

Pennsylvania’s diverse landscape and breathtaking natural beauty offer climbing enthusiasts an abundance of thrilling opportunities.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced climber, Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation areas provide a unique and exhilarating setting for your next rock climbing trip.

Going Out on a Ledge…

A rope gangs down a rock face attached to a person climbing up.

There are two main forms of rock climbing that are popular in state parks and forests.

Bouldering involves short, 10-20-foot climbs where no rope system is used. Instead, climbers use spotters and foam mats called crash pads to protect themselves in the event of a fall.

Roped rock climbing involves a rope, harness, and other equipment to suspend the climber in the event of a fall.

There are three types of roped rock climbing:

  • Top rope climbing is the style of climbing you find most often in indoor climbing gyms. A rope is fed through an anchor point at the top of the climb. It’s a great style for beginners who want to focus on the movement of climbing.
  • In sport climbing, the rope doesn’t go straight through an anchor at the top of the climb.  Climbers attach their rope into a series of fixed anchor points along a route, usually a several feet apart.
  • Traditional climbing is similar to sport climbing; however, the anchor points are also placed and removed by the climber as they ascend.

Learning the Ropes and Staying Safe

Rock climbing is a technical activity. While it is a fun way to enjoy unique features in state parks and state forests, all climbers should learn about the proper training and gear. 

The best way for beginner climbers to start out is to work with experienced climbers. 

Local climbing organizations are groups of climbers who take on the stewardship role of a climbing area.

This can range from a few climbers to a large, membership driven organization. Local climbing organizations often work together with the national climbers’ advocacy group, the Access Fund.

There are four Access Fund-affiliated local climbing organizations in Pennsylvania:

Here are some basic safety tips to remember when planning to go rock climbing:

  • Never climb alone.
  • Have proper gear for the type of climbing and location.
  • Plan your climb and don’t go beyond your abilities.
  • Know directions to the nearest hospital.
  • Realize that emergency personnel may have long response times.

Rock Climbing at State Parks

Two people climb a large rock outcrop that have a square shape. Ropes and harnesses hole them in place as they climb

Three state parks permit rock climbing only in those specific locations posted open to rock climbing. This is for visitor safety, as well as the protection of fragile habitats.

Outside of an instructional course or event, climbers must come prepared with their own equipment and use extreme caution.

Here are the Pennsylvania state parks that offer rock climbing:

McConnells Mill State Park

Two climbing and rappelling areas at McConnells Mill State Park are available to properly equipped and experienced climbers:

  • Rim Road
  • Breakneck Bridge

The Rim Road Climbing Area is across the creek from the historic Old Mill with more than 40 boulder and roped climbing routes.

The Breakneck Bridge area is more rugged and suitable for advanced climbers.

Rappelling is prohibited from the bridges, rocky areas along park roads, or any other areas outside of these two designated climbing areas.

Ralph Stover State Park

A person climbs a rock face high in the air above a group of people below. Trees and leaves are above, and the person wears a he

Nestled along the banks of the Tohickon Creek, Ralph Stover State Park is a hidden gem for rock climbers in Pennsylvania. The park’s High Rocks area features sheer cliffs, up to 150 feet high, providing a thrilling challenge for seasoned climbers.

Close to 100 routes, ranging from moderate to advanced difficulty, cater to climbers of various skill levels. Breathtaking views of the surrounding forest and the tranquil Tohickon Creek below reward climbers at the top.

Staff at the Delaware Canal State Park complex run climbing programs at Ralph Stover State Park on an intermittent basis that are open to the public or for private groups.

Park staff also partner closely with Doylestown Rock Gym and Philadelphia Rock Gym, both of which lead rock climbing courses.

Ohiopyle State Park

Numerous climbing opportunities exist in Ohiopyle State Park:

  • Meadow Run Climbing Area
  • Bruner Run Climbing Area
  • A series of four walls along the Lower Youghiogheny section of the Great Allegheny Passage

All areas have a combination of top-roping and sport routes for climbers of all abilities. Inexperienced climbers should consider a guided trip with one of the outfitters in Ohiopyle.

Rock Climbing in Pennsylvania State Forests

Rock climbing, rappelling, and bouldering are only permitted on state forest land in areas where ecological, environmental, geological, archaeological, or historic resources will not be impacted.

While there are no formally designated rock-climbing areas on state forest land, there are numerous opportunities to climb and explore. DCNR works cooperatively with local climbing organizations to steward popular locations.

Some popular locations in state forests are:

White Rocks -- Michaux State Forest

A towering rock outcrop rises above trees in a forest.

Located near the meeting of the Pines Natural Area, the white rocks climbing area features a beautiful outcropping of quartzite in Michaux State Forest.

Climbers can see views of the Cumberland Valley from heights up to 125 feet. Contact the Michaux State Forest district office for more information.

Beam Rocks -- Forbes State Forest

Beam Rocks, found in the Laurel Mountain Division of Forbes State Forest, is a popular spot for its view into Somerset County.

Reaching up to 60 feet high, Beam Rocks features both bouldering and roped rock-climbing routes. Contact the Forbes State Forest district office for more information.

Take Yourself to New Heights

Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests provide an exceptional opportunity for rock climbers seeking thrilling experiences in breathtaking, natural settings.

From the sheer cliffs of Ralph Stover State Park to the rugged challenges of McConnells Mill State Park, the state’s diverse landscape offers a variety of rock-climbing opportunities for climbers of all levels.

So, gear up, challenge yourself, and embark on a rock-climbing adventure in the Keystone State.

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