Great climbing abounds in the Natural State
By Michael Roberts
Photos By Novo Studio
Arkansas might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of excellent rock climbing, but Arkansas Climbers Coalition (ACC) board member Reed James says that’s a mistake. “Arkansas is very fortunate to have some of the country’s best moderate climbing,” he says.
Cole Fennel, Reed’s fellow ACC board member and author of Rock Climbing Arkansas, agrees. “The characteristics of the rock in Arkansas lend themselves well to climbing. It’s more athletic than thought-provoking, almost like climbing a ladder,” he says. “It’s a great place to get your fundamentals down.”
Groups like the ACC spend much of their free time working to conserve and improve Arkansas’ climbing hot spots, including clearing storm damage and rebolting routes in order to provide the safest climbing conditions possible. The hope is that the rock climbing community in Arkansas will continue to grow. According to Reed, the best way to get involved is to reach out to the existing communities.
“When it comes to rock climbers, 99 percent of them are the friendliest people you’ll meet. They’re willing to help,” Reed says. “Starting indoors isn’t a bad idea. Work with experienced guides to learn the basics of safety and rope handling.”
To that end, we’ve compiled a list of great spots for both experienced and newbie climbers alike. There’s nothing quite like experiencing the greatness of the Arkansas outdoors while scaling some of the sheer bluffs and rock faces that overlook our scenic and expansive vistas.
HORSESHOE CANYON, JASPER
GPS: 36.0046973, -93.292728
If there’s one place where the heart of Arkansas’ rock climbing scene beats strongest, it’s Horseshoe Canyon Ranch outside the little town of Jasper. Experienced guides stand ready to get you out into some of the best sandstone climbing around—and climbs geared toward different skill levels make this one of the best places for beginners to cut their teeth. In addition, the ranch also hosts “24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell,” an endurance climb event that draws participants from around the world.
“[Horseshoe Canyon owners] the Johnsons have really stepped up in order to cater to the needs of climbers,” says Arkansas Climbers Coalition (ACC) board member Reed James. “Anyone wanting to get into climbing should contact Horseshoe Canyon and book a trip.”
AFTER YOUR CLIMB: Horseshoe Canyon Ranch is a working dude ranch, so horse-lovers will find themselves in an equine paradise. Thrill-seekers will gravitate toward the ranch’s Iron Horse zip line, one of the fastest zip lines around. The Buffalo National River is just minutes away, meaning that in addition to world-class rock climbing, there are also some of the best float opportunities in the country right next door. And once you’ve gotten good and tired out, rest your weary muscles in the ranch’s hot tub.
For more information, visit horseshoecanyonduderanch.com
or call 800-480-9635.
ALWAYS CLIMB SAFE
Keep these basic safety tips in mind whenever climbing:
• Make sure all of your gear is in good working condition.
• Never climb alone.
• Watch for falling rocks andbe careful about dropping rocks on people below.
• Wear a helmet.
• Take drinking water.
• Be careful where you reach. Snakes may hide in crevices in rock faces.
• Be able to identify poison ivy.
• Know what to do in any emergency, including injuries, evacuations or rapid changes in weather.
Source: The National Park Service. For more information, visit nps.gov.
SAM’S THRONE, BIG CREEK TOWNSHIP
GPS: 35.8749191, -93.0496989
Reed refers to Sam’s Throne as Arkansas’ “legacy climbing area” due to its long-standing popularity. The area offers a wide variety of climbing opportunities, from short bouldering excursions to more vigorous ascents of Mount Judea. The sandstone makes for relatively easy climbing, and the breathtaking views of Big Creek Valley make it a great place for photos as well. The area is also home to some excellent hiking and primitive camping areas.
“People have been climbing at Sam’s Throne since the 1970s,” he says. “We’ve seen a resurgence in popularity recently due to ACC restoration efforts.” Those efforts include hundreds of man-hours invested in bolt replacement and cleaning ice storm damage around the area.
AFTER YOUR CLIMB: Head into the town of Jasper for one of Arkansas’ most unique community experiences, and while you’re there, grab some good eats from the Boardwalk Café. From lamb chops to elk steaks, this local restaurant is one of the crown jewels of Newton County. Or if you’re in the mood to shop, check out Emma’s Museum of Junk, one of Arkansas’ most eclectic antique shops in the Natural State.
For more information, visit exploretheozarksonline.com.
MOUNT MAGAZINE, PARIS
GPS: 35.167312, -93.6449152
At 2,753 feet tall, Mount Magazine is the tallest point in the Natural State. The terrain is chock full of rugged bluffs and expansive canyons, making for some of the best rock climbing, rappelling and bouldering opportunities in the state. The mountain’s south bluff features a 1,500-foot wide stretch of sandstone with more than 100 routes of varying difficulty. People are also known to jump right off the mountain when the weather’s right—strapped to hang gliders, of course!
AFTER YOUR CLIMB: The State Park offers a host of trails for hiking, mountain biking and backpacking as well as geocaching and horseback riding. Looking for something a bit different? The Arkansas Historic Wine Museum is in nearby Paris—or pay a visit to Arkansas’ own hot-sauce-and-peanut-brittle-making monks at Subiaco Abbey, Academy and Retreat Center.
For more information, visit mountmagazinestatepark.com or call 479-963-8502.
LITTLE MOE, BIG FORK
GPS: 34.4226139, -93.9196611
“Little Moe” isn’t really an official name—it’s what the locals call the area around the Little Missouri River. This clear, cold stream cuts its way through the Ouachita Mountains, providing one of Arkansas’ most unique climbing experiences. The area is relatively unexplored for rock climbing, but from sheer bluff faces to bouldering challenges, it stands as one of our greatest hidden gems.
AFTER YOUR CLIMB: Relax in the refreshing mountain waters of the Little Missouri River. Or make your way toward the Spa City and enjoy the local flavor at Kollective Coffee & Tea, located in historic downtown Hot Springs.
For more information, visit fs.usda.gov.
PINNACLE MOUNTAIN, ROLAND
GPS: 34.8425597, -924779145
Standing at 1,011 feet, Pinnacle Mountain is one of Arkansas’ best-known peaks. In addition to nearly 2,000 acres of hiking trails, interactive wildlife experiences and some of the most diverse habitats in the state, Pinnacle also offers multiple climbing routes on its south and east faces. Use of permanent attachments and rappelling is prohibited, but don’t let that stop you from attacking central Arkansas’ tallest mountain.
AFTER YOUR CLIMB: The joy of Pinnacle Mountain is its proximity to everything the major urban areas of central Arkansas have to offer. Head into the city to check out the great food and craft beer at Vino’s Pizzeria and Brewpub, Lost Forty Brewing, Blue Canoe Brewing or Rebel Kettle Brewing—or head across the river into North Little Rock and visit Flyway Brewing or the Diamond Bear Arkansas Ale House in North Little Rock.
For more information, visit arkansasstateparks.com/pinnaclemountain or call 501-868-5806.