Rock Climbing in Garden of the Gods

rock climbing garden of the gods

I came here for the first time at the age of 15 when my family first moved to Colorado Springs. We walked around the paved trails that guide tourists around the main formations of the park. What impressed me more than the formations themselves was the few people I saw climbing these formations.

I had never seen what technical climbing looked like in person, and to see it on this unique and gorgeous rock stuck with me. Anyone can summit anything in the Garden. That’s what is so magical and addicting about climbing here.

Getting There:

  • From I-25, take the Exit for Garden of the Gods Rd.
  • Follow this road until it comes to a T. Turn left at the light, onto North 30th St. There will be a road that goes off to the left (Mesa Rd). Stay to the right, on 30th St.
  • You’ll see the Garden of the Gods entrance on your right, and the visitor’s center is on the left.
  • If you go into the park entrance on the right, follow the one-way loop, called Juniper Loop that forks off to the right.
  • The main parking lot is shortly after this junction. If you are looking to climb any of the main formations in the park such as North or South Gateway, Red or White Spire, Montezuma’s tower, etc. I suggest parking here. (The only restroom facility and water fountain in the park is at this lot)
  • If you are interested in climbing Kindergarten/Grey Rock, I suggest driving all the way through the park, staying left at another fork, and parking in the South Lot.
  • Google Maps

Parking can be tricky, but if you are climbing, it is best to get a spot in one of these main lots. The Garden of the Gods park is in peak tourism season in the Summer, so getting a spot in one of the lots can be an art form. If you drive into the park before 8AM on a weekday, you’ll find a spot easily. The same time on a weekend day might be a different story.

While it can take a while to find a spot when it’s busy, it is worth the patience.

The Visitor’s Center is a new multi million-dollar facility. It was rebuilt and expanded in 2015. It’s filled with an impressive wildlife exhibit, gift shop, café and dining area, expansive patio, and an interactive movie. You do not  need to go to the visitor’s center if you are going to climb in the Garden of the Gods park, but it is a good place to learn all about the geologic, environmental, and human history of the park.

After a day of climbing here, you’ll want to learn all these things because this place just feels so incredibly rich with history.

Garden of the Gods: the post card image of Colorado Springs. Giant spires and fins of red sandstone jutting out of the ground, and Pikes Peak showing itself off in the background.

The Permit:

Garden of the Gods is free to park, free to enter, and free to climb! While it is free to climb, you will have to fill out a permit. The good news is, this permit is conveniently online and lasts all year long! You can find the permit HERE. It is one of the easiest forms you will ever fill out on a city government website. The permit lasts for the current calendar year. For example, if you fill out the permit in December of 2019, you will have to fill it out again in January of 2020.

This permit form includes the rules and expectations each climber must follow and uphold while they are climbing in this park, and any other city-owned park in Colorado Springs such as Red Rock Canyon Open Space and Cheyenne Canyon. It is crucial that each climber reads through these rules. For instance, white chalk is prohibited in the park, and certain rock faces are closed seasonally for raptor nesting.

The permit is very specific in listing these closures, and rangers or guides will stop you if they see you in the wrong area. If you are ever asked by a ranger if you have filled out the permit, simply pull up the email confirmation that was sent to you after completing the form.

Pro Tip: Screenshot the confirmation email so that it is easier to find in this situation.

Access/Things to Consider:

  • Make sure to have the permit email or screenshot of the email somewhere handy before leaving the parking lot.
  • Dogs are welcome in the park but must be kept on leash, and all poop must be picked up.
  • Be sure to check if there are any closures due to raptor nesting during the season that you go. These closures are taken very seriously, please do not be tempted to climb closed routes. You can find these closure dates and information on the permit.
  • DO NOT CLIMB ON WET SANDSTONE! The formations in the Garden are made of very soft sandstone. Sandstone absorbs water like a sponge, and the rock swells and decompresses as it dries. During this process, it is extremely fragile. Rock can break off in large chunks, destroying climbing routes and hurting climbers. Since the sandstone here is so soft, you can usually see wet patches on the rock surface from the road. You can also feel the rock to check if it is still wet. After any rain or snow, it typically takes 24-48 hours for the rock to be safe to climb on.
  • White chalk is prohibited in the park. The rock is red, white chalk just does not look good on it. The Visitor’s Center sells “Eco Chalk” that is non-marking.
  • The Garden can be packed with climbers during the Summer. To avoid waiting or creating lines, it is very easy to find something else to climb. Climbs in the Garden are close to each other, so going to another area isn’t a huge hassle.
  • Colorado Springs experiences afternoon thundershowers during the Summer months, these develop right over Pikes Peak and can be seen from the park (unless you’re on the East side of Grey Rock). Climbing in the morning, if the rock is dry from the previous night, is a good way to avoid getting stuck in crummy weather.
  • The rock quality here is good, but not great. When climbing, “pull down, not out.” Be aware of and avoid any flakes that look questionable. Check any old looking pitons that you clip into by pulling down on them to see if they wiggle.
Looking up “New Era” from the ground.

The Multi-pitch Classic “New Era”

“New Era” is one of the great summits in the Garden. It is probably one of the most technical, as it is a 3-pitch mixed trad/sport route. This route is rated as a 5.7 and given all the stars on Mountain Project. It is on Grey Rock/Kindergarten Rock and can most easily be accessed from the South Lot. Walk North along the Road’s shoulder and look for a climber trail that begins on the other (West) side of the road.

It is on the East side of the formation and is loved for its afternoon shade.

The rock quality on Grey Rock is amazing compared to the softer, red sandstone formations in the park. There are veins of white sandstone in the rock that make really fun, crimpy and juggy edges.

You’ll know you’ve reached the base of “New Era” either by a party already on it, or by it being the only obvious crack system that leaves the ground. The routes to the direct left and right are all edgy face climbs and are bolted sport routes.

  • Pitch 1: Follow the path of least resistance up the crack system to a dihedral, up to a piton anchor. Protection might be run out on this pitch, but this rock eats up gear wonderfully and the protection is there just when you need it.
  • Pitch 2: Work off the anchor, up the pocket-ridden face, and into the vertical dihedral. This dihedral crack is right at a .75 cam size. Follow this right up to a piton anchor in an alcove. Warning: In past years, there have been hornets’ nests in some of the small, but crucial, pockets at the beginning of the pitch. I have accidentally used one of these pockets while climbing this route and was then chased up the rock. It was pretty funny until I realized I went about 40 feet without placing any gear.
  • Pitch 3: Exit the alcove up the face and follow the path of least resistance up to what begins to be a ridge line. You will find some sporadic pitons in the rock here. This section begins to feel like a scramble near the top and is well protected compared to other low-angled climbs in the Garden. There isn’t an anchor to belay from, but you will find that you can get a good belay stance wedged in and on the other side of the ridge as a counterweight. You can sling a large horn, if you have material, as backup if you’d like.
  • Descent: As of 2017, you can no longer rappel from the summit of Grey Rock, but there is a downclimb down the South Ridge that you can take. If you leave packs at the base of the route, the downclimb will put you out at the very Southern edge of the formation, so you will have to walk back up the road a little bit and up the approach trail again. This route is easy enough to climb with small-ish packs if you wanted to avoid making the trek back up to the base of the route.
Summit of “New Era”

 

View of the Garden from the summit of “New Era”. This is the second-tallest summit in the Garden, and possibly the most epic.

 

Montezuma’s Tower

Recommended Guidebook:

There is so much climbing in Garden of the Gods, I suggest doing some planning before getting to the park. You can purchase Stewart Green’s guidebook at the Visitor’s Center, or on Amazon. I think this guidebook is a better reference than Mountain Project when it comes to Garden of the Gods. I do still recommend checking things on Mountain Project because climbs can be updated quickly in the case of rock fall/hardware replacements.

Stewart has been climbing in the Garden since the 60’s and developed a lot of the climbs there himself. He is incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the park – climbing and non-climbing related. The book is small and has a protected spiral wire binding, which makes it safe for climbing packs. There are great pictures of every wall that make route-finding easy.

 

Related content: Rock Climbing at Lumpy Ridge – Estes Park Valley

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