Austin, the state capitol of Texas, sits in the central part of this huge state in a region called the Hill Country. This progressive and beautiful city, dubbed the Live Music Capital of the World, is the Heart of Texas. The city sits amid rolling, wooded hills studded with lakes and traversed by Texas’ own Colorado River and numerous tributary creeks. The hills range in elevation from 100 feet above sea level to over 3,000 feet. It offers 11,800 acres of greenbelt areas as well as North America’s largest urban bat population. Austin basks in mild temperatures and 300 days of sunshine a year.
Austin is Hip
Austin’s population within its 266-square-mile city limits is 656,562 (2000 census) while Travis County has 812,280 residents (2000 census). High tech, education, and government are major industries. Austin, home of the University of Texas’ main campus, is a sophisticated and erudite city. Almost 800 computer-related companies, including Dell and IBM, employ 84,000 people. Austin’s Sixth Street is infamously known as home to more bars per capita than any other American city.
Austin is Diverse
This diversity makes Austin a great city with a cultural sensibility that incorporates the Wild West, a natural movement, and geek chic. It’s a place of cowboy boots and nasal twangs, vegetarian restaurants and organic groceries, country music--Texas style and…rock climbing.
Austin: A Great City for Climbers
Austin is a great city for the urban cragger, who finds surprisingly decent climbing and bouldering on intimate limestone crags close to downtown as well as fine limestone sport climbing at Reimer’s Ranch and excellent slab and crack climbing on the granite domes at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.
The Austin urban climber finds--surprise--year-round climbing in central Texas, but all factors considered it’s best to avoid Austin in summer. It’s hot and humid with high temperatures often soaring into the 100s. The cliffs are usually slick and greasy in high summer. Trees, however, shade Austin’s crags all day so you’re always out of the sun, even on cloudless days. Bring lots of chalk and expect to sweat. Enchanted Rocks is hot with little shade.
Fall and spring are perfect with generally pleasant day temperatures in the 70s and 80s. Thunderstorms and occasional bits of rain move through every few days but the sky is usually clear and sunny. Winter is also good with only a few freezing days. You’ll be bouldering in shorts and a t-shirt on most days. Rain occurs regularly in winter so be prepared with a waterproof coat.
Where to Climb
This is Texas so the urban climber might not expect to find any climbing outside of the climbing gym. But don’t be fooled. Austin has some crags where you can really pull down. The in-town crags are mostly close to downtown, offering a quick getaway from that droll business meeting. The out-of-town crags include Enchanted Rock, one of the best areas in the Lone Star State, as well as the famed Reimer’s Ranch limestone cliff.
In-Town Austin Crags
Austin offers lots of cliffs for climbing within city limits so the only limits you'll encounter are your own pumped forearms. There aren't a lot of cities, especially in Texas, where you can go bouldering on your lunch break and then rope up for a few quick climbs after work.
The Austin climbing scene at both the Greenbelt and the Austin Rock Gym is laid-back and friendly. It's a small enough climbing community that locals don't mind pointing out the routes or even offering you a quick toprope lap before they pull their rope.
Barton Creek Greenbelt
Barton Creek Greenbelt, with miles of cliffs along Barton Creek and almost 200 routes, is a good limestone climbing area in a city park only five minutes north of downtown Austin. The cliffs, up to 90 feet high, offer steep pumpy sport routes. Expect climbing chunky limestone with long reaches and lots of power moves. Bring mosquito repellent.
Check out New Wall and Great Wall at the end of Barton Skyway for some of the best climbing. New Wall is mostly vertical with routes from 5.9 to 5.12. Great Wall offers overhanging stone with power routes from 5.11 to 5.13. It's accessed from Spyglass Trail at the end of Barton Skyway.
Other greenbelt cliffs are Gus Fruh with shady moderates; Urban Assault, a steep face with many manufactured pockets; and popular Seismic, with routes from 5.6 to 5.11.
Bull Creek Park
Bull Creek Park has a good short limestone crag with about 25 hard pocket routes. It's a training area since drilled holds pock most of the routes. Expect hard bouldery climbing (over 80% are 5.12 or harder) with some reachy, height-dependent moves. You'll also find lots of boulder problems with gravel landings. The cliff stretches along a scenic hiking trail and a creek. It's shady and climbable in summer. Bring mosquito repellent in summer. Bull Creek Park is 10 minutes north of downtown off TX 222, west of Mopac Loop.
You'll find a short, steep limestone cliff at McKinney Falls Park with lots of powerful, hard boulder problems. Most problems are harder than V3. Bouldering is allowed only on the single wall. Climbing elsewhere in the park could lead to an out-right ban on all climbing. Check with the park for possible closures. McKinney Falls Park, a fee area, is on McKinney Falls Parkway.
Pace Bend Park
Pace Bend Park, on Austin's south side, offers good bouldering and routes on a limestone cliff above cool water. You'll find swimming to cool off between redpoint burns on warm days. Climb at both Thurman and Maugham coves.
OUT OF TOWN CRAGS
Reimer’s Fishing Ranch
Go fishing--but once you see the cliffs you’ll want to crank! This private ranch, a 45-minute drive northwest of Austin off TX 71, has a 60-foot limestone crag with a great assortment of sport routes from 5.10 to 5.13. The area, central Texas’ best climbing site, has a beautiful setting with tall trees along the Pedernales River.
The ranch boasts 19 climbing walls. Dead Cats Wall is most popular while Sex Cave offers fun climbing on super steep stone. Other good walls are Prototype Wall and Insect Wall. Also check out what they call the World’s Greatest Boulder. Not! The fee area is open Wednesday through Sunday. Camping is nearby at Pedernales Falls State Park and Pace Bend Park.
Enchanted Rock, also dubbed E-Rock, is a delightful climbing area 95 miles west of Austin and north of Fredericksburg. This beautiful 1,643-acre state natural area, with pink granite domes looming above grasslands and oak forests, is the original Texas climbing area.
Good weather, easy access, great camping, and excellent rock and routes make it one of the state’s best climbing venues. Look for both trad and sport routes on smooth slabs and steep cracks. Over 250 routes from 5.0 to 5.12+ are found. Weekends are busy but expect a friendly welcome from local climbers.
The best walls for climbing are Triple Cracks with lots of gear routes from 5.5 to 5.12; The Backside with the best slab climbing in Texas; the South Side of Fresh Mountain with both gear and sport climbs; Buzzard’s Roost West Side with excellent crack climbing; and Buzzard’s Roost Southeast Side with both sport and trad routes. The park also offers lots of bouldering.
Enchanted Rock also has great camping but sites are booked weeks in advance. Other camping is at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park in Fredericksburg.
For more information: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.
Roger’s Park, off I-35 north of Austin, is a bouldering garden. The area, one of Texas’ best bouldering sites, offers problems from V0 to V9. The park is near Belton, off I-35 at Exit 239A. Park at the boat dock at Roger’s Park, then hike a mile to the boulders scattered among trees.
Austin Climbing Gyms
Austin Rock Gym, 20 minutes south of downtown off Ben White Blvd., has big walls, lead routes, showers, and air conditioning.
Austin Rock Gym
4401 Freidrich Lane, Suite 300
401 Austin, TX 78744
Austin Rock by Sean O’Grady
Texas Limestone II: A Climber’s Guide by Jeff Jackson
Texas Limestone Bouldering by Jeff Jackson
Rock Climbing New Mexico and Texas (1st Edition) by Dennis Jackson (FalconGuides)
Enchanted Rock by Sean O’Grady