The North Carolina Triad has earned its reputation as one of the Southeast region’s premier climbing destinations, one hold at a time. From the early route setting efforts of trad purists to Carolina Climbers Coalition’s work to preserve access to climbing areas, a passionate community of climbing advocates have established a crescent of crags northwest of Winston-Salem that offer something for every season and every level of climber. Here’s our list of the Triad’s top climbing destinations.
Pilot Mountain State Park
A remnant of the ancient Sauratown Mountains, Pilot Mountain’s mile-long band of quartzite looms over the surrounding landscape, earning it the nickname "Roof of the Piedmont." Single-pitch top-rope routes on the south-facing walls range from beginner to stout intermediate, making Pilot the place where many novices get their start. Intermediate to advanced sport and trad routes are mixed in as well. Any Major Dude, a 5.11c in the Three Bears area, and the Amphitheater’s litany of challenging classics, capped by a large horizontal roof, are not to be missed.
Winter is the peak season and summer evenings are a local favorite for avoiding the heat and crowds. Be aware that climbing routes lie beneath a busy hiking trail, making helmets and vigilance essential.
Moore’s Wall and Cooks Wall
The erosion-resistant crags in Hanging Rock State Park rise in stark contrast to the moderately rolling Piedmont below. The north and west-facing orientation of the two-mile cliff band offers up some of the best warm weather trad climbing in the state. Moore’s Wall, a 300-foot quartzite cliff, is on par with top climbing destinations across the Carolinas and home to some of the earliest climbing in the southeast. High-quality rock, long, sheer vertical cliff lines, and adventurous descents are hallmarks of Moore’s Wall. Hard-to-find rap stations, scrambling, and downclimbing is required. The wild exposure and juggy roof of Zoo View, a 5.7+ route that makes you work for it, is a must for intermediate climbers.
The two-mile approach to Cooks Wall, Moore’s Wall’s more remote neighbor, is worth the effort for solitude and more intimidating grades. The Cookbook’s Emla area, with routes from 5.10b-5.13d, should be on every intermediate to advanced climber’s radar. Cooks Wall has a reputation for high winds, so check conditions before hitting the trail.
Stone Mountain State Park
Stone Mountain’s 600-foot granite dome is just a teaser for the 25-square-mile igneous rock formation underneath, formed by molten lava long ago. Surface rock has eroded over the centuries to form the iconic friction climbing destination that exists today. Numerous bolted routes mix with trad classics on the south face, an area known for long runouts. The high-quality slab offers little opportunity for protection and summer sun gives the baked granite a greasy feel.
The 5.5 Great Arch, a 400-foot, three-pitch dihedral arching from the Tree Ledge to the summit, is one of the mountain’s most prominent features and has been a classic trad route since the earliest days of climbing here. Runouts have been made slightly less scary with Carolina Climbers Coalition’s rebolting work, but two 60-meter ropes are highly recommended. Routes on the north face offer a cooler, less crowded, and generally steeper alternative. Cooler months are ideal on either face for comfortable temperatures and maximum friction.
Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area
In the early 1900s, this man-made granite gneiss crag served as a quarry, with a railroad to transport rock and prison camp on site as well. A brigade of U.S. Army Reservists first used Rocky Face Mountain for rappel training in the 1970s. The climbing scene has evolved dramatically since then, with over 50 single-pitch sport and top-rope routes today.
A relative newcomer on the Triad climbing scene, Rocky Face is ideal for novice to intermediate climbers looking to gain experience and confidence. Winter is peak season on this exposed crag, and the rock quality varies. The cliff tends to shed loose rock frequently. An added bonus to climbing Rocky Face is the non-existent approach, with plenty of parking, restrooms, and water available at the cliff base.
Access has long been the issue around this steep and pumpy south-facing crag. Because Sauratown can only be accessed through the YMCA of Northwest NC’s Camp Hanes, climbing is limited to December 1 to March 31. The 30-minute approach leads to a number of classic trad lines and many excellent sport routes, ranging from 5.6 to 5.12 with a concentration of 5.10 to 5.11 grades. Usage guidelines have been posted online to preserve the climbing community’s partnership with the YMCA and keep access to the area open.
Waivers are required at all the areas on our list. There’s no charge and these can be filled out when you arrive. Crowds become an issue on weekends and holidays, so arrive early to grab a parking spot and avoid long wait times.
Better yet, camp out the night. All areas have campgrounds or primitive sites within their boundaries, allowing you to be the first one on the wall in the morning. Great Outdoor Provision Company in Winston-Salem is your local resupply HQ, with experienced climbers on staff to answer your questions.
Originally written for OrthoCarolina.