Rock Climbing in D.C.: Where to Go
Updated: Sep 21
There is not a lot of world-class outdoor climbing around Washington D.C. . Those that are looking for rock climbing in the D.C. metropolitan area generally rely on climbing gyms and indoor routes. That being said, there are some hidden gems!
For those looking to escape D.C. and go climbing, we’ve listed our three favorite climbing areas near D.C.; admittedly, you have to be willing to drive at least 1.5 hours outside the city. Climbers without cars have a hard time getting outside in D.C., but for those of us capable of driving for a few hours, there are some fantastic day trip and weekend options. Most people don’t realize that there is actually a wide variety of climbing opportunities right outside the city – with the potential to climb limestone, granite, and Tuscarora quartzite.
In no particular order, below are a few options for outdoor climbers living in the D.C. area who have tapped the potential of local favorites Carderock and Great Falls and are ready for something more:
The Capital’s Climbing Spots:
Elizabeth Furnace Rock Climbing
These routes are located in NE Virginia, roughly 1.5 hours from the metropolitan area. The Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area has a great combination of slabby routes as well as overhanging climbs. The climbing is divided into two main sections; you will find slabby routes on the “Talking Headwall” and overhangs on “Buzzard Rocks.” If you decide to take a break from climbing, there are hundreds of miles of hiking in the nearby George Washington Forest.
Most of the classic routes in the area are fairly easy or moderate and range in difficulty from 5.6-5.10. Considering that most of the routes are rated fairly easily in the area, Elizabeth Furnace Rock is a great place for beginners attempting their first outdoor climbs. That being said, there are a few difficult routes in the area (5.10c-5.11), so there is definitely room for more advanced climbers to train as well.
The climbs found at Elizabeth Furnace require that climbers are familiar with lead climbing. If you are unfamiliar with lead climbing and would like to learn how to lead belay, lead climb, or learn about necessary gear and other skills, check with your local gym or Sportrock's Learn to Lead Class to find out the options available to you.
Also located in Virginia, “Old Rag” offers incredible trad climbing on some of the best granite you can find in the North East. The approach can be a bit strenuous, so you must be willing to do some hiking/scrambling to get to the base of the routes. For those that are willing to make the approach, you’ll find a diamond in the rough with great single and multi-pitch climbs.
Routes range in difficulty from 5.7-5.13a, so there is definitely a little bit of something for everybody. There are only a few routes rated 5.7-5.8, so if there are any very new climbers in your group, you might want to avoid Old Rag and look for something a bit softer.
Traditional, or trad, climbing is a form of climbing that requires advanced knowledge of gear and technique. If you are unfamiliar with trad climbing, definitely reach out to local guides to learn more!
Located approximately 3 hours from the D.C. area, Seneca Rocks is possibly the most well-known climbing area near D.C. Most of the rock at Seneca is formed from white Tuscarora quartzite, which has a unique feel similar to sandstone. The Seneca Rocks crag is one of the oldest U.S. climbing areas and has a storied history of being used by U.S. soldiers training for WWII.
Because most of the routes at Seneca are so old, this area has a tendency to “sandbag” climbers. Generally speaking, the routes at Seneca are more difficult than most people are expecting. So if you’re new to climbing, start at the routes rated 5.1-5.2 and slowly work your way up from there. If you consider yourself to be a moderate/advanced climber, consider starting on a more moderate route (don’t be a hero).
Also, you should definitely wear a helmet. Seneca Rocks can get crowded, and rock fall is quite common.
Off to a Great Start…
We’ve listed just three of our favorite climbing areas. So if you’re new to D.C., this gives you a fantastic starting point to explore the climbing in the area. In the three areas we’ve mentioned above, you’ll be able to find a variety of climbing routes ranging from extremely easy/moderate to some of the more difficult climbing available in the North East. Also, if you climb in all three of these areas, you will get to play around on limestone, granite, and Tuscarora quartzite – so you will get a great feel for the variety that is available to climbers living in D.C. Admittedly, all of these climbing areas require adventurers living in D.C. to drive for 1.5-3 hours. But that’s just the downside of living in D.C.
For rock climbers living in D.C. needing a break from just gym climbing, we hope that you get outside and experience what the nearby regions offer. For more information about any of these areas or the skills required to climb in them, do not hesitate to reach out to your local guides or climbing gyms. Wear a helmet, practice good climbing etiquette, and enjoy a wonderful sampling that is available to mountaineers in the North East.
Looking for a privately guided trip or to learn to climb outside?
Check out Sportrock's outdoor programs!