Muir Valley: Climbing in Red River Gorge

Corey Day going for the clip on "Getting Lucky in Kentucky" climbing at Muir Valley in Red River Gorge

When it comes to climbing in Red River Gorge, this crown jewel is home to 400+ routes across 20 different  crags within it’s valley. See why over 40,000 climbers a year hang, whip and send in Muir Valley!

looking at the guidebook for climbing in Red River GorgeThe Red River Gorge in Kentucky is considered one of the greatest climbing areas of the United States, home to thousands of climbing routes across the region. The first thing we realized as a group researching climbs at Red River Gorge is the vast amount of places there are to go climbing in this place! As “outsiders” looking in we had to first decide whether we were going to the North or South region of the gorge. Once that was determined, we discovered there are multiple sections within each of the the regions! As an example the Southern region contains PMRP, Torrent Falls, Muir Valley, Roadside etc. Once we figured out what sections we wanted to explore we had to figuring out what crags/walls to climb within them! This was incredibly exciting but honestly  quite overwhelming at the very same time!

Now our motley crew of sport climbers like most had a decent spread when it came to the grades we were looking to climb, we had climbers in our group that wanted to shoot for long 5.8’s and others looking to crush 5.12 projects. So our first objective was finding sections within Red River Gorge that offered a healthy mix of routes allowing our entire group to have a blast!

There was one section in the south region of the Red River Gorge that that grabbed our attention the moment we found it:

The Entrance of Muir ValleyOut of the dozen sections within the Red that we researched, Muir Valley had the greatest abundance of routes 5.10 & below!  Now before you get your ego all puffy and think this place is not for you,there are also as many, if not twice as many routes above 5.10 inside of Muir Valley as the other sections for climbing in Red River Gorge for all you “rock warriors” out there!

We made our choice, grabbed the gear, packed the cars, and drove out to Muir Valley the very next morning! We took the sharp turn onto Muir Rd, going down for a mile or so as it turned unpaved and pulled up to Muir Valley. Most climbing spots I’ve been to around the country are usually rugged dirt roads with no signs, and you have to make your own parking spot. I expected this place to be no different. When we pulled into Muir Valley there was nice gravel parking lot, greeters, a pavilion, a soda machine, and Loaner stick clips?!? (You would think I pulled up to the VIP section at the Gunks)

We are immediately greeted by an older couple who were none other than Rick & Liz Weber the original founders of Muir Valley!  They look at our plates, saw NJ on each one and said “Welcome to Kentucky!” as they began to shake each one of our hands. Talk about southern hospitality!  Rick begins to give us a full orientation of Muir Valley, the layout, crags and even about “Jake the Snake” in front of the bulletin board at the Pavilion.

Rick Weber founder of Muir Valley

We are immediately blown away by the amount of strategic planning and safety procedures established for Muir Valley. There are emergency Radio stations established throughout the valley equipped with instructions at each one with what to do in the case of an injury/emergency.

Radio Station inside Muir Valley

With over 20 crags within Muir Valley this is huge! Each one of these stations had a corresponding number to it providing an effective and efficient means to give guidance to rescue crews on your location within the valley.

The routes within Muir Valley are setup with the distance of bolt placement in mind. We were actually told “If you don’t use a stick clip please don’t climb here” pointing to the corner where there was a number loaner stick clips saying with a smile “Please feel free to borrow one if you need it”. The first bolt on the majority of the routes are actually set higher to help prevent decking and reduce the chances of a potential ground fall.


No one wants a busted leg or ankle. You won’t lose street cred I swear!

Zach Belaying Nicholas Getting Lucky in Kentucky 5.10b climbing Muir Valley

The bolts after the first one are place reasonably apart from each other, roughly 5-8 feet apart depending on the route and what it is protecting from. Other areas within Red River Gorge such as PMRP as one example I came across bolt distances as much as 10-14 feet apart.(I did not got to it with a tape measure, but when my feet are few feet above my last bolt and I’m looking up seeing there is a couple of feet to go to the next bolt I consider that a reasonable gauge silently cursing to myself in the process)

There a number of wonderful routes and features to be found within Muir Valley! One of our favorite routes to climb and an area classic is “Getting Lucky in Kentucky” a 5.10b sport climbing route located at the Tectonic Wall.

Corey Day making his way up Getting Lucky in Kentucky in Muir ValleyThis route along with the adjacent climbs around it have these large flat plates scattered across the wall with thin lips to them offering great crimpy holds among the sea of hueco pockets found all in between the plates.

Nicholas on Plate Tectonics in Muir valley - Climbing in Red River GorgeMake sure to shake out and grab a rest when you can as you are climbing. The huecos can be deceiving as you climb the route burning a lot of energy trying to find the good holds.

The token for Getting lucky in KentuckyA really nice feature that Muir Valley has that I do not see in many climbing areas is the medallion coins stamped in at the base of climbs identifying the name, grade & style of the route. Some folks in our group were on the fence about them. Some thought this was not necessary to have on each climb and took away from the exploratory feel of the area. After about half a day everyone seem to be taking full advantage of this little feature making it a lot easier to find the route you are looking to climb especially when you are looking for a 5.8 and a 5.12 is sitting right next to it!

Another great wall for climbing in Muir Valley is the Bruise Brothers Wall. This crag is one of the taller areas in Muir and home to roughly 30 routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.11.

Nicholas Hernandez Clipping in the rope while climbing in Red River Gorge

Top 3 picks on this wall recommended:

Return of the Manimal – 5.10d  – (85 ft)

Send me on my Way – 5.9- (75ft)

Ohio Climbing – 5.8 (50ft)

Svet biting the rope while climbing Bruise Brothers wall in Muir Valley

Another nice feature to this part of Muir Valley if you take a 5 minute hike down the trail from bruise brothers wall is this gem:

Horse shoe falls in Muir ValleyA great spot to explore and have lunch in the shade, this spot is actually a waterfall. It was rather dry this time of year when I had taken the photo you can see the mist gleaming in the sunlight as the low flow of water made it’s way down.

Walking the trails inside of Muir ValleyBesides being one of the top climbing destinations inside of  Red River Gorge, Muir Valley is also a nature preserve home to a number of beautiful creatures such a deer, black bear, salamanders, turtles and more!

Lizards hanging out on a rock in the Muir valley of KYYellow Boxer turtle in Muir Valley KYYou can find these guys all through out the base of the cliffs and along the trails throughout the valley floor.

Salamander in the rainWhen ever we came across a damp area of the forest or especially when it began to drizzle the forest floor would come alive with little orange beings scurrying around! So watch your step you will find dozens of these beautiful little salamanders while climbing and or hiking throughout Muir Valley Nature Preserve!

The amount of work, thought, and dedication that has been put into Muir Valley is nothing short of impressive! There are very few climbing areas in and around the United States that have this much vested time & resources into it. A true love for the land, wildlife and climbing here exists and it shows!

Learn more about Muir Valley  – Muir Valley Website

To support the amazing work at Muir Valley – Donate

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