Attending a climbing festival is sort of like going to summer camp for climbers. Each one is a celebration—a chance for the climbing community to come together and for newcomers to explore a new area with the help of experienced locals. Some fests are organized by brands or climbing nonprofits. Others are put on by local community groups. Each one has its own flavor, traditions, and quirks—which is why climbers rarely attend just one. Whether you’re new to the sport or simply looking for an excuse to get out of town, attending a climbing festival is a bucket-list experience. In this guide, we’ll cover what you need to know to find your first fest, come prepared, and make the most of all the resources the event has to offer. That includes:
- How to find climbing festivals near you
- What to expect
- Are the clinics worth it?
- How to find food and lodging
- What to bring
How to Find Climbing Festivals Near You
Usually, searching the internet for “climbing festivals in [your state]” will reveal a few options pretty quickly, but you can also refer to Common Climber’s annual list of rock climbing festivals.
The American Alpine Club (AAC), a national nonprofit climbing organization, also has a wealth of information on its wildly popular Craggin’ Classic festival series. If you’re looking for smaller local fests—or can’t find the one you heard about at the gym that one time—reach out to your local climbers’ alliance. Ask them via email if they know of any upcoming events.
What to Expect
While each fest is different, they all have a few things in common. For most, you can expect a two- to three-day weekend affair packed with clinics, games, speakers, presentations, film screenings, and evening events. It’s generally a welcoming environment packed with climbers from all ability levels and walks of life.
Most attendees stay for the whole weekend, either camping or crashing in a hotel nearby. While most climbing festivals are fairly affordable, you can often secure free entry by signing up for a volunteer shift. After all, most fests rely heavily on volunteers to set up booths, check in attendees, and clean up the site at the end of the weekend. Bonus: Volunteering is also an easy way to meet people and get the lay of the land if you’re attending a fest solo.
If you’re planning to climb at an area where a fest is being held, be prepared for crowding at popular, easily accessible crags. Groups and guides are always friendly and happy to share the space, but if you’re not part of a clinic, consider grabbing a friend and exploring a new crag that’s a little off the beaten path.
Are the Clinics Worth It?
Climbing festivals are celebrations of the climbing community, but education is always a huge focus. Most offer everything from beginner-focused climbing clinics to advanced technique and rescue-skills clinics. Some are half-day clinics and some are full-day.
Clinics are a fantastic way to make friends and get the lay of the land if you’re new to the area. Attending a clinic is also a great way to learn and grow as a climber. Besides, this is what the focus is on. The tents and booths of the festival grounds tend to be quiet while guides, brand reps, sponsored athletes, and festival-goers are occupied with clinics. Are clinics worth the money? Festival clinics tend to be extremely high-quality and taught by some of the best guides and athletes in the country. Most folks find they’re worth every penny.
Note: Most clinics take place at beginner-friendly crags with short approaches and easy top-rope access. If you choose not to take a clinic, feel free to climb anywhere else during the day. Just be aware of crowding in these zones.