Things To Do

Shelf Road, running from Cañon City to Cripple Creek, follows an old stagecoach route on the southwest side of Pikes Peak. Limestone cliff bands up to 80 feet high line the rims of a series of dry canyons above the dirt road about 15 miles north of Cañon City, forming Shelf Road climbing area. The scruffy cliffs, with over 1,000 bolted routes, is one of Colorado’s best and most popular sport climbing venues. The area naturally divides into six main climbing venues—The Bank, Cactus Cliff and Spiney Ridge, The Gym, The Dark Side, Sand Gulch, and The Gallery. The Bank, Cactus, and The Gallery are the most popular sectors. Expect great climbing on vertical faces, using pockets, incuts, edges, and jugs, as well as occasional crack climbs.

The first time I visited Shelf Road climbing area was on a warm spring day in 1984. My friends in Colorado Springs had been developing new routes there. “They’re not really climbing those dirty cliffs north of Cañon City?” I asked. But they were. That day I saw the future of Colorado climbing at Shelf. Over the next few decades I learned a new vocabulary of climbing moves and established many new routes by drilling bolts and prying off loose flakes. I still go to Shelf Road for fun on its limestone cliffs. There’s no better climbing day anywhere.

Pro Tips

  • Reach Shelf Road from Cañon City by turning north from U.S. 50 on Raynolds Avenue. Drive north 0.8 miles, and then go left on Pear Street for 0.1 mile to Fields Avenue. Turn right or north of Fields and head north for 13 miles to the left turns to The Bank and Sand Gulch.
  • Shelf Road is Colorado’s best winter climbing area, with sunny days and little snow. Temperatures in December and January are often in the 50s and 60s, making it a t-shirt destination when everywhere else is freezing. Snow quickly melts on the south-facing cliffs. Spring and autumn days also offer great climbing temps. Summer is usually hot, but shady routes are easily found.
  • The camping is great at Shelf Road, with BLM campgrounds at The Bank and Sand Gulch parking lots. These fee sites have pit toilets and picnic tables, but no water. Use existing fire rings and bring your own wood. Use a Leave No Trace ethic to reduce your impact. The Sand Gulch campground is warmer than the higher Bank campground, which is often windy. Trails to the cliffs leave the campgrounds.
  • Almost all of the routes at Shelf Road are clip-and-go climbs equipped with permanent bolted anchors placed by the first ascent party. Essential equipment for a fun climbing day is a rack of a dozen quickdraws, a rope, and a helmet. The cliff tops have loose rock and are dangerous, so most routes end at lowering anchors well below the canyon rim.
  • Recommended season(s): Year-round.

    —Stewart M. Green

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