Foster Falls is located in the beautiful South Cumberland State Park and offers a vast amount of recreation opportunities with plenty of hiking trails, swimming holes and camping. Not surprisingly, Foster Falls also has become one of the most popular sport climbing crags in Southeastern Tennessee. Nearly 200 bolted climbing routes decorate this 2-mile long cliff line that has been dubbed to have some of the most superb sandstone around.
Foster Falls is situated just west of Chattanooga and is less than an hour drive from almost anywhere in the Tennessee River Valley. Ample parking and easy access makes the approach to the cliff line a breeze. Of course, on your way to the walls you will want to make a stop at the overlook for a stunning view of the falls from above. Continue your approach by descending on a somewhat challenging and rocky trail, cross the wooden swing bridge and take a right for a view of the falls below. Backtrack and follow the left trail to get to the cliffs.
If you really want to challenge yourself, sign up for the annual Ragnarok endurance challenge held at Foster Falls in April. Ragnarok is a competition that will test your abilities as well as your stamina as a climber, as you and your partner attempt to complete as many routes as possible in 12 hours.
Once you reach the first set of cliffs, start to look for bolts and pick your warm up route. One of the more popular areas is Jimmywood, boasting several great 5.9 and 5.10 moderate lines. Due to its accessibility and large number of moderate routes, Foster Falls have become very popular with beginner sport climbers. However, the more experienced climbers will find challenging routes here as well.
To find the routes easily, you need to get a guidebook. "Chatt Steel, A Comprehensive Guide to Chattanooga Sport Climbing" includes Foster Falls, as well as other popular sport crags in the Chattanooga area and is highly recommended.
Every crag has its signature route or wall that makes that spot special. Foster Falls has “bunkers”. With most of its walls being mainly vertical, the two bunkers are an extreme exception. These are very steep areas where you will be climbing in a horizontal and almost inverted position for the entire route. These routes typically have larger holds but will definitely create a good forearm-pump as you work your way up the roof. A huge bonus is that even if it rains you can still climb here, as the rain never reaches these walls.
Climbing at Foster Falls is free and available all year. Of course, the summer months can be hot and humid, but the cliff walls stay shaded in most areas, making it manageable to climb. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the winters can be great for climbing here as well—especially the walls with high sun exposure. Keep in mind there can be a lot of snakes in the area. They typically like to bask on the warm rock so keep your eyes open, making sure to look inside any large holes and gaps in the wall before placing your hands or feet there.
History of climbing at Foster Falls
Climbing at Foster Falls first started in the mid-1980s—partly by local rock climbing legend Rob Robinson—but didn’t reach full development until the early 1990s. Climbers like Eddie Whittemore and Doug Reed, among others, discovered the areas' potential as a sport crag and started to develop and bolt the routes that are here today.
Sofia Bunger loves the outdoors and spends her time hiking, climbing and mountain biking. She is also a certified personal trainer in addition to an outdoor writer. When she's not playing out in the woods, she can most likely be found at the gym or at any of our local specialty coffee shops. The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.