Southwest Virginia is blessed with many of the premier climbing destinations in the state, from the enticing boulders scattered over Grayson Highlands State Park to the precipitous sandstone gorge running through Breaks Interstate Park. But one of the region’s gems is the climbing area at Hidden Valley Lake, stashed away in a forested corner of Brumley Mountain at nearly 4,000 feet, located just 10 miles north of the town of Abingdon, Virginia.
The bands of cliff at Hidden Valley have been popular with local climbers for decades, but after concerns about misuse, the area was closed to the public in 2004. Nearly a decade later, landowners Jeanean Dillard and Suichi Komaba, climbers who fell in love with Hidden Valley in the 1990s, offered to sell part of their property on Brumley Mountain to provide public access to about a mile of climbable cliffline. Enter the Carolina Climbers Coalition. The non-profit now manages the Hidden Valley climbing area in partnership with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), which is responsible for the adjacent Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area, anchored by 60 acre Hidden Valley Lake. Today, climbers at Hidden Valley have access to nearly 500 routes, a combination of sport and traditional lines.
The climbing at Hidden Valley is divided into two unique areas, dubbed the Left Side and the Right Side of Hidden Valley Road, each with a distinct character and plenty to entice. Now owned by the Carolina Climbers Coalition, the less-trafficked Right Side cliffs offer a higher concentration of traditional routes than the Left Side, while still offering more than enough bolted lines to keep sport climbers entertained. Routes on the Right Side fall into the 5.6-5.13 range, with challenging highlights like Ship Rock. Shady in summer and sunny in winter, Ship Rock is stocked with a mixture of sport and traditional routes, nearly two dozen total, loaded by technical face climbs and chunky arêtes. Each of Ship Rock’s lines has a pirate themed name, like the 5.12b technical face dubbed Calico Jack Spiced Rum.
The more thoroughly explored Left Side cliffs are also loaded with a mixture of sport and traditional routes, most skewing to the more challenging end of the spectrum, falling into the 5.10-5.13 range. The ‘Left Side’ cliffs are also home to some of Hidden Valley’s most popular areas—like dubiously named Butt City, offering nearly 30 sport routes (5.6-5.13) just a short walk from the parking area.
The Left Side is also studded with treasures like Tea Kettle Junction. Distinct from the rest of the cliffs at Hidden Valley, Tea Kettle Junction sits at a geological nexus—situated at the panoramic point where Brumley Mountain merges with Clinch Mountain’s main ridgeline. Besides the vista, Tea Kettle Junction is loaded with 40 routes, almost entirely traditional climbs, including short-but-sweet cracks, cozy chimneys, and plenty of roofs and arêtes.
Secrets of the Park
While Hidden Valley is renowned for rope climbing, there are also plenty of bouldering problems for adventurous, pad-toting climbers. While detailed route information has not been published, there are bouldering spots scattered along both Right Side and Left Side cliffs. There’s also always the potential to stumble upon an undiscovered gem tucked away in the woods.
Although Hidden Valley has been beloved by locals for decades, for experienced climbers with an adventurous spirit and plenty of patience, there are still places to put up a first ascent. On the Right Side, the most potential options are farthest from the parking area around a quartzite crystal speckled crag nicknamed Microwave Wall. While the Left Side has been more thoroughly explored, the aptly named Forgotten Wall also offers uncharted territory with potential for first ascents.
Besides spectacular sandstone, there are also plenty of ways to give battered fingers a break from the rock at Hidden Valley Lake. The upland lake is open to recreational boaters, and harbors species like largemouth bass, northern pike, bluegill and black crappie. The 14.6-mile Brumley Mountain Trail runs directly through the climbing area, meandering along the ‘Left Side’ cliffs at the Hidden Valley for just over a mile. Outside the Hidden Valley climbing area, the regional trail leads hikers through the Channels State Forest and into the area dubbed "The Channels," a 20 acre labyrinth of sandstone.
Besides the climbing, Hidden Valley is also a hotspot for local wildlife. The crag and neighboring Hidden Valley WMA provide ample opportunity to spot black bears, white-tailed deer, and bobcats. The area is also a highland haven for rare species, like southern flying squirrels and alpine avifauna, including Blackburnian warblers, ruffed grouse, and scarlet tanagers.
Get the Most Out of Your Visit
The definitive—and only—guide to climbing Hidden Valley is Gus Glitch’s book Hidden Valley Rock Climbs, loaded with detailed route beta, maps, and other essential information about the area.
While there is certainly seasonal variation, Hidden Valley is climbable year-round. In summer, the high elevation and surrounding forest mean the cliffs are cool and shady (although leafless trees mean spring days can be warm). In the winter, a generous snowfall can limit road access to Hidden Valley, but if temperatures are tolerable, southern exposure and bare trees mean the rock sees some sunlight.
For visitors aged 17 and older, a $4/day VDGIF access permit is still required for Hidden Valley (a $23 annual option is also available). Camping is not permitted beneath the cliffs or in the parking area at the Hidden Valley climbing area. However, primitive camping is permitted in the area around Hidden Valley Lake in the neighboring VDGIF-owned Hidden Valley WMA. Nearby Abingdon, Va., also serves as a great basecamp, with lodging options ranging from the historic Martha Washington Inn, which offers plenty of pampering, to local bed & breakfasts, hotels, and motels for any budget. You won’t go hungry there either, with many local restaurants focused on locally sourced cuisine. And after a day on the rocks, a craft beer from the Wolf Hills Brewery hits the spot.
The re-opening of Hidden Valley was only achieved due to the tireless efforts of local climbers, non-profits like the Access Fund and the Carolina Climbers Coalition, and with the permission of local landowners, meaning stewardship is essential from all visitors.
Other Regional Highlights for Climbers
Besides the Hidden Valley crag, Southwest Virginia is scattered with other gems. Just an hour east of Hidden Valley is Virginia’s top bouldering destination, Grayson Highlands State Park, with more than 1,000 problems. Meanwhile, an hour due west of Hidden Valley, the Flag Rock Recreation Area above the town of Norton offers a selection of quality boulder problems, plus 8 miles of newly crafted singletrack, and a trout-stocked reservoir. The Guest River Gorge Trail, also just few minutes outside Norton, features a mixture of over 300 sport and traditional routes spread over just three miles of trail. Further west, straddling the border between Virginia and Kentucky, Breaks Interstate Park only opened up to rock climbing in 2016, but the precipitous sandstone gorge splicing the protected area has vast potential, already offering almost 100 routes, including both sport and traditional climbs. For those who love to climb, Southwest Virginia is quickly becoming one of the must-visit destinations in the eastern U.S.
Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated Media in partnership with Abingdon.
Featured image provided by Nicole Dyer – White Birch Food and Juice/Abingdon Visitors and Convention Bureau