One of my favorite outdoor climbing destinations near Washington, DC is Elizabeth Furnace. Elizabeth Furnace rock climbing, which isn’t too far from Front Royal, is an excellent day trip destination for climbers in the DC metro area and it also poses a wide variety of sport and trad climbs. There are endless opportunities for adventure in the George Washington National Forest. Mountain biking trails, hikes, or fly fishing, are all possible within the Furnace.
Cell service can be hit or miss in the area. Have a contingency plan in place in case of emergency.
The climbing in Elizabeth Furnace consists of two areas: Buzzard Rocks and Talking Headwall. Even though the crags are visible from each other, they offer two very different styles.
If you’re looking for sport climbing similar to a gym, head to Talking Headwall. But if you’re apt for adventure, Buzzards is worth your time.
- Spelunker’s Frozen Custard & Cavern Burgers
- Vibrissa Beer (formerly Front Royal Brewery)
- PaveMint Smokin’ Taphouse
- Elizabeth Furnace Group Camp (reservation required)
- First come first serve campsites on the Buzzard Rock trail
- The hike will be uphill to the campsites with no additional water. Pack enough water for camping and climbing
- The Mountain Home
- Bed and breakfast catering to Appalachian Trail hikers
Sport Climbing at Talking Headwall
Where to park at talking headwall?
You can park for Talking Headwall on a pullout off of Fort Valley Road. You’ll be parking next to Passage Creek, which is a tributary stream of the North Fork Shenandoah River. Passage creek attracts a lot of fly fishers and river dogs, please be careful as you drive by.
Talking Headwall Approach Hike
You’ll walk 0.2 miles (five minutes) on the road, going downstream with the creek to reach the crag. Keep the creek on your right side when approaching the area. The crag coordinates are 38.947, -78.302. The path up to the TH crag will be on the opposite side from the creek. Use caution and care when crossing and walking on this road, drivers on Fort Valley know that people are walking on the side of the road for fishing and creek access. But some drivers do speed.
What should I climb at Talking Headwall?
For many climbers, myself included, Talking Headwall is the home of some of our first outdoor lead climbs. The routes at TH range from 5.4 to 5.12 and can be steep and pumpy!
Here are some of the routes you should do while you’re there.
I Love Big Jugs 5.8
I Love Big Jugs begins at a blocky looking staircase. It will be one of the first climbs you come to on the approach trail in. It can be pumpy, but sustained climbing on good holds will take you to the top! Take eight quickdraws up for the five bolts and two ring anchor.
Leading Should Feel This Way 5.10c
An excellent route going up the steepest and largest part of the headwall. Taking a trip out to Elizabeth Furance is worth it just for this one. Easier climbing up to a roof pull and then sustained pumpy climbing on good holds take you to an epic hold for the anchor. An alternative finish bears right as well. Must do!
Pure Energy 5.10a
A fun face climb is located far climbers right. This one is shorter for the area, only 40 feet, but has fun techy face moves. Some of the moves can be reachy depending on your height and ape index, but get on this one! Make sure your belayer is paying attention for the first few bolts. I had a great catch from my belayer on this climb when I fell from the second bolt. Saved my ankles a few weeks before my wedding!
Adventure Climbing at Buzzard Rocks
Buzzards is one of my favorite areas. It is a great way to spend a day and you get a full body workout from the approach and the climbing. Buzzards is mostly slab. And while the routes are bolted, I would still consider this a trad area. There are long run outs between bolts that should be protected with trad gear.
You can also camp right next to Buzzard Rock! While hiking up, you will see multiple campsites and even some located on the ridge. You could wake up on top of a mountain and catch the sunrise over the world. Quite a beautiful sight!
The rock does face west, so in the afternoon you’ll be catching a full face of sun. This is great for sunny winter days, but also makes for a hot summer afternoon. At the top of the ridge, there aren’t any streams where you can filter water. Bring as much as you’ll need, it will be all you have.
Where to park for Buzzard Rocks Climbing?
Buzzards has its own trailhead parking lot located within Elizabeth Furnace. This parking lot can fill up. Park close together with other cars so everyone can squeeze in. If the lot is full, you can wait it out or head to TH for the day instead. This lot has a sign designating it as the trailhead.
If the initial lot is full, drive 30 seconds and there is an auxiliary parking lot on the right.
Buzzards Approach Hike
This approach also doubles as a popular hiking, camping, and mountain biking destination in Elizabeth Furnace. That’s why we recommend getting there early so you can snag a parking spot! From the parking lot follow the trailhead from the left hand corner of the parking lot (near the sign). The approach is about 45 minutes and up hill. Pack snacks and water appropriately. It’s a great workout and you will be rewarded with rock gardens, streams, and excellent views of Fort Valley and Front Royal.
After the scenic over look, continue up to the top of the mountain. Once on top, we will have to descend down to reach the base of the climbs.
There are two options for descending, scrambling down or rappeling.
What routes should I climb at Buzzard Rocks?
The rock at Buzzard Rock is incredibly fun. Intricate slab climbs that can be over 100 feet in length! It’s a great place to practice your trad and multi-pitch skills.
A Cannibal 5.8-
This route can be climbed with just the bolts, no trad gear necessary. But I would recommend bringing a .75, and a #1. Otherwise there will be a long run out.
This is a fun warm up and first lead as well. Bring up seven quickdraws for the four bolts and two bolt anchor at the top.
The AC is the area classic for Buzzards, it provides excellent views high above Fort Valley and over Elizabeth Furnace. Stay on the lookout for the climbers at Talking Headwall!
Anonymous Flake Right 5.8-
This route has been described as El Capitan Junior by PATC climbers. Fun fact, this one and other routes here, have been referenced in the PATC newsletters dating back to the 1940’s! There’s one bolt for protection and the rest needs trad gear. An excellent right trending flake takes great gear. Get on it!
Adam Kopley Memorial Route 5.10a
A fun techy slab climb made in tribute to area climber Adam Kopley. There are three routes lined up here that are some of the trickiest slabs in Elizabeth Furnace. The location of this area is tricky to get to. You’ll need to rappel down the Sk8boarding wall and lower down using a fixed-line for assistance.