Horseshoe Canyon Ranch: Tips for Enjoying Arkansas’s Dude Ranch Climbing Resort

Feel good grades, short approaches, hundreds of routes 5.5 to 5.14a, onsite camping and abundant “wildlife”: Horseshoe Canyon Ranch (HCR) is a resort crag.* I’ve never before see so many sandstone chicken heads in one location, neither have I ever before had to wrestle my granola out of a horse’s mouth while taking a lunch break. HCR is an experience worth having, and November has the perfect temperatures for it.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your trip:

horseshoecanyonranch_coffeetapeclimbGo mid-week if possible. I climbed there this past Tuesday to Saturday and didn’t see more than a handful of parties until Thursday night. Friday was a little busier, but by Saturday morning every parking spot and campsite was full and the bathroom toilet paper rolls were empty. That said, I didn’t have to wait for a single climb warming up at Mr. Magoo Rock Saturday morning, so, if you’re willing to walk one of the longer approaches, all of 15 minutes, you can avoid most of the crowds. The North Forty, however, will be mobbed.

Use the “feel-good” grades, well-bolted lines and permadrawed 5.12s to your advantage. Go for the flash! Sure that 5.12a would be rated 11c anywhere else, but let the confidence boost increase your psych. And don’t be afraid to try climbs at or even a little above your normal redpoint grade, especially if the route is partially or fully permadrawed—you can bail if necessary, so why not?! The falls are generally small and clean, and there are an abundance of three- and four-star beginner and moderate routes to help even the most nervous leaders feel comfortable tying in to the sharp end.

The Mountain Project app will suffice, if you really, really want to avoid buying the guidebook. We forgot our guidebook at home, and I had little to no trouble using Mountain Project to identify routes at any area, though the directions to some of the farther cliffs (The Far East) can be a bit confusing. I’d suggest taking the trail to The Cliffs of Insanity and traversing right (south) along the cliff line to access The Far East.

horseshoecanyonranch_goats_coffeetapeclimb
There are rocks, and there are goats, and there is goat poop by all the rocks. Welcome to HCR.

Bring a tarp. It is a dude ranch with free-grazing horses and goats and dogs to round them up, meaning THERE IS POOP EVERYWHERE—not just in the Goat Cave like Mountain Project tells you. To avoid grinding goat pellets into your rope, rope bag and backpack, I’d suggest bringing a tarp to lay everything out on. I’d also suggest watching where you step and avoiding the Goat Cave if possible.

Bring hand soap. The campsite bathrooms are equipped with toilets, sinks, a hand-drier and, 90 percent of the time, toilet paper. No soap or paper towels. Plan accordingly.

The water tastes like dirt. It won’t make you sick—I drank it for five days without any issues—but it didn’t taste good. I’d recommend bringing a little juice, your favorite sports drink or some flavored hydration powder to make it palatable.

horseshoecanyonranch_ranchdog_coffeetapeclimb
My favorite ranch dog. He visited us nearly every night at dinner and joined my rest-day yoga session.

Enjoy the local “wildlife” with caution. All of the ranch dogs I’ve encountered are friendly, and the non-working canines love attention. However, as I said in the introduction, BEWARE THE GRANOLA-SNATCHING HORSES! Wrangling my bag of homemade granola from one of the free-grazing horses’ mouths when he decided to snatch it out of the back of our truck was undoubtedly the most dangerous 30 seconds of my time there. Luckily, the horse and I made up afterward, and I came away unscathed. He even let me pat him for a while afterward (highly recommended). The goats, however, are off limits for any interactions beyond picture taking. You might also spot a turtle crossing the trail.

Go to the Ozark Café in downtown Jasper for WiFi. There is little to no cell reception and no WiFi at the campsite, so if you’re going for more than a weekend and need a connection to the outside world, the Ozark Café is the place to go. Free WiFi, unlimited cups of strong coffee and friendly service—even when you’re there working on your laptop for three hours on a Saturday—make this the best local “coffee shop.”

General Information: Climbing is now $10 a day and camping is $5 per night. The campsite does have hot showers but at a cost of $3 per six-minute token. You also have to wear a neon yellow wrist band to show you’ve paid—it looks like you’re at an amusement park.

RELATED: Tips for Climbing at HCR in January

*Never fear boulders and trad climbers: HCR has several bouldering areas and two cliffs, Confederate Cracks and Crackhouse Alley, for plugging gear. However, the majority of climbing is of the bolted variety, making it a sport climber’s paradise.

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