Final Sunset Climbing Management Plan
Date: Friday, March 12 @ 13:45:05 CST
Topic: Climbing News

Climbing will be managed in Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park as described in this document. The plan for climbing management is the preferred alternative from the Draft Climbing Management Plan, with minor changes based primarily on pubic comments.

November 23, 1998


Climbing will be managed in Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park as described in this document. The plan for climbing management is the preferred alternative from the Draft Climbing Management Plan, with minor changes based primarily on pubic comments.


The Battle of Chickamauga and Battles for Chattanooga, in 1863, were significant events in determining the outcome of the American Civil War. The purpose of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is to preserve the significant resources of the Civil War campaigns and battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, and to educate the public about the events memorialized. The park was established in 1890 "for the purpose of preserving and suitably marking for historical and professional military study, the fields of some of the most remarkable maneuvers and brilliant fighting in the war of the rebellion". (26 Statute, 33HR6 US4 - August 19, 1890). This act of Congress was the first to authorize the preservation of an American battlefield. In creating the first, and largest, National Military Park, Congress laid the foundation for the national historical park concept in the United States. From this concept evolved future national battlefields, memorials, and monuments. Thus, the legislation establishing Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park provided the cornerstone for the preservation of historic sites throughout the United States.

The park is comprised of 17 units located in two states (Tennessee and Georgia), four counties, and seven municipalities. It contains 8,300 acres and received 9.6 million visitors in 1997, including one million recreational visitors.

Sunset Rock is a dramatic outcropping of sandstone located along the western rim of Lookout Mountain just north of the Georgia-Tennessee state line. Confederate Generals Bragg and Longstreet took advantage of the panoramic view from Sunset Rock to plan the Battle of Wauhatchie on October 28, 1863, an attempt to cut the Union supply line into Chattanooga, which the Confederates had placed under siege after the Battle of Chickamauga. Today, hikers and climbers enjoy the natural and historic view from the top of the outcrop, and climbers use sites above and below the rock as staging areas to climb on the 100-foot cliff face. Use of the Sunset Rock area of the Lookout Mountain unit by climbers has increased significantly over time, making Sunset Rock one of the most popular climbing areas in the region. This increased activity in the area has adversely impacted the soil and vegetation, diminished the solitude once associated with Sunset Rock, created parking problems at Sunset Rock and surrounding areas, and increased tension between park users and nearby residents. These issues generated the need to address, through this climbing management plan, activities which impact the park’s cultural and natural resources.


The National Park Service proposes to manage climbing at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (CHCH) to protect park resources and the quality of the visitor experience. The primary objective of climbing management is to preserve and protect the cultural and natural resources of the park. A secondary objective is to provide high quality experiences for visitors, including climbers. All policy and actions will be based on these objectives.   CLIMBING HISTORY

A popular guidebook to rock climbing within Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park refers to the Sunset Rock area as the "birthplace" of sandstone climbing in the South. This same volume traces some of the early history of climbing in the park back to the 1940's. It further states that during the 1960's several climbers began developing routes on the cliffs of a limestone quarry on the northwest end of Lookout Mountain known as the Eagles Nest. Climbing activity then moved to the cliffs on the western side of the mountain around Sunset Rock. During the 1970's that area received considerable attention as a large number of routes were developed. It was at Sunset Rock during the 1980's that local climbers achieved what was probably the first climb in the south rated at 5.12 (a very difficult climb). By 1995, more than 250 routes had been established on the cliffs at and around Sunset Rock. An unknown, but suspected large number of bolts have been placed in the walls. No inventory of bolts and other fixed hardware has been conducted.

As the numbers of climbers increased, the tension, created by the added vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and the shortage of parking space, also increased between nearby residents and the park users coming and going from the Sunset Rock area. At this same time, concerns were raised that climbing was a factor in what appeared to be a rapid increase in soil erosion in the area. Many people were also concerned that the vegetation was disappearing from areas at the top and bottom of climbing routes. Some trees were showing damage or were dying from a combination of soil compaction and loss, along with damage to bark from ropes being rigged to tree trunks.

A public meeting to address climbing management issues was held in 1987. No consensus was reached. The cliffs in the historic areas around Point Park and the East Brow were closed to climbing. In addition, over the next few years several studies were initiated to assess and monitor the natural resources around Sunset Rock for damage in an attempt to establish baseline data.

In 1994, climbers presented the park with a plan to rehabilitate the trails in areas around Sunset Rock. Under the direction of the National Park Service, and with the support of climbing organizations, local businesses, and other service organizations a large scale, long-term program was begun to rebuild trails, stop erosion, restore topsoil, and replant lost vegetation. The participating climbers, who provided landscape architects for the project, believed that rehabilitation, combined with hardening of the trail surface, maintenance and careful monitoring of the area would allow the Sunset Rock area to withstand continued rock climbing and pedestrian traffic without degradation. This on-going effort has been very successful thus far, with the great majority of labor contributed by climbers working as volunteers. The project has been described in nationally circulated climbers’ publications as one of the premier trail restoration projects in the United States.

In an effort to reduce conflicts with other recreational users, the Access Fund and other climbing organizations proposed the construction of a parking area at the northwest base of Lookout Mountain near the Chattanooga Nature Center. This parking area, located adjacent to park property at a trailhead, has been completed, but thus far it has received only light use. The new parking area requires climbers to hike nearly two miles up a moderately steep trail to access the climbing areas of the mountain, which is likely a contributing factor to its light use.


The National Park Service recognizes climbing as a longstanding and legitimate recreational activity in the National Park System (NPS 1991a). This climbing management plan, a supplement to the Resource Management Plan for Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, was developed in response to an increase in climbing activity and resulting impacts on park resources and visitor experiences. Advances in technology, an increase in bolting, and the diversification of climbing styles have contributed to the increase in these impacts. The NPS must evaluate these impacts, and take remedial action when the impacts become unacceptable. This plan provides the framework for that action.


Climbing is prohibited on the east brow of Lookout Mountain, and the "Point Park" portion of the mountain’s west brow.

The cliff face within view from Sunset Rock looking south is also closed to climbing.

The remainder of the mountain’s west brow, including Sunset Rock, is available for climbing. Rigging to anything on top of the main area of Sunset Rock is prohibited, except for anchors which may be approved as necessary to allow temporary safe access to the cliff. The installation of fixed protection placed 1 to 2 feet below the rim at Sunset Rock by climbers will be authorized by the National Park Service through a fixed protection permit. These authorized anchors will serve as the top of climbing routes in that area. Rigging to trees is prohibited at areas where damage to trees has occurred, or has the potential to occur. Fixed protection, installed by climbers at the top and bottom of routes in other areas where rigging to trees is prohibited, will also be authorized by permit. Bolts and other fixed protection remaining in areas closed to climbing will be removed. Group size cannot exceed twenty climbers. A climbing fee system will be explored. If a fee system is found to be practical, it will not be initiated until the results implementing the climbing management plan without fees have been evaluated for effectiveness utilizing existing staff and funds. If an acceptably low level of resource impacts cannot be achieved, a permit system may be considered to limit the number of climbers. A permit system of this type would require setting use limits based on each site’s carrying capacity. Additional research would be necessary prior to implementing such a system. Sport rappelling is restricted to the "Eagles Nest" area. Areas in need of rehabilitation will be closed to climbing until resource damage is corrected.

The following additional actions will be also be included as components of the climbing management plan:

  • research on cultural and natural resource impacts caused by climbing activities

    developing a resources monitoring program for climbing areas that will include visitor education and resource protection

    rehabilitation of areas that have suffered resource degradation

    promoting responsible and ethical climbing practices

    providing educational information on the historic significance of the area

    inventorying all bolts, pitons, and other anchors currently in use

    adopting any service wide climbing regulations that may be promulgated in the future.

    provisions for climbing opportunities within the park

    prohibiting the use of power drills and installation of new fixed anchors without prior National Park Service approval

    prohibiting the use of alcoholic beverages and audio devices in the vicinity of cliffs

    designating four of the nine parking spaces in the Sunset Rock parking area as "One Hour Parking Only" while encouraging climbers to utilize other legal parking available in the area

    requiring a permit for groups of ten or more climbers

    voluntary trail user registration at Sunset Rock to document types and volume of use

    closure of Sunset Rock to sport rappelling


Authority and direction for managing Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, including recreational use comes from federal legislation and National Park Service policy.

Prior to developing a management plan within a National Park system unit for any recreational activity, laws authorizing the existence of a particular park must first be reviewed. Congress has stated in the enabling legislation of most units of the national park system that parks have their own particular purposes and objectives. Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was created as our nation' s first National Military Park. The park was established in 1890 for the purpose of "…preserving and suitably marking for historical and professional military study, the fields of some of the most remarkable maneuvers and brilliant fighting in the war of the rebellion". (26 Statute, 33HR6 US4 - August 19, 1890).

The natural resources of the park are managed to support the preservation of cultural resources and the interpretation of the Civil War battles fought at Chickamauga and Chattanooga. Natural resources are also protected by the Endangered Species Act (87 Stat. 884), the General Authorities Act (84 Stat. 825), the Redwoods National Park Act (92 Stat. 163) and others.

Historical and cultural resources are protected by the Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities (34 Stat. 225), the Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (16 USC 470), the Historic Sites Act of 1935 (49 Stat. 66), and the National Historic Preservation Act as amended (NHPA: 16 U.S.C. 470), among others.

NPS Management Policies: Recreation

National Park Service Management Policies recognize rock climbing as a legitimate recreational activity in the park system (NPS 1988). The National Park Service will consider the park’s purposes and the effects on park resources and visitors when determining the appropriateness of a specific activity within a park. Unless the activity is mandated by statute, the National Park Service will not allow a recreational activity within a park, or in certain locations within a park, if such activity would involve or result in;

  • inconsistency with the park’s enabling legislation or proclamation, or degradation of the values or purposes for which the park was established
  • unacceptable impacts on visitor enjoyment due to interference or conflict with other visitor use activities
  • consumptive use of park resources (does not apply to certain traditional activities specifically authorized by NPS general regulations)
  • unacceptable impacts on park resources or natural processes, or
  • unacceptable levels of danger to the welfare or safety of the public, including participants

Rock climbing and other recreational pursuits are to be managed in a manner that ensures that they do not cause degradation or conflict with the intended purposes of the park.


The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is used to manage climbing through general and park-specific regulations. Examples include prohibiting the use of motorized drills, designation of specific access trails or campgrounds, prescribing colors or type of chalk and equipment to reduce visual effects of climbing, and closing areas to bolting or other activities (58 Federal Register 6/14/93). Applicable general regulations are:

36 CFR 1.5 Closures and Public Use Limits - allows for closures, restrictions, or the development of special rulemaking.

36 CFR 2.1 (a) Preservation of natural, cultural, and archeological resources. Except as otherwise provided, the following are prohibited:

(1) Possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging, or disturbing from its natural state:

(i) living or dead wildlife or fish, or the parts or products thereof, such as antlers or nests

(iv) a mineral resource...

 (3) Tossing, throwing, or rolling rocks or other items...down hillsides or mountainsides...

(5) Walking on or archeological or cultural resource...

(6) Possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging, or disturbing...cultural or archeological resources.

36 CFR 2.12 (a) Audio disturbances. The following are prohibited:

(1) Operating motorized equipment or machinery...

(ii) that makes noise which is unreasonable, considering the nature and purpose of the actor’s conduct, location, time of day or night, purpose for which the area was established, impact on park users or other factors which would govern the conduct of a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances.

(3) In non-developed areas, operating any type of portable motor or engine...except pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit.



Patrick H. Reed



To obtain a copy of this map, contact the park at 706-866-9241, extension 112. A copy will be sent via fax or regular mail. Please include your preference and the appropriate fax number or mailing adddress.


To obtain a copy of this map, contact the park at 706-866-9241, extension 112. A copy will be sent via fax or regular mail. Please include your preference and the appropriate fax number or mailing address

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This article comes from The Southeastern Climbers Coalition

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