A Life Behind Miguel's Pizza
Situated among the rolling mountains of Kentucky is a slice of heaven for rock climbers, food lovers, and camping fanatics.
Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is known to have the best rock climbing in the eastern United States and is continuously swarmed with climbers looking for some adventure. Those who venture to the valley often camp behind a tiny pizza shop known as Miguel’s Pizza.
Thirty years ago, Miguel moved to Kentucky, decided to open a pizza shop in the heart of the mountains, and soon got the idea to allow the climbing community camp in an open field behind the restaurant for a mere $2/night. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, it’s transformed into a major success and dubbed the ‘Camp Four of the East.’
It’s equipped with pavilions, showers ($1.00 for 4 minutes), basketball court, slacklines, board game/chill room with free internet, equipment shop, and laundry room for all your stanky climbing clothes at the end of a long day.
It also has no cell-service, which you all know is right up my alley. I have Verizon, and my phone was roaming a majority of the time. *Confused*
Red River Gorge is famous for its climbing, and there are kick-ass rock walls all around. The choices are endless, and even those who have been camping there for months have yet to try them all. On our journey, we climbed at Muir Valley, Phantasia Wall, and Left Flank.
Left Flank was by far the most expert crag we visited, with most ratings 5.10 or higher. Muir Valley has the Practice/Guide Walls, which have the lowest ratings for warm-up. My personal favorite route was a 5.8+ at Left Flank, which unfortunately I didn’t get to complete because of dwindling daylight and my inability to lead/clean a route. Rats.
At night, the climbers return to Miguel’s with empty stomachs. After downing a pizza (or two), many hang out in the pavilion or basement. This is where you will play cards, meet other climbers, and share stories of the day’s climbs. Some campers are visiting for the weekend, and others have called the place home for months.
It sounds like a dream. Wake up, eat a breakfast burrito, go climbing, play some cards, and wait to do it all again tomorrow. I think I’m convinced to spend a couple of weeks out there this spring.
Miguel’s does have complimentary Wi-Fi, which is most helpful in keeping track of the weather. Our last night, the tent flooded around 2 am, along with the sleeping bags, blankets, and layers of clothing. If we’d had known, we would have packed a second (more waterproof) tent to set up instead. Oops.
But attempting to sleep in a car that smelled like a men’s locker room was a blast.
And for those misty days, if you’re not crazy about overhang, the rock will be too wet to climb. Luckily there are also hiking routes to keep you busy for days. The Natural Bridge (one of the biggest in the world) is 3 miles from the shop and is a must-see. A hike to the top is a common route (you may just run into someone you know, like fellow blogger Adventure Mom). Continuing down the trail, the crowds will dwindle, and if you make your way to Lovers Leap Lookout, chances are you’ll be completely alone.
Miguel's Pizza is humble and homey, and Miguel has gone above and beyond to make it a haven for climbers. The gear shop is rad, his restaurant is delicious, and he allows the climbing community to have a home in Kentucky.
And hell, if you have $300 in your pocket, you could comfortably live there for a couple of months. $60/month for camping? Count me in.
Soulful adventurer. Probably lost. Definitely eating ice cream.
In her late-teens, Shalee drove out of her small hometown watching the sunset behind her along the two-lane highway. Her ventures began in Michigan, where she taught herself to travel on a budget. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure, budget, and outdoor travel. Learn more about her here.