Penitentiary Hollow at Lake Mineral Wells State Park has the closest outdoor climbing for people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The 2nd-largest state has rock in only about half of it at best. Much of that rock is locked away on private property, and there's little publicly accessible rock that isn't total choss. Most of that rock is limestone, some is volcanic rhyolite, and a little is granite. At Mineral Wells, you have the opportunity to climb on a sandstone conglomerate that often has jugs and pockets so good and so perfectly located that you have to wonder if someone manufactured them. (Answer: I don't know.)
Because park management has decided rock quality is questionable here (and it can be), almost all of the climbing here is toproping. Park regulations state that "No free climbing, soloing or bouldering is allowed." By free climbing, they mean no trad, and by soloing, they mean no free soloing. And even though the rules forbid bouldering, the park guide lists some bouldering routes.
Penitentiary Hollow consists of a main trailside cliff and a collection of "rock islands." Two of those islands have a bolted route that goes at about 5.5; the main purpose for each route is to access the top in order to set topropes. The other islands have Class 3/4 scrambles up them for setting topropes, and the trailside cliff simply requires walking a few yards off the trail to access anchors.
Because the area is designated for toproping, managers decided to install bolts as anchors for almost every route. This is very convenient, but it also contributes to a reputation for dangerous and/or ridiculous anchors. Know how to set a proper extended anchor off bolts; don't be that person whose anchor gets photographed and posted on social media for ridicule. 30-50' of cord should be enough for almost anything out here. If you don't know how to set up a good, redundant anchor, seek qualified instruction; don't be one of the many who come out here and TR off one bolt and one carabiner and/or who have the climbing rope sawing over sharp edges.
In the rare case that two bolts are not available for setting an anchor, you should be able to tie off a tree or boulder as an anchor.
There are also at least 3 dedicated rappel stations atop some of the islands; don't be that person toproping through the chains on the rappel station!
Routes get up to 40-50'.
Hiking, camping, swimming, fishing, and canoeing/kayaking are also popular activities at Mineral Wells. Because the area has a lot of shade, it's great to climb on summer mornings here and then go swim.
If you're an experienced climber and/or someone who likes peace and quiet, please be ready to practice your very best patience and restraint if you come here on a nioce weekend. The place usually becomes an absolute shitshow by 10 or 11, with bad anchors, sketchy belaying, unrestrained dogs, small children running among people's gear, and so on.
Climbing at Penitentiary Hollow
Although the area is compact, finding your way around can be challenging. No guidebook covers the area, Mountain Project has pretty limited information, and the climbing guide the park publishes lists no names and/or grades for some of the routes. In some cases, the MP names differ from the ones in the park guide. Also, there are lines that are listed on neither MP or the park guide.
Over time, I may add crag pages that attempt to lay out the area with better details and pictures. For now, though, I recommend using both the MP page and the park guide for navigating the page. The pictures I've added below might help you to locate some of the routes.
Here, though, are some routes considered area classics and/or which are highly popular. If I've climbed it, it's in bold to let you know that any beta is verified and firsthand.
Easy Nose, 5.5, sport
Unnamed 5.5 sport route on Middle Tower
Big Offwidth, 5.6, beneath Scenic Overlook
Unnamed 5.7, just left of the 5.5 sport route on Middle Tower
Hand Crack, 5.7, along main cliff
5.8 overhang left of the cave
Pillar Hold, 5.8, on Middle Tower
Easy Crack, 5.9, on Middle Tower
Thin Crack, 5.10, along main cliff
Racheal's Way, 5.10, on Cave Tower
Pee Wee's, 5.10b, just right of Racheal's
Keith's Way, 5.11-
Finger Stinger, 5.11
Lake Mineral Wells State Park is about 45 minutes west of Fort Worth. Just get on Google Maps to figure out the best way to get there from where you are.
Once you enter the park and pass the entrance station, make a right when you reach the spillway (left takes you to campgrounds). Pass the swimming area and continue uphill to road's end.
A short hike, at the start of which is a sign going over climbing rules, takes you to the Scenic Overlook and then stone steps leading down into the hollow. On the way down, you'll pass by the top of a short, narrow slot with a lot of bolts above it. This location is called the Refrigerator because it gets almost no sun.
When you enter the main area, you'll see a 4-bolt-route on your right. This is Easy Nose, which gets you to the top of Cave Tower. The "cave," which is really a natural tunnel that goes through to the other side, is some yards left of Easy Nose and impossible to miss. If you want to find the other bolted route, go past the cave and bear right into the canyon separating Cave Tower from Middle Tower. The bolted route will be on your left at the end of the canyon (there are other ways to get to it).
The daily entrance fee is $7 per adult. If you're a frequent visitor to Texas State Parks, consider the annual pass.
Climbers have to check in at the entrance station to register, sign a waiver, and pay a separate fee (currently $3 per climber, I believe). Registered climbers get a bracelet. The fee supposedly goes toward upkeep of the climbing hardware. Although I have never seen rangers enforcing this policy, I recommend following it so as not to jeopardize access in a state that has very little climbing open to the public.
The park has extensive camping that includes tent sites, screened shelters, and RV sites. It's a good idea to make reservations through the park website, especially in summer when swimming is very popular.