The Access Fund was formed in 1989 by the American Alpine Club, at the recommendation of its Access Committee. The Access Committee had learned that some access problems would be resolved only by outright purchases of property or other direct intervention with money. The Access Fund's nascent purpose was to raise, hold and allocate funds for access support projects and resources.

The Access Fund quickly began a campaign of fundraising, advertising and action to address increasing threats to climbers' access on both public and private lands. Typically, projects are developed which involve not only land purchases but also providing financial and legal resources to local climbers' coalitions, construction of reduced impact trails, volunteer clean-ups of popular climbing areas, installation of sanitary facilities, funding of scientific studies, and publication of educational materials.

In 1990 the Access Fund hired two full-time staff members. In December of that year it became an independent organization, separate from the American Alpine Club, in order to focus exclusively on domestic climbing problems and solutions. By the spring of 1991, the Access Funds goals and services had expanded dramatically, mirroring the explosive growth of climbing in general.

To finance its many projects, the Access Fund sought corporate and individual support in the outdoor industry. Membership, corporate sponsorship and retail sponsorship programs have been the primary sources of monies necessary to carry on this vital work. To date over 100 outdoor industry members and other companies have become corporate sponsors, 250 outdoor retailers, climbing gyms and regional climbing organizations have become Access Fund partners and over 10,000 members from every state in the nation and over a dozen other countries have become individual members.

The Access Fund is involved in projects at hundreds of climbing areas around the country — working to reverse or prevent closures, reducing climbers' environmental impacts, and educating land managers and the general public as to the special concerns and needs of climbers. The Access Fund is proud to publicize its history of successful and groundbreaking actions in its newsletter, Vertical Times, and in an electronic newsletter.

Today, the Access Fund remains at the forefront of climbers' conservation and access work. The Access Fund Board of Directors represents all factions of the climbing community, and is assisted by a national network of Regional Coordinators and affiliate organizations. The Access Fund's national office is located in Boulder, Colorado.