Indoor rock climbing presents a great, year-round activity in Chicago. Here’s why:
We spoke to several experts and other enthusiasts to find the best indoor rock climbing walls in Chicago. Getting started is easier (and cheaper) than you think.
Vertical Endeavors | Warrenville, IL | 630-836-0122 | CFR PICK
Stop reading, find a car, and get your butt as quickly as possible to Vertical Endeavors in Warrenville, IL (about a 40-minute drive). It’s the most impressive indoor rock climbing wall in Chicagoland, encompassing 40 top ropes across two wall areas (30/42 ft), as well as a designated bouldering area. The 18,000 sq. ft. space can comfortably accommodate about 120 people at one time.
We particularly love the 21 auto-belays, which are robotic machines that eliminate the need for human support. Also worth mentioning: Vertical Endeavors was started by the same people behind Nicros, one of the top indoor rock climbing wall manufacturers. The group has had success with three climbing facilities in MN and is in process of opening a 40,000 sq. ft. facility in Glendale Heights. Basically, they know what they’re doing.
Anita Johnson, Programs Coordinator, told us about several ways to get started at the gym. The easiest approach is to show up, get a day pass and rentals (for under $30), and hook into one of the auto-belays. Alternatively, clinics and private lessons are available by appointment. If you’re planning more than a few trips, it’s worth considering a 10-visit pass or monthly membership.
Vertical Endeavors is located inside the LifeTime Fitness Facility at 28141 Diehl Road in Warrenville. Hours are 10am-10pm Monday-Saturday and 10am-6pm on Sunday.
Chicago Athletic Clubs | Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Evanston | CFR PICK
Three of the seven CAC locations are equipped with climbing walls manufactured by Entre Prises. Each facility provides daily “intro climb times” available to beginners. Alternatively, climbers can enroll in a six-hour introductory course for $125, which provides the certification required for unsupervised climbing. Experienced climbers may “test out” for $20.
Day passes are available to nonmembers for $25 and 10-visit passes for $150. Each visit includes rental gear and access to the general gym area. Monthly membership to CAC is a great deal, as it includes access to every CAC facility (wall and gym) for $105.
Keith Geraghty, Climbing Wall Manager, helped us sort through the facts and figures of each climbing area:
- Lakeview Athletic Club has a 50-foot indoor rock climbing wall equipped with six top ropes, each with 4-5 different routes. The most unique feature is the crack that spans the entire length – ideal for practicing hand jams and other techniques. The adjacent bouldering area has 40-50 routes that span a 65-degree overhang.
- Lincoln Park Athletic Club is a great option for summer climbing, given its outdoor wall with eight top ropes. The easiest rope has 3-4 routes reaching 40 feet. The most difficult rope reaches 68 feet and includes a 30-degree sustained overhang. The wall is equipped with one auto-belay.
- Evanston Athletic Club is worth a look if you happen to be in the area. The facility has a 45-foot indoor rock climbing wall stretching through the center of the club, equipped with five top ropes. A bouldering cave is adjacent to the wall. Additionally, there is 25-foot wall with three top ropes near the basketball court.
Open climb at Lakeview and Evanston is available during gym hours. The staff also provides 1-3 hours of supervised climbing most evenings. LPAC’s wall is closed for the season until late Spring.
Hidden Peak Climbing Gym | River West | 312-563-9400 | CFR PICK
Hidden Peak is a bouldering gym located in a tightly packed space shared with Lakeshore Academy of Artistic Gymnastics. It’s our favorite place to get a quick introduction to the sport, as no certification is required. Some users complain about the small size, but we actually view it as a strength – it forces climbers to chat, help each other out, and foster a sense of community. The space is about 1,500 sq. ft. and can support ~25 climbers at one time.
We spoke to Dave Hudson, the manager of Hidden Peak, who summarized it nicely:
“[Hidden Peak] is a hardcore down and dirty bouldering gym. It’s tightly packed and social – similar to a skate park. Everyone just jumps in and takes turns.”
It’s also one of the most affordable options at $10/day. Beginners can show up, get a quick introduction from the staff, and immediately jump in. For more serious climbers, monthly and annual memberships are available. The staff does a pretty good job of keeping the bouldering routes interesting – a complete reset occurs every month or two.
Hidden Peak is located in the Lakeshore Academy building at 937 W Chestnut St. Hours are 12pm-9pm Monday-Friday; 12pm-5pm on Saturday; and 12pm-4pm on Sunday.
FFC Old Town | Near North Side | 312-640-1235 | CFR PICK
FFC Old Town may not compete on scale, but it certainly competes on staff knowledge, community, and convenience. The indoor rock climbing wall, manufactured by Eldorado, is 20 feet high, but wide enough to support 12 top ropes. The wall has a total of 60 top rope routes and 40 bouldering problems (capped at 12 feet). The staff does a great job of keeping the routes fresh – top rope routes are changed every three months and bouldering routes are changed every month.
We’ve heard from some climbers that the wall is not tall enough to be taken seriously. We can certainly understand this initial impression, but we wanted to make a couple things clear. First, the quality and density of routes are much more important than height. Tom Petraitis (Climbing Wall Manager) has over 13 years of experience in this industry and has done an excellent job with the space. Second, this gym is packed to the brim with experienced climbers, many of whom enroll in FFC’s excellent advanced-level climbing programs.
The facility offers certification for $40 (including rentals and a second visit) and day passes for $15. Six-week climbing programs are available to multiple skill levels for $175.
FFC Old Town is located at 1235 N LaSalle St. Open climbing is available during gym hours. The staff also provides 5-6 hours of supervised climbing most evenings.
Climb On | Homewood, IL | 708-798-9994
Climb On is a decent indoor rock climbing wall located about 40 minutes away from downtown. The facility encompasses several climbing areas made by Eldorado, 40% of which is overhanging.
Vertical Endeavors beats it on size, but Climb On is still a great option for beginners. The best program is the $30 orientation, which includes an hour of instruction, rental gear, and a full day pass (call for an appointment). Other options include a $13 day pass or monthly membership for about $30 (with annual contract).
Climb On is located at 18120 Harwood Ave. The facility is closed on Monday; open 4pm-10pm on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 12pm-10pm on Wednesday and Saturday; and 12pm-6pm on Sunday.
Off Belay Rock Club | Lincoln Park | 773-358-2818
OBRC is a bare-bones bouldering gym located in an industrial space between Lincoln Park and Bucktown. The facility has two 44-degree walls, a 45-degree arête, a cave, and several other features. It’s definitely worth a look if you want a small yet challenging space. Day passes are available for $10 and monthly membership costs $35.
Thanks to Keith Geraghty (CAC) for the heads up on this one.
XSport Fitness | Multiple Locations
XSport advertises four locations equipped with indoor rock climbing walls. However, they generally fall short of other options. Routes tend to be poorly planned or nonexistent. Additionally, the staff does not seem to have specialized climbing knowledge.
- XSport Piper’s Alley | 230 W North Ave | 312-932-9100
- XSport Logan Square |2310 W Logan Blvd | 773-227-4500
- XSport Bricktown | 6420 W Fullerton Ave | 773-237-5730
- XSport State Street | 819 S State St | 312-294-0500
UIC Student Recreational Facility | University Village | 312-413-5150
This facility has a 43-foot Entre Prises climbing wall that encompasses seven top ropes. The structure has several interesting features, including cracks, pockets, and more. The website suggests 5-visit passes are available to non-members for $50, although we were told that the climbers would need to be accompanied by a member to enter the facility.
First Ascent Climbing Gym | South Loop | Coming Spring 2014
First Ascent has been on our radar for a while, but suffered a few project delays in 2013. Fortunately, they seem to have figured it out and are currently projecting a Spring 2014 opening. The facility will be the largest indoor rock climbing area within the city limits, featuring 26,000 sq. ft. of top rope climbing, 5,000 sq. ft. of bouldering, full-service locker rooms, and more.
Brooklyn Boulders | West Loop | Coming 2015?
According to a story appearing in Chicago Real Estate Daily, NYC-based Brooklyn Boulders recently signed a 15-year lease for a 25,000 sq. ft. building near Greektown. One local source suggested it’s likely to fall through, given the lack of progress over the past several months. Brooklyn Boulders declined to comment.