Five Places to Get Your Climbing Fix in Chicago

Chicago Athletic Clubs
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Living in the second flattest state in the nation (thank you Florida!), residents of Illinois are used to heading inside for their regular climbing fix. Yes, there are certainly beautiful climbing destinations in the Midwest—but they’re all several hours away from downtown Chicago. And now that the weather has turned to the time when “polar vortex” is a regular phrase on the evening news, indoor climbing is the only option unless you want to head north and bring an ice ax with you.

But even if you’re not someone who longs for the climbing available in Colorado or other less vertically challenged states, indoor climbing is a great winter activity. It’s a whole-body workout that will challenge you and help you avoid the overuse injuries that come from spending all your time on a bike or treadmill. It’s a social sport that encourages new people to get involved, and it gives you something to look forward to during the dark days of winter.

Want to give it a try? Here are five of the best places in Chicago to get your indoor climbing fix.

1. Evanston/Chicago Athletic Clubs

This chain of health clubs actually has three locations—Evantson, Lakeview and Lincoln Park—each with a very strong climbing program. The wall in Evanston was its first, and the club here now features two walls and a custom bouldering cave, which gives climbers the chance to do dihedrals, overhangs, and endurance routes on the 45-foot wall that extends through four levels of the building. The walls are open to both members and nonmembers of the club.

The three gyms offer classes for beginning climbers every week, plus there’s instruction in sport climbing as well as private instruction. There’s also an extensive kids' climbing program, including several climbing teams.

Click here for more information on the climbing programs at the club.

2. Hidden Peak at Lakeshore Academy

Hidden Peak offers lots of options for climbers.
Hidden Peak offers lots of options for climbers. Alli Day

Gymnasts and rock climbers both have a lot of upper-body strength, but you generally don’t think of the two groups together. But at Lakeshore Academy, it works. The Lakeshore Academy is a training center for artistic gymnasts with a rock climbing gym. The Hidden Peak, as it’s aptly named, offers mostly bouldering (with some top-roping) in its facility just west of the Chicago River. It considers itself a social spot with a strong communal atmosphere where climbers can meet other climbers, listen to good music and train on all kinds of grades.

There are two top ropes that go the full 20 feet of the walls, but most of the work is done closer to the ground. Basic rope skills and movement courses are available for those who would like to learn the sport, but most of the time the facility offers an open gym for climbing on your own. A day pass is only $10 ($7 for a lunch pass), while you can purchase an annual membership for $435. Or pay $55 for the month or $80 for a 10-punch pass card. Find out more about the programs here.

3. Lakeshore Sports and Fitness

Illinois Center

Who knew that the tallest indoor climbing wall in North America was in the heart of downtown Chicago? Well, anyone who walked into the Illinois Center might not be surprised, as the wall dominates the atrium and rises 10 stories into the building. That’s more than 100 feet of climbing, which is hard to find even outside; this side of the Rockies, that is. All climbers must undergo an orientation on the wall ($35 for members, $45 for nonmembers) before they start climbing. Shoes and harnesses are available for rent, or you can bring your own. Expert instructors are on hand to help teach beginners or help you improve in the sport. It’s one climbing experience you won’t soon forget. For more info on climbing programs click here.

4. Fitness Formula Old Town

Courtesy of Fitness Formula Old Town

At the Fitness Formula Club’s Old Town location, climbers can learn to climb in a unique way—with six week, small-group format classes that offer a “ground to summit” philosophy that will help get you started on the right foot.

The club is also the only place that you’ll find an indoor slack-lining program in the city. The climbing facility—dubbed THELEDGE—is open to both members and nonmembers of the club. Both rock climbing and bouldering classes are also available at various skill levels. The club's classes teach “clean holds, tested moves, fresh route setting ideas and a strict awareness of the requirements of all climbers regardless of their height.” For more info on the club’s programs, clickhere.

5. Vertical Endeavors

This massive climbing facility in the western suburb of Warrenville, Ill., (about 25 miles from downtown) is attached to a Life Time Fitness athletic club. But don’t let the Life Time sign fool you, this is one of the largest climbing facilities in the Midwest, with 18,000 square feet of climbing. The gym features dedicated bouldering areas, auto belays, top ropes and lead climbing. Instruction is available both individually and in groups, and the VEGA program (Vertical Endeavors Guided Adventures) is great for climbers who want to take their skills outside to climb on the real stuff at Midwest destinations. Once the weather’s nicer. Click here for more info.

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