Take the Stairs in the Windy City

Hannah Drews
Made Possible by
Curated by

Chicago in January and February... These are the times that test even the most dedicated of outdoor athletes. If there’s snow, you can at least switch over to other pursuits by taking advantage of the white stuff. But when you have a gray, blustery day with sub-zero temperatures and little fresh snow, sometimes it’s just easier to take the workouts inside.

And while those workouts may test your patience in a different way, having an indoor goal can certainly help get you motivated to put the time in the gym over the next several months. Enter urban indoor stair climbs, a way to test your fitness by climbing some of the tallest buildings in the area while raising money for a good cause.

The Empire State Building Run-Up in New York City was one of the first to create the challenge of getting to the top without an elevator. It celebrates its 38th anniversary this February 4 and continues to draw international competitors to an event that’s more focused on the elite climbers. In Chicago, the Hustle Up the Hancock debuted in 1988, and continues to draw more than 4,000 athletes each year to raise money for the Respiratory Health Association. While it draws its share of speedsters (the men’s record for going up 94 floors is 9 minutes, 24 seconds, which is crazy fast), the event is definitely welcoming to climbers of all speeds and abilities.

The toughest part of the event may be actually getting an entry. The full 94-story climb typically sells out in a matter of hours, although you can gain entry by raising additional charity funds. But the Hustle Up the Hancock is just one of the events that offers a chance to forgo elevators and climb scores of floors in one place. Here are some of the Chicago area’s best options.

Hustle Up the Hancock; Feb. 22

While the 94-floor option is sold out, you can still enter the half-climb, featuring a 52-floor climb, which is plenty ambitious on its own. The Hustle begins at 7 am and climbers are started at 8-second intervals, keeping the stairwell relatively uncrowded. Climbers of both events finish on the 94th floor at 360 Chicago, the observation deck of the building. After admiring the well-earned views, participants can join in the post-race party at the nearby Hilton Suites Chicago Hotel. Registration for the half climb is $35, plus an $85 pledge minimum.

The Hustle Up the Hancock is one of the more popular stair climbs in Chicago.
The Hustle Up the Hancock is one of the more popular stair climbs in Chicago. Kathy

Step Up for Kids; Jan. 25

This fundraiser for the Lurie Children’s Hospital features a climb up the Aon Center, which means scaling 80 floors to the top of one of Chicago’s tallest buildings. Registration is still open for both individuals and teams, with a $50 entry fee plus a minimum $100 fundraising pledge. Proceeds from the event will go to K.I.D.D.S. for Kids, which is committed to raising $4 million for the family services department of the children’s hospital.

Fight for Air Climb: Feb. 8, March 8

This fundraiser for the American Lung Associationfeatures two climbs in the Chicago area. The first, on Feb. 8, takes place in Oakbrook Terrace at the Oakbrook Terrace Tower. There, you’ll climb 31 floors (380 steps) to the top of the tallest building in the suburbs. Climbers are welcome to climb more than once to set personal climbing records for the day. On March 8, the Fight for Air Climb comes to the Presidential Towers on the near west side of Chicago. Each tower is 45 stories tall (585 stairs) and participants choose to climb as many towers as they like. Climb all four for an impressive tally of 180 floors and 2,340 steps. Registration is $15, plus a $100 fundraising minimum.

Last Updated:

Next Up


SUP in Burlington: The Best Spots to Get on the Water


Technical Canyoneering in Utah: 4 Essentials To Know Before You Go