Are your kids climbing the walls? How about having them climb someone else’s walls for a change? Intro them to rock climbing and bouldering where they’ll develop self-reliance, while simultaneously gaining lessons in trust and teamwork. Rock climbing not only challenges and builds overall body strength, but also mental fortitude. To help you get started, we’ve rounded up some of the best rock climbing for kids in Chicago to learn, compete—and even celebrate.
Brooklyn Boulders offers 2-hour after-school programs to teach kids rock climbing basics. Kids Academy for ages 5-12 focuses on socialization and confidence-building while Teen Academy delves deeper into techniques and terminology and is geared toward ages 11-15+. The Kids Academy also has weekend classes.
Also, Adventure Days are full-day programs on school holidays that include climbing, team-building and S.T.E.A.M activities, plus there are full-week summer camps, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. They also offer competitive and non-competitive teams for those looking to strengthen skills and advance.
Chicago Athletic Clubs
Chicago Athletic Clubs has premier rock climbing for kids at their Evanston and Lakeview locations available to non-members. (The Lincoln Park outdoor climbing wall is currently under renovation.)
Unquestionably, the Family Climbs are a great place to start and climbing equipment is provided. Parents must be present, but staff is available to assist.
Classes range from introductory, which increases comfort on the wall and advances to knot tying and belaying, to more challenging with increased intensity and independence. A separate progression from beginner to intermediate is offered for kids ages 10-15 and culminates with bouldering and top rope climbing.
First Ascent Climbing and Fitness
Private instruction and 8-week group climbing classes are available at all four locations. The skill-based curriculum for kids ages 4 & up develops problem-solving skills, discipline and character.
The Uptown and Avondale locations offer a Rock Block program for ages 7-13. Drop kids off on the weekend to enjoy free play with instructor guidance while you revel in well-deserved "me time."
Weekly summer camps are offered for ages 7-14 at the Avondale location, Jun. 20-Aug. 12, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Each themed week will offer opportunities to climb, rappel, zip-line and create arts and crafts.
All locations offer 2-hour birthday party packages which include guided climbing and private space.
4 locations in Avondale, Humbold Park, Uptown & Loop; Online: faclimbing.com
UIC Climbing Wall
For the most authentic rock feel indoors, check out the Entre Prises’ Free Form climbing wall at UIC. The advanced technology wall is 43 feet with 7 top ropes. The placement and multitude of cracks, pockets and other features, along with ever-changing routes make this wall one you'll never get bored of.
UIC offers adult and youth climbing classes. The Kids Learn to Climb class introduces kids ages 7 & up to climbing in two-hour classes held once a week for three weeks.
In addition, free climbing for ages 5 & up is available on the weekends and during university breaks. While climbing is at no cost for students, members and guests, non-members may purchase a five-climb pass. The climbing wall is also available for private rentals with equipment.
737 S. Halsted St., 312-413-5150, Near West Side, Online: recreation.uic.edu
With 30-foot walls, 3 bouldering areas, 450 different routes and 35 auto belays, Vertical Endeavors has something for everyone. There are no age limits. They offer lessons for ages 14 & up where they'll learn advanced climbing techniques, which they may employ on one of three competitive climbing teams.
There is also a non-competitive climbing club, for ages 6-18, Wednesdays, 4:30 p.m.-6 p.m.
Single-day and week-long summer camps run between May and August. Base Camp for ages 6-9 offers kids a great climbing foundation while having fun with group games and a mock competition. Peak Experience Camp for ages 10-13 focuses on taking climbing abilities to the next level.
If you're looking for a birthday party idea, the facility is also available for private events. Ask about their homeschooling discount days.
246 Windy Point Dr., Glendale Heights, 630-784-9000, Online: verticalendeavors.com
MUCH MORE THAN A CLIMBING WALL
ClimbZone is one of the newest additions to Chicago. It's more than a climbing gym, it's an amusement park. In addition to climbing walls, there is a high ropes course, laser tag, bumper cars, a soft play zone, a zip line and a full arcade. Each climbing structure is unique and utilizes multi-media to interact with and challenge climbers. The 25-foot walls have an easy-to-use auto-belay system.
Have a snack at the Summit Cafe which offers a kids menu, slushies, and even adult beverages.
2500 W. Bradley Place, North Center, Online: climbzone.us/chicago
Movement Climbing Gym
With 43,000 square feet of climbing, yoga, weights, cardio and group fitness, Movement Lincoln Park has more than enough room for all ages and abilities. Climbing walls extend 56 feet up with more than 200 changing routes. Take an introductory class or book a one-hour session with an instructor.
Movement also opened a 43,000-square-foot Wrigleyville location spread over 3 floors with tons of natural light and views of Wrigley Field. They offer an afterschool program for ages 6-12, 4 p.m.-5:30 p.m., which makes this a great spot to rock climb with kids.
In addition to climbing, 11,000 square feet is dedicated to bouldering. As kids grow in the climbing community they are encouraged to join climbing teams. Birthday parties are available for ages 6 & up.
Maggie Daley Park
If you've been to Maggie Daley Park, you've probably noticed two towers standing tall in the center of the skating ribbon. These 40-foot walls invite beginners and experts to open climb or boulder at their own risk under the supervision of park staff.
The walls can accommodate 25-100 climbers at a time, no reservation required. All climbers must wear appropriate climbing shoes which are available for rent. Four and eight-class instruction packages are also available.
337 E. Randolph St., Downtown Loop, 312-552-3000, Online: maggiedaleypark.com
Steelworkers Park Climbing Wall
A unique outdoor climbing structure exists on the southside at Steelworkers Park. What was once ore walls of a steel manufacturing site have been transformed by the Chicago Park District into a free climbing site. Anyone with their own equipment may scale the 30-foot wall free of charge, Memorial Day to Thanksgiving, dusk to dawn.
Often, the Park District holds Saturday open community climbs and other events. These events are facilitated by Park District staff and typically include all necessary equipment (shoes, helmet, harness and auto belay.) Harnesses are designed for ages 8 & up, while children 7 & under boulder for free on the bottom third of the wall with a helmet.
87th at S. Lake Shore Dr., Southside, 312-720-0940, Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com
KEY TERMS TO KNOW
Rock climbing — Climbing the face of a rock formation to reach the summit, typically with the aid of ropes and a partner.
Bouldering — Climbing, without a rope, on smaller cliffs and boulders lower to the ground, such that one would not likely get hurt if they fell.
Belaying — A partner holds the rope that is hooked to the climber’s harness. The belayer pulls the rope through a belay device, as their partner scales the rock face, providing a counterbalance so they cannot fall. Some gyms have auto-belay systems that don’t require a partner.
Top Rope — Rope is threaded through a top-rope anchor at the top of the route and it's controlled by a belayer standing on the ground beneath the climber.
Rappelling — The use of two ropes to slide down a steep descent in a controlled manner.
Routes —The path of holds designed to reach the rock summit.
— Debra Flanagan