Chicago Rock Climbing Gyms
Chicago rock climbing opportunities have roughly doubled in the last two years, with five new modern climbing gyms opening in and nearby the city since 2014. If you haven't explored the Chicago climbing gym scene already, use this guide to figure out where to introduce yourself to climbing or stay in shape when you can't make it to your favorite natural outdoor climbing area.
CLIMBING GYMS IN CHICAGO
First Ascent | Full-Service Climbing and Bouldering Gym | $18/day
Avondale | Map
Opened in 2015, both First Ascent gyms are fully modern and enticing. FA Avondale boasts 26,000 square feet of climbing terrain, with over 30 top ropes and routes up to 60' tall. A second tier balcony hosts 5,000 square feet of stand-alone bouldering, as well as a free-weight gym and climbing-specific training room.
First Ascent | Bouldering Gym | $18/day
Chicago (West Loop) | Map
First Ascent Avondale is a bouldering-only gym, featuring 7,000 square feet of climbing terrain.
Brooklyn Boulders (BKB) | Full-Service Climbing and Bouldering Gym | $25/day
Chicago (Uptown) | Map
BKB established the first large, modern gym within Chicago city limits in late 2014. Custom-built by New York-based Brooklyn Boulders, the gym features traditional molded holds with frictionless varnished plywood walls, an interesting climbing surface I haven't seen before. Some climbers may not like the smooth walls, but they look really sharp and definitely cut down on chalk dust accumulation. This is the most polished and fully-featured gym in the city, offering key amenities like dedicated auto-belay balcony with easier top roping, as well as a separate "mini gym" where birthday parties and belay testing can happen away from mainstream climbing activities. BKB also has a free-weight gym, climbing training room, private event room and an open study lounge. While this is the most expensive gym in town, it's also the most plush.
Maggie Daley Park | Outdoor Rock Climbing and Bouldering | $7/day
Loop | Map
Opened in summer 2015, MDP introduced a fantastic outdoor climbing option for Chicagoans. Featuring two enormous, 40-foot-tall outcroppings of climbing enclosed by the weaving all-seasons "skating ribbon," the MDP climbing park helps climbers get outside even while stuck in the city and also brings climbing to a general public audience in a way most gyms cannot.
Maggie Daley Climbing Park offers bouldering, top roping, and lead climbing. Capacity is listed at "25 to 100 climbers" at one time, depending on route density. Climbing season dates are not currently listed anywhere I can find.
Though day passes are only $7, climbers new to the park must either take a 45-minute belay class ($29) or pass a "climbing test" ($15) to earn the right to climb. This certification last for the entire season, but must be renewed the following year.
Chicago Bouldering Collective | Bouldering Gym | $10/day (cash only)
Lincoln Park | Map
Hidden Peak | Bouldering Gym with Short Climbs | $10/day
Chicago | Map
Primarily a bouldering gym, dark and tiny Hidden Peak has a reputation for a welcoming atmosphere, a great community of climbers and a great selection of creative problems. Housed within Lakeshore Academy of Artistic Gymnastics, Hidden Peak offer open climbing to adults only (ages 16+) but does have an excellent structured youth climbing program. Limited hours include 12 - 2 PM (lunch) and 5 - 9 PM (evening) hours, with Saturday hours going noon - 5 PM.
Three Chicago Athletic Clubs offer climbing walls: Evanston, Lakeview, and Lincoln Park (May - October). Climbing is open to non-members, though membership not only offers access to all climbing locations, but also a full suite of classes, including summer camps and private instruction. Before Maggie Daley Park opened, the Lincoln Park climbing wall (open May thru October) was the only outdoor climbing wall in Chicago for many years. Walls reach up to 68' high with eight total top-rope stations and overhanging terrain.
Note: There are a bunch of gyms with "climbing walls" in the Chicago area, but these generally don't meet modern standards for staff knowledge and route quality, variety, and difficulty range.
CLIMBING GYMS IN THE CHIGAGOLAND SUBURBS
Vertical Endeavors | Full-Service Climbing and Bouldering Gym | $18/day
Glendale Heights, IL | Map
40 minutes from downtown, find 45,000 square feet of climbing with 30' walls at Vertical Endeavors' sprawling Glendale Heights location. VE long offered the best climbing in Chicagoland at its Warrenville location, but unfortunately LifeTime Fitness refused to renew its lease at the end of 2014, leaving only Glendale Heights under VE management.
North Wall | Full-Service Climbing and Bouldering Gym | $14/adults, $10/teens
Crystal Lake, IL | Map
Well northeast of the city, North Wall offers 20 ropes and over 8,000 square feet of climbing.