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Chicago might seem like an unlikely place for climbers, but there are actually tons of cool outdoor activities and spots to climb in and around the city. There are stunning places to go climbing at Chicago rock climbing gyms and outdoors at state parks and nature preserves. Whether you’re rock climbing in Chicago for the first time or are a seasoned outdoor climber, you can find a Chicago rock climbing spot that suits your skill levels and preferences.

To help you learn more about places to go climbing in Chicago, we put together this list of 10 of the best spots for climbers in the Windy City.

Rock Climbing Gyms in Chicago

1. First Ascent

  • Locations: Avondale, Uptown, Humboldt Park, Block 37 (Loop)
  • Day Pass: $19 ($15 with student ID)
  • Equipment Rental: $10

First Ascent has the most locations in the Chicagoland area. There’s likely one close to wherever location you are at. Although most of their gyms are bouldering only, you can get your lead or top rope fix at their Avondale location.

One of the highlights of this gym is that your membership enrolls you in a loyalty points system. Earn points with each visit to the gym, by joining one of their fitness classes, or when you refer a friend. Points are redeemable for free guest passes, gear rentals, discount on fitness classes, or pay for a month’s membership with your points!

2. Vertical Endeavors

  • Location: 246 Windy Point Drive
  • Day Pass: $18
  • Equipment Rental: $12

Located further out in the suburbs of Glendale, IL, Vertical Endeavors boasts one of the largest climbing facilities in the country. This Minnesota based company already has several climbing gyms around the Twin Cities area, but its Glendale location is its first location in the Chicago area.

The gym has both top rope routes and lead climbing routes. If you don’t have a climbing partner for the day, the gym also has 3 bouldering walls and 30 auto-belays, making this a great choice for solo climbers.

3. Brooklyn Boulders

  • Location: 100 South Morgan Street
  • Day Pass: $25
  • Equipment Rental: $11

Brooklyn Boulders prides itself on being both a climbing gym and a community hang-out spot. In addition to climbing walls, Brooklyn Boulders also features pop-up events, art showcases, and group exercise class. What truly sets this gym apart, however, is its collaborative working space with free wi-fi. This gym is the perfect spot for freelancers and remote workers to be productive and get their daily exercise in.

In terms of climbing space, the facility offers bouldering, top rope, lead climbing, and several auto-belays. The gym offers a “beginner to badass” package for new members, which includes a one month membership, free classes, gear rental, and a waived activation fee.

4. Chicago Athletic Club

  • Location: 1723 Benson Ave (Evanston), 3212 N. Broadway (Lakeview)
  • Day Pass: $35
  • Equipment Rental: Unlisted

The Chicago Athletic Club is a network of gyms throughout the Chicagoland area. Two of their locations, Evanston Athletic Club and Lakeview Athletic Club have indoor climbing walls. Their Lincoln park location has an outdoor wall, but it is currently undergoing renovations as of September 2019. A monthly membership is $65-$110 monthly depending on what services and classes you add, but it will get you more cross-training equipment compared to a climbing only gym.

The Athletic Clubs have walls up to 65 feet tall, making them the owners of one of the tallest climbing walls in the city. Routes range in difficulty from 5.7 – 5.13. Lead, top rope, and bouldering is available.

Photo Credit: Phil Roeder (Flickr CC)

5. Maggie Daley Park

  • Location: 337 E Randolph Service Street
  • Day Pass: $15
  • Equipment Rental: $15

Looking to get outside and climb without leaving the city? Head over to Maggie Daley Park in the Loop to climb a 40 feet outdoor wall. The climbing wall is run by the nearby Lakeshore Sport & Fitness gym. The wall has 19,000 square feet of climbing surface area and can hold up to 100 climbers at a time. Chicago residents get 20% off all prices with proof of residency.

6. Steelworkers Park

  • Location: East 87th at Lake Michigan
  • Price: Free
  • Equipment Rental: No rental equipment available

A recent addition to Chicago’s climbing scene, the climbing wall at Steelworker’s park opened in 2018 as the South Side’s fist climbing wall. The wall itself is a dozen climbing routes bolted onto the outside of the old South Works steel manufacturing plant. The installation of the wall was part of a larger city-wide project to expand its open spaces and park spaces. The city plans to host open climb days in the summertime and install auto-belay devices. For now, experienced lead climbers and boulderers can send these routes any time the park is open.

The wall is 40 feet tall, and features routes ranging in difficulty from 5.2 to 5.7. A couple of the routes feature 90 degree overhangs and 45 degree pitches.

Outdoor Rock Climbing Near Chicago

Photo Credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (Flickr CC)

7. Devil’s Lake State Park

  • Location: Baraboo, Wisconsin
  • Distance from Chicago: 180 miles
  • Difficulty: 5.5 to 5.12 (mostly moderates)
  • Gear Needed? Yes, slings for anchors needed

A 3 hour drive from downtown Chicago, Devil’s Lake is a beautiful respite from the urban jungle that is the Windy City. Three towering rock cliffs over a hundred feet in height make up over 1600 different listed routes. These rocks also hold quite a bit of climbing history. Many legendary climbers have left their handprints on the walls of Devil’s Lake. It’s said that the first 5.12 was sent here by Pete Cleveland.

There are no bolts on the wall, so all climbing is traditional. Most of the rock here is quartz. There are plenty of bouldering areas on the wall. Routes range in difficulty from 5.5 to 5.12a.

8. Jackson Falls

  • Location: Shawnee National Forest, Illinois
  • Distance from Chicago: 350 miles
  • Difficulty: 5.6 to 5.13c
  • Gear Needed? Rope

For a weekend long climbing trip, head over to Jackson Falls in the Shawnee National Forest. This park in southern Illinois features the most climbing routes of any other place in the state. It’s also the best location for sport climbers as the rocks have many bolted routes.

Most of the rock is rough sandstone, offering great grips. Walls range in height between 30 to 70 feet, and routes are appropriate for all skill levels (5.6 to 5.13c).

Photo Credit: Joshua Mayer (Flickr CC)

9. Governor Dodge State Park

  • Location: Dodgeville, Wisconsin
  • Distance from Chicago: 190 miles
  • Difficulty: Beginner to moderate
  • Gear Needed? Crash pads

Also located about 3 hours from Chicago, Governor Dodge State Park features smaller crowds and a few bolted routes. The rock here is varied, but most walls will be sandstone. Because of this, the walls are less suited for climbing and the park isn’t necessarily a favorite by the climbing community. Bouldering tends to be the more popular activity at Governor Dodge.

There is a great variety of bouldering routes for all skill levels, ranging from V0 to V9. In the wintertime, head up to Stephens Falls or Cox Hollow for some ice climbing.

10. Holy Boulders

  • Location: Shawnee National Forest, Illinois
  • Distance from Chicago: 350 miles
  • Difficulty: All levels
  • Gear Needed? Crash pads

Holy Boulders is located just an hour and a half West from Jackson Falls. An aptly named park, Holy Boulders is the bouldering Mecca of the state. There are over 200 named problems ranging from V0 to V13. There are also two traditional routes up 30 feet of wall.

This is a new location that was first discovered in 2004, so new routes are named and sent every year. The site was purchased in 2012 by the Illinois Climbers Association and Access Fund, in order to protect the land and open up the park to more climbers.

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Kay Rodriguez is the Chicago-based travel writer and photographer behind Jetfarer and Skyline Adventurer. When she's not blogging furiously on her laptop or editing photos, you can find Kay running, hiking, or paddling in a new city.

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