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Living in Chicago, we’re plenty aware that there isn’t much “terrain” to tackle in plain sight. So before you just start scaling the Hancock Center because you miss climbing so badly, check out some of the spots below that offer great climbing.
And since we know breaking into the sport can be kinda rocky, why not make a trip to a gym like First Ascent to get more familiar with climbing, make some climbing pals, and make some climbing plans. Then, you might be ready to take on this list of the best spots for rock climbing near Chicago.
The “Red” as its known by those who know, and Red River Gorge for the rest of us, this is among the most popular climbing destinations this side of the Mississippi. Composed of several swaths of public and private land, the Red is expansive and filled with opportunity. Climb trad, sport, or boulder til it’s time to return to Flat Land, USA (Chicago). Or don’t return. There’s plenty of camping, including sites behind Miguel’s Pizza (a must-visit). About 7 hours from Chicago
If you grew up in the Chicagoland region, don’t tell us you’ve never been to Devil’s Lake. It’s a popular destination for all skill levels of climbing… and it’s a popular destination for just about everything you can think of doing in Wisconsin, so make lodging arrangements beforehand to beat the crowds. There aren’t any bolted routes here, but DL is more than accommodating for bouldering and moderate climbs. If you’re easing your way into climbing, DL makes a strong boulder buddy, but, still, don’t forget your crash pad. About 3 hours from Chicago
Another gem of Wisconsin, Governor Dodge State Park is perhaps a lesser-known climbing destination. While climbing is earning more acceptance by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, it’s best to do some research into what and where climbing is most safe and welcome. We’ll tell you that there’s a couple routes for sport and top rope, but the bulk of the action is on the boulders. About 3 hours from Chicago
With over 400 routes, Jackson Falls holds the title of most climbing routes in Illinois. Jackson Falls is nestled in the Shawnee National Forest which provides abundant camping opportunities; insiders (like us) will tell you to go primitive because Jackson Falls is just a kick-ass place to be. But once you’re out of the tent and addressing the crag, you’ll see the lion’s share of the routes here are for sport and trad. New climber or even an avid spectator? No worries — this place is really beautiful, so grab your chalk and we’ll see you at the Falls. About 5 ½ hours from Chicago
We’re talking biblical bouldering opportunities. How can something so recreationally endowed be contained to a lot of under 50 acres? There are over 200 bouldering routes within this area tucked into the hills of Jackson County, Illinois. Until 2012, the Holy Boulders were privately owned, but thanks to the work of passionate climbers, volunteers, and organizations like Access Fund and ICA, the Holy Boulders will remain available at the public’s (sore) fingertips. About 5 ½ hours from Chicago
You don’t have to be a member of Chicago Athletic Clubs to hone your climbing skills on the outdoor wall at LPAC. Centrally located in Lincoln Park, and with day passes available, this could even be a decent summertime date for any sporty singles out there. And if you’d like to climb with a crowd, head downtown to Maggie Daley Park and tackle their wall for a view of downtown you’ve never seen.
Note from Fitt: Remember these climbing areas are on land that is either owned by the public (that includes you) or not owned by the public (private property). Always practice safety, Leave No Trace ethics and respect for the land, the people who manage the land and even the critters that inhabit these wild spaces.
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