About a year ago or so, we began to notice a lot of editorial pages in newspapers and magazine opinion pieces try and make sense of the recent rise in popularity of rock climbing gyms. The pieces, for the most part, attributed the appeal of rock climbing to the aesthetics of it; gritty, dirty, ‘more real’. Which is to say, they missed the point.
Rock climbing gyms, unlike your typical boxes full of free weights and cardio machines, offer up more than just physical challenges; they offer mental ones. Folded into each climbing route, both on the bouldering and rope wall, are multiple problems. The first is always one of strength, as in – ‘Am I strong enough to complete this?’. Then, within that larger challenge are smaller ones, ‘How do I get my foot from here to there? And once I’m there, how do I continue?’. For those weary of the boring, uncreative repetitions of lat exercises, pull ups, and bench presses, climbing gyms offer more than just ‘grit.’ They offer a unique set of problems and challenges that can’t really be found anywhere else. Now, of course, a climbing wall is only as good as its setters – the folks who put together the routes – and the facility it is in. So for those interested in getting into the sport, we’ve pulled together what we think are some of the best rock climbing gyms in America.
Founded back in 2009, BKB’s flagship gym was started out of the old Daily News Garage in Brooklyn. Their design ethos has been one that embraces their urban surroundings. With 22,000 square feet of climbing surface, a group of incredibly skilled setters, and a member’s lounge in which folks can get a little work done before slipping into their harness – it’s a great location to get in a workout in. Since opening their original location, BKB has also opened up locations in Somerville, Massachusetts, and Chicago.
Central Rock Gym
Boasting 17,000 square feet of climbing area and walls topping 100 feet high, there is no question as to why Central Rock Gym has attracted so many members in New England. The only thing that rivals the number of ropes (100) and bouldering problems (140), are the number of locations this gym has throughout Massachusetts and the surrounding areas. Those living in places like Cambridge, Hadley, Glastonbury Connecticut, and soon to be Rhode Island have the luxury to climb, attend yoga classes, and use full fitness areas within this gym.
Brooklyn Boulders doesn’t have a monopoly on climbers in New York City. With 30,000 square feet at their disposal and a huge number of climbing and bouldering routes, The Cliffs is an ideal pick for cooked up city-dwellers looking for a place to tie in and climb on. And of course, along with a huge area for climbing, the gym offers up an ample fitness area and a quiver of classes for those both new and experienced to try out.
Earth Treks Climbing Colorado
Earth Treks precedes the upswing of ‘cool’ climbing gyms by a bit more than a decade. Founded in 1997 by a former Outward Bound Instructor and high altitude mountaineer, the gym has since grown from its original location in Maryland to locations in Golden, Colorado and Virginia. What sets them apart from others isn’t just their incredibly large walls and challenging routes, but their ethos of educating climbers on everything from crag climbing, falling, and footwork while teaming up with people like the American Alpine Club.
First Ascent Climbing
First Ascent proudly boasts that they have the tallest walls in all of Chicago. Yet, with 25,000 square feet of space, a large upstairs bouldering wall, and a large arch in the middle of their gym that sits 45 feet above the ground, it is easy to see that they offer much more than just height.
Founded way back in 1989, this gym in Salt Lake City attracts some of the areas best climbers with its top-of-the-line bouldering walls and lead rope climbing. In addition to their walls, they have a great fitness center and offer both yoga and pilates classes.
High Point Climbing
This gym located in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee offers up more than just enormous square footage, fantastic routes, and incredible bouldering walls. On the exterior of their building they have both auto-belay climbing routes and normal belay routes for those looking to get a little bit of sun on their backs and fresh air while climbing. In addition to this really fun feature, the gym offers up yoga and spin classes in their dedicated fitness area.
With over 40 top rope lines, 45 foot high walls, auto-belay systems for beginners, and four different bouldering areas, Hoosier Heights boasts some of the best routes in Indiana. Everyone ranging from American Ninja Warrior contestants to beginners working on their first route show up here to make use of their walls and their incredible fitness area.
In the interest of transparency, we have to admit that Mesa Rim is our home gym and we having nothing but love for them. With two locations in San Diego and a dedicated training center, the gym has a strong community of climbers with a wide range of skill levels. The location in north county boasts a co-working center where people can sit down and get some work done before heading out to try and complete a project, while the other closer to downtown boasts a top tier fitness center and a large number of yoga and workout classes. Oh yeah, and their routes are kickass.
Owned by world-class climber Chis Sharma, this gym in southern California boasts incredibly tall walls and fantastic routes. More than just height, the unique shapes of the walls in these gyms (one is located in Santa Ana and the other in Los Angeles) offer up an added level of difficulty and challenge.
30,000 square feet of climbing space, more than 160 routes that are consistently re-set by top-tier setters, and a large number of fitness classes make this gym in Atlanta hands down one of the best in the South. In addition to their monstrous walls – they have an impressive bouldering cave with unique and incredibly challenging routes.
This is an old school Minneapolis gym founded in 1992 that has since expanded locations into Illinois. But, it is their newer location in Glendale Heights that has caught our attention. It has well over 40,000 square feet of total climbing space and five climbs that directly mimic trad climbing routes like Yosemite’s Serenity Crack.