My first exposure to rock climbing as a sport in which the common man could engage was at an REI store in Minnesota. Located not that far from the airport, its two towers of imposing, rock-like climbing structures look out over the freeway through enormous plate glass windows, beckoning commuters to a more adventurous lifestyle.

I was ten years old when I first got to go inside and try my hand at scaling the smaller of the two structures. I fell in love. It was my first window to the idea that the climbing lifestyle wasn’t reserved solely for the rugged outdoorsman ensconced deep in a mountain range, but was something that could be experienced by the everyday urbanite through the joys of the climbing gym. For a monthly fee, most climbing gyms operate like a normal gym, with the added benefits of a devoted community oriented around this beloved, active pastime. Here are the top climbing gyms worth checking out in America…

High Point Climbing | Chattanooga, TN
My roommate in college was a climbing nerd from Chattanooga so I’ve endured 3+ years of lectures extolling the virtues of the Chattanooga climbing scene in general and the High Point Climbing Gym in particular. The hype appears to be true. First of all, their kids climbing zone is the size of most regular climbing gyms. More importantly however, High Point is the only climbing gym to offer both indoor and outdoor climbing walls in the same location. That’s right, in addition to world class instructors in a variety of climbing techniques, you can climb with fresh air in your lungs and the sun on your back right in the heart of downtown Chattanooga.

Brooklyn Boulders Somerville | Boston, MA
Originally founded in Brooklyn by a triumvirate of Harvard grads, Brooklyn Boulders has since expanded to include locations in Illinois and Somerville, the latter of which we’re highlighting here. Brooklyn Boulders’ Somerville location boasts some of the coolest features one could want in a climbing gym: access to 8,000 square feet of state-of-the-art climbing walls, climbing and fitness classes, cardio and strength equipment, saunas, showers, lockers etc., and a 4,000 square foot communal workspace with complimentary wifi for all those times you want to get an early workout in and then get down to actual work. Additionally, Brooklyn Boulders is known in the climbing community for its incorporation of whimsical art and graffiti giving it a quasi-punk-rock aesthetic.

Sender One | Santa Ana, CA
Owned by world-class climber, Chris Sharma, Sender One is truly unparalleled in the world of climbing gyms. Its iconic, blue-swirl “ice cream cone” wall is not only a visual marvel to behold, but its unique climbing structures simulate the real world of outdoor climbing and bouldering better than any other. The gym is also known for its dedication to route-setting with five full-time route setters and a constant route rotation that keeps the gym feeling fresh all year round.

Vertical Endeavors| Midwest
Vertical Endeavors began as a quintessentially old-school climbing gym in Minneapolis in 1992 before spreading their old-school class amongst a variety of new-school, cutting edge locations throughout the midwest. The Glendale Heights location in Illinois is of particular note: five of the climbs on its central climbing tower are exact replicas of famous outdoor climbs: four from Devils Tower and one from Yosemite. At over 40,000 square feet, you’d be hard pressed to tackle all of the unique routes before they’re all reset. But you’ll get a fantastic workout if you try.

The Cliffs | Queens, New York
The Cliffs is simply the best climbing gym there is in the New York area. With an unimaginable 30,000 square feet located right in the heart of Queens, this incredible climbing gym quickly rose to the top of New Yorker’s lists with its unique lead route and bouldering opportunities. The gym also boasts an extensive fitness area in addition to a variety of classes for beginners and experts.

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