Worth the Trip: First Ascent Climbing & Fitness {Chicago}

My oldest son has developed a passion for indoor rock wall climbing.  Wherever we may go – be it a carnival, health club or even REI – if there’s a rock wall, we stop whatever we’re doing and let him climb.  He has even expressed interest in pursuing climbing as a sport, but with only a handful of rock climbing walls in Lake County, there simply isn’t enough of an opportunity to turn it into a regular pastime.

first ascent avondaleEnter First Ascent Climbing & Fitness in Chicago.

first ascent avondale

Given my son’s inclinations, my family jumped at the opportunity to visit First Ascent’s Avondale location.  First Ascent Climbing & Fitness is a world-class climbing facility with over 25,000 square-feet dedicated to furthering the sport of climbing in the Chicagoland area.  In June, they hosted the 2016 USAC Division 5 Championship welcoming athletes from across the Midwest. I can unequivocally say, it’s the most impressive rock climbing gym we have ever seen.

first ascent avondale

First Ascent recently celebrated one year in operation.  The Avondale location is their original facility (another location in Uptown Chicago) and was built from the ground-up with meticulous attention to detail.  Every aspect has been considered to create a climber’s paradise.

first ascent avondale

The routes range in difficulty from novice to expert.  Climbing holds are regularly reset to present ever-changing challenges to members and visitors alike.  Auto-belay is available for solo climbers or beginning climbers who want an added sense of security (belaying is the means of securing a climber with a top rope and locking device to hold the climber’s weight in case of falls.)


A slackline runs the width of the gym for the exceptionally daring or those who wish to improve their balance and core strength.  While you will never catch me up there, it’s wonderful to watch!


Comfortable touches are around every corner such as private showers, pristine locker rooms, and a pro shop.

The staff is friendly, knowledgable and eager to share their love of the sport with all.  You can walk in the door with zero experience, and they will be happy to help you into your harness and provide a brief orientation to make sure you understand how to belay properly.  For more in-depth instruction, an introductory class may be scheduled.  Visit the First Time Visitors page for more details.

first ascent avondale

As a parent watching my children climb sixty feet into the air, I fully appreciated their commitment to safety.  More than once, staff would pause what they were doing to come readjust our harnesses if they saw anything askew or stop to check my husband’s belay technique.

first ascent avondale
Look, that’s me – I’m climbing too!

I think it’s important to share, that I am a woman of size, and was prepared that they wouldn’t have a harness that fit me. The staff didn’t even blink!   I was properly fit into a harness and assured that the belay system was more than adequate to support my weight (200+ pounds if you must know.) I’ve become accustomed to having to sit on the sidelines, but at First Ascent, I happily joined my family in a great day of climbing.

first asent avondale

When my arms gave out before everyone else did, I headed upstairs to their fully equipped fitness center for some cardio and weight training.  Members at First Ascent have no need for a separate health club membership, everything you could possibly need for fitness can be found at First Ascent.  Regularly scheduled yoga classes are available and designed specifically to improve your climbing ability.

first ascent avondale

Parents will be delighted to know that First Ascent is incredibly family-friendly.  During our visit we saw many children and families enjoying time together.  In addition to adult and youth classes they offer birthday parties, camps and a competitive team program governed by USA Climbing.

June 2016 Family Day / Photo Source: First Ascent Avondale on Facebook
June 2016 Family Day / Photo Source: First Ascent Avondale on Facebook

Last month First Ascent Avondale even hosted a Family Day.  On Sunday, July 24, 2016, they will host a Parents Climb in honor of National Parents Day.  Staff will provide a number of activities for children ages 4 and up, while mom and dad have the opportunity to climb together uninterrupted.  This is a great opportunity for one-on-one time with your spouse that allows the whole family to be active.  Purchase tickets online or call (773) 564-9816.

first ascent avondale

Membership and day passes are available.  Suburbanites like myself will appreciate the parking lot at the Avondale location with ample spaces as well as easy access right off of I-94 (just off the Addison exit.)  The convenience of the location ensures that despite the Chicago address, my family will be back for more!

If you or your spouse work in the city, consider enrolling your child in Summer Camp.  Half-day or Full-Day programs are available with the flexibility of booking just one day, one week, or any length of time you wish.  Drop your child off on your way to work and pick them up as you head home.

My family loves to find new adventures in and outside Lake County. First Ascent not only provides us with a new destination to visit, but an excellent opportunity for us to bond together while being active.

first ascent avondale
Bouldering is available at both locations, and exclusively in Uptown


Take our two-minute video tour of their facility, or better yet, visit them yourself 


First Ascent has two locations, the Avondale facility with top-rope climbing and bouldering while the newer Uptown facility exclusively offers bouldering (a form of climbing with shorter routes or “problems” without the use of ropes or harnesses.)

For a kid who just isn’t into traditional team sports, indoor climbing presents a wonderful outlet for staying active. As a potential sport for both my kids, I love how climbing builds functional strength while increasing their flexibility and stamina.  It’s not just a physical activity, but a mental challenge as well.  I think that’s the part that piques my son’s interest the most. Figuring out where to place your feet and which hold you will grab next is like solving a puzzle. It’s a puzzle that helps children conquer fears, build confidence, and teaches them to persevere. It’s a great metaphor for life.

first ascent avondale

First Ascent Climbing & Fitness
Avondale – 3516 N. Spaulding Ave., Chicago | (773) 564-9815
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Uptown – 4718 N. Broadway, Chicago | (773) 275-1212

First Ascent

As a special treat for Little Lake County readers, through August 15th families can enjoy all First Ascent has to offer for just $15/climber, including rental gear. Bring the whole family, and let’s climb, Chicago!   Please present the above coupon 

Disclosure: The author was provided with complimentary day passes for herself and her family in order to facilitate this review. No other compensation was received. All thoughts and opinions are her own. 



About Loralie 133 Articles
When Loralie isn’t out exploring with her two pint-sized adventurers you’ll often find her in front of her computer plotting to take over the world (or at least Lake County.) She appreciates good friends, good food, expensive shoes and parents who make two lanes in the drop-off/pick-up line at school. Her spirit animal is The Hobbit. She invites you to join her on her quest for unique distractions, diversions and deliciousness in this county we call home. She is the Features Editor and Marketing Director at Little Lake County.

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