As I drove my two sons to a new indoor climbing center, I pictured a high-ceiling building with a few gray rock walls with plastic rocks. I was totally unprepared for the visual fireworks that I walked into at ClimbZone, the first U.S. branch of a New Zealand climbing concept.
With more than 70 climbing walls that are each 28-feet-tall, the 19,000-square-foot space is open and bright. The steel-backed walls are covered in wood that’s been carved into funky, themed designs. The wood was painted by students from Maryland Institute College of Art, resulting in colorful works of art.
And unlike traditional climbing walls, many of ClimbZone’s walls feature unusual things to grab onto, from soccer balls and ladder rungs to bookshelves and triangular chunks of wood.
There’s no experience necessary, and it only took a couple minutes for a staffer to fit my boys with harnesses.
We got a quick rundown on safety and how to hook and unhook their harnesses to the three-step locking carabiners on the ropes, then did a brief practice climb. Since the gym’s system uses auto-belaying, the retractable rope eases you down for a safer landing.
The kids were let loose in the gym. Since it wasn’t crowded, there were plenty of open spots to climb. About a half dozen gym staffers mingled with the climbers, providing help when needed (and giving tips on wall difficulty).
My nine-year-old son knows the basics of climbing and could easily hook and unhook to the ropes, so I was able to keep a close eye on my novice five-year-old. I was a little worried about his descent on some of the walls that have items jutting out a bit.
It seemed like if he got spun around or didn’t use his feet properly, he might bang into a corner or edge (though there weren’t any super sharp spots that I saw). Luckily he didn’t get hurt, and his skills improved greatly by the end of our visit.
The walls feature a wide range of difficulty. On some, you might only make it halfway up, while others are pretty easy for anyone to get to the top.
My boys loved the wall that had just actual soccer balls to grab on to. My younger son, who’s a fan of all things fire/rescue, went to the very top of the fire ladder themed wall. He also summited the huge bookcase (with faux wooden books). But on others he didn’t get very far.
My older son studied each wall before heading up, often trying a couple times before conquering a tough one. He decided to try to scale all of the landmark-themed walls, including Mount Rushmore, the Lincoln Memorial, the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Statue of Liberty, and the Empire State Building.
After almost two straight hours of climbing, his limbs were just too fatigued to make it up Easter Island.
Both boys loved trying to run up one wall’s ramp, a la the warp wall on American Ninja Warrior. Other themes include dinosaur fossils, space, surfboards, underwater, pirate ship, Maryland crabs, and dozens more.
My younger son took a break from climbing to hit the three inflatables (two are slides, one is a bounce house) within the gym, though “break” may be the wrong word since he was probably burning an equal amount of energy on those.
While all of the walls are the same height and you don’t have to climb all the way up, it would actually be nice to have a few that are only half as high for beginning climbers to be able to build confidence by making it to the top when they are just starting out (and for those initially — or permanently – intimidated by the height).
Though ClimbZone is a kids’ gym, there were lots of parents climbing alongside their kids. Apparently some adult climbers sans kids do come for a fun spin on climbing, but for the most part the customers are kids.
My boys are good ages (5 and 9) for this activity, since one could climb independently while the other needed help. It could be tough if one person was watching, say, a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, or some other such spread that includes a mobile little one and a child that needs a lot of help with climbing.
The minimum age for climbing is 3. At one point in our visit, I saw a really small child sporting a harness. His mom said he was 3, but he wasn’t climbing much, just going a couple feet off the ground before coming back down.
ClimbZone does have a small area at the front of the facility that is only for kids under 3. It had some soft mats and toys to play with, but it is located far from the climbing area.
I had to drag my tired boys out of ClimbZone after more than two hours. We stopped at the handful of arcade games near the front, where they each played a $1 game.
The next time we visit, I hope to bring another adult along so that I’m free to try climbing. Or it would also make a great parent-child one-on-one special outing.
ClimbZone’s open climbing is 10am to 8pm Mon.-Fri. and 9am to 9pm Sat. and Sun. Admission for a three-hour session is $25 for ages 6 and older (free if you aren’t climbing); $12 for ages 2-5; free for under 2 with paid admission.
- Reservations aren’t required but they might be a good idea as the new venue starts being discovered. I called ahead and was told there would be plenty of harnesses (they have 250 total) so didn’t need a reservation.
- If you fill out a waiver online ahead of time you will save five minutes of tapping the info into ClimbZone’s iPads when you get there.
- The gym is in an industrial/office park area. Dinosaur Park is on the same road as ClimbZone. And a Chik-Fil-A and other eateries were a couple minutes drive away (at the corner of Contee Road and Baltimore Avenue/Route 1. Five Guys, Silver Diner, and Cold Stone Creamery are other nearby options.
- Ice cream bars, candy, juice boxes, and fancy coffee drinks are among the snack fare for sale in ClimbZone.
- Outside food is allowed, and there are plenty of tables.
- The women’s restroom includes a changing table and a comfy chair for nursing.
- There was tons of free, easy parking on our weekend visit. ClimbZone is in the same building as some offices, so I’m not sure how many spots might be taken by employees on weekdays.
- Bring sneakers – shoes are required for climbing (but must be ditched along with harnesses for the inflatables).