Ranked: The Swankiest (and Jankiest) College Climbing Gyms

In Climbing, Featured by ZoeGates6 Comments

The climbing gym trend has exploded in recent years, and college campuses aren’t exempt. Many schools have climbing walls right on campus, allowing students to take study breaks on the wall and get vertical between classes. We interviewed student climbers and scoured the internet to judge these facilities based on square footage, newness, special events, and overall character.  Get ready to file a transfer application: we present to you the 10 raddest campus climbing facilities in the nation.


10. University of Arkansas

This gym features bouldering, toproping, lead climbing, and even boasts two autobelays for solo sessions. The facility offers free belay classes, as well as courses in lead climbing and multi-pitch skills. “We have a slew of events every semester like blacklight bouldering, ladies night and bouldering comps! The staff really rock. We are open to making new clinics or trips if climbers are interested,” says Olivia Vitaterna, manager.

Martina Aranda belays Sydney Sotelo on the University of Arkansas’ lead wall. Courtesy of Olivia Vitaterna.

9. University of Idaho

The 55-foot pillar–that’s taller than most New England crags, people–at the center of the University of Idaho’s rec center is sure to bring the pump. The center offers 6,000 square feet of climbing in a bright and modern space. If you want to feel really jealous, take a virtual tour of the climbing center.

8. Dartmouth

Notorious for its sandbagged boulder problems, the Dartmouth gym is frequented by students, faculty, and locals. A converted racquetball court houses the facility. In addition to bouldering, climbers can train on the campus boards, hangboards, and systems wall, as well as access a library of guidebooks. The gym is located in the basement of a dorm building, so some lucky climbers don’t even have to face the harsh Hanover cold to squeeze in a session.

Photo credit: Dartmouth College/Robert Gill

7. University of Alaska Fairbanks

If pulling plastic isn’t adventurous enough for you, check out the Ice Wall at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. When the temperature drops, students can strap on a pair of crampons and swing tools at the university’s outdoor ice climbing tower.

6. CU Boulder

Though Boulder, CO has no shortage of exceptional climbing gyms, not to mention world-class sport climbing right outside of town, students can get sendy right on campus. “The Rec” features 7,000 square feet of toprope, lead, and bouldering for a fraction of the cost of local gyms. In addition, students can enroll in classes on lead climbing, multi-pitch, and anchor building skills.

Photo credit: University of Colorado Boulder/Ellie Gordon

5. University of North Texas

UNT’s 45-foot standalone tower and arch allow students to climb under a glass-ceilinged solar dome. An abundance of natural light give the effect of climbing outside on sunny days, unlike the dingy vibe of most dark bouldering caves.

4. RIT Red Barn

What the Red Barn lacks in modernity it makes up for in character. “It’s an old barn that was repurposed as a bouldering gym,” said Tomer Artzi, a fourth year engineering student. “It’s old and there are heat lamps for warmth in the winter. The climbing walls are wood and they squeak when you weight them, and the air is probably around 20% chalk, but we love it!” The structure itself is over 100 years old, and was converted into a climbing gym a few decades ago.

Photo courtesy of Alison Kahn

3. Cornell

With modern walls, abundant instruction, and 8,000 square feet of climbing, The Lindseth Climbing Center and Noyes K2 Bouldering Wall at Cornell will satisfy climbers of all abilities. The brand new walls, renovated in 2016, and tapeless holds give the gym a clean, professional feel. “The gym is incredibly roomy and has become the hangout spot for all the outdoorsy folks,” said student Josh Lachs. “As a result, the whole scene is really novice-friendly.”

2. University of Oregon

Though at 3,200 feet it isn’t the biggest wall on the list, the climbing gym at the University of Oregon sees a whopping average of 86 visitors per day during open hours. On top of climbing and belay instruction, the staff will teach you to set routes on their beautifully modern walls. “We have a staff of around 25 people, and I like to think we’re one weird, happy family,” says Claire Pokorny, student climber and routesetter.

Photo courtesy of Siggi Bengston

1. Stanford

The Palo Alto university boasts not one, but two climbing gyms right on campus that offer more square footage of climbing than any other college facility in the country. Separate facilities for bouldering and rope climbing provide plenty of options, as well as a myriad of courses and private instruction. The gyms are also home to the Stanford Climbing Team, which took third place at the 2017 USA Climbing National Championships.

Spectators cheer on a finalist at the CRAG bouldering competition. Photo courtesy of Kevin Parker.


West Chester University: The WCU climbing gym may not be the fanciest, but features weekly events including Taco Tuesday. Crush your project and snack on free tacos every week. Then, log some laps for the famed “Mile High Challenge.” Students who log 150 laps to the top of WCU’s wall (a distance equivalent to one mile) earn themselves a free t-shirt!


  1. University of Washington Seattle: UW’s outdoor Husky Rock, constructed in the 1970s, claims to be one of the first climbing structures on a college campus, and one of the oldest artificial climbing areas in the country. The concrete walls allow climbers to get outside on sunny days (although, this is Seattle we’re talking about). Unless you like landing on gravel, don’t fall from the top.     
  2. Brown University: While Brown doesn’t have an official climbing wall on campus, creative and daring climbers can squeeze in a few laps between classes. Glued (yes, glued) to a concrete wall in a rarely-visited area of campus are a series of rocks forming a rough traverse. Just don’t pull too hard–you might rip a hold right off!


Don’t have a climbing gym on campus? That’s all right, sometimes all it takes is a little creativity…


Climb on!

Comments 6

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    UW Rock- Janky!?! Some of the most iconic climbers of each era (Fred Beckey & Colin Haley to name a few) have considered this place home and a perfect setting to train for alpine climbing. Beyond that, UW boasts two indoor climbing gyms creating indoor and outdoor climbing options on campus. Obviously I’m for UW and biased, but we certainly don’t deserve a mention in the jankiest section. What’s the point of this section anyways? What methods were used to determine this list, a google search?

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    It does not seem like you ever checked out the Whitman College Climbing Center because if you had then it would have definitely made the top ten list based on the other schools and could arguably have taken first. The facility has over 7000sq ft of climbable surface and has 36 anchor sets with 2-3 climbs per anchor. The wall has 8 auto belays and every vertical route can be led. There are 35 staff and the facility is open 40 hours, 7 days a week. There are 20 full semester climbing classes per semester (AMGA CWI- 1 cr, Advanced climbing: AMGA SPI- 3 cr. , Beginning climbing -1cr Intermediate climbing 1-cr , Climbing movement and technique 1-cr, Climbing training and Route setting -1cr, Glacier Mountaineering 2cr) All of these classes are taught by two instructors and have a class size of 12 students and the Beginning and Intermediate class sections have 6-8 classes per semester on average. There is also a Climbing Club through student government that does trips most weekends, Climbing trips through the Outdoor Program several weekend s a semester, a climbing team through club sports and special events and climbing competitions during the year (Climb and treat during Halloween, a climbing easter egg hunt at Easter, the Whitman crush climbing competition in the Fall (USA climbing event) and the Sweet Onion Crank (NC3 climbing competition event) There are also two 8 day Climbing wilderness orientation trips to Smith Rocks, OR each August and then another Smith Rocks trips each semester and several trips each semester to other local crags. During Spring Break the Advanced climbing class does a 2 week trad climbing trip to Joshua Tree, CA and the Climbing club usually goes to Red Rocks with often 40 students participating. College Outdoors is a sponsor of the NC3 (Northwest Collegiate Climbing Circuit) this year so I am surprised that it did not check out the Whitman College Climbing Center which is one of the premier collegiate climbing facilities in the nation.

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    Definitely should have had Ohio States climbing gym somewhere, it is a great resource on campus and they offer a lot of free clinics (and paid clinics/trips). From belaying to anchor building and rock site management to route-setting. With 4,000 feet of climbing space. They even offer their own competitions throughout the year.

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