Now more than ever, kids need outdoor play time to explore, push their physical boundaries, and partake in healthy risks. One of the most exhilarating forms of outdoor play that has stood the test of time is climbing. From towering trees in the woods to purpose-built climbing structures in parks and playgrounds, the act of scaling heights is not only a rite of passage for many youngsters but also a conduit for an array of physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits. Today, Ohio mom of four, Leslie Alvis is here diving into the world of climbing structures for kids and uncovering the myriad benefits they offer. She explores how these structures align with the principles of risky play, fostering crucial skills that kids need. hero image

Discovering the joy of climbing structures

Have you ever wanted to encourage your child to take risks safely, to reach beyond their comfort zone and expand their skills, or to push past their fears to find a new level of confidence? Recently, my family stumbled across an outdoor activity that did all that—and all I had to do was stand and watch as my kids literally climbed to new heights. The Alpine Tower climbing activity allowed them to be challenged and to achieve something that looked completely impossible. It was all guided by the encouraging hands of an experienced employee and safety equipment. It was an experience none of us will forget.

Alpine Tower

Benefits of climbing structures for kids

Climbing structures provide a unique way for kids to be challenged, both mentally and physically. Each step calls for physical exertion and decision-making skills. Encouraging both gross motor skills development and strength, climbing also helps cognitive development. Climbing requires kids to assess risk, make split-second decisions, and use trial and error to develop strategies for success. Children can use their brains and their bodies in sync, at their own pace, in a safe environment. 

1. Taking healthy risks is good for kids

As a parent, it can be hard to embrace the concept of “risky play” and understand how climbing structures can facilitate it. However, rest assured that “risky play” is not about recklessness, but rather about calculated challenges that allow children to navigate and conquer obstacles in a controlled yet thrilling manner. As parents and caregivers, it’s natural to want to shield children from any potential harm, but there’s growing evidence suggesting that a degree of controlled risk can be incredibly beneficial for their development.

Taking healthy risks is an integral part of childhood development, paving the way for resilience, confidence, and crucial life skills. While the notion of allowing children to engage in risky activities might sound counterintuitive, it’s important to recognize that these calculated challenges play a pivotal role in honing their abilities to assess situations, make decisions, and manage uncertainty.

Rappeling off climbing tower

2. Climbing builds resilience and confidence

Climbing structures, with their varying heights, textures, and routes, offer a controlled environment where kids can step out of their comfort zones and experience a sense of adventure. Negotiating the ascent of a climbing wall or navigating the twists and turns of a rope ladder provides a controlled yet invigorating taste of uncertainty, allowing children to test their limits and build the confidence to confront future challenges head-on. In essence, these structures become a training ground for life’s uncertainties, fostering a mindset where calculated risk-taking is embraced rather than feared.

If your child hasn’t done a lot of climbing or is more reserved in his or her escapades, an Alpine Tower or other climbing experience is a great way for them to try something new safely. It may lead them to reach past their usual comfort zone with the security of a safety harness, all the while being encouraged and guided by a knowledgeable employee.

3. Climbing structures are fun for kids

If you, like me, have children who are climbers by nature, they’ve probably been terrifying you with their feats since toddlerhood. Many kids just love to climb! While not every kid wants to scale every tree they encounter, most of them love the challenge of climbing playground equipment, the couch, the stairs (upside down and backwards!), or a large rock.

Climbing towers and structures give kids an outlet for their climbing energy, in a safe environment that may feel riskier than it is. With a safety harness and a guide in charge, they are free to climb high, be challenged, and accomplish new and great feats. A climbing structure like an Alpine Tower is a great avenue for them to hone their skills safely, trying something new with the safety of a guide and a harness.

Our Alpine Tower experience was definitely not the first time our teenage son has climbed 50 feet in the air—but it was the first time he hasn’t scared me to death while doing it!

safety harness

4. Climbing can help kids get over a fear of heights

But what if your child is scared of heights? Only you and your child can decide if this activity might be right for them. But the advantages of it are that it starts at the ground, with secure safety measures in place. A child can climb at the pace they need to, and can stop wherever they need to. There is a guide helping them and keeping them secure every step of the way. Even if they slip, they cannot fall. Those safety measures can help even a fearful child feel safe.

The cool thing about a tool like a climbing tower is that even if your child is scared of heights and they only make it ¼ of the way up, that’s still a victory! They achieved something they hadn’t done before. And it might give them the confidence to try again, or to branch out to something else they were frightened of before. Kids can learn the joy of trying something new, conquering a fear, and gaining a new skill through a climbing structure like an Alpine Tower.

climbing helmet

ryze park climbing tower

Photo Credit: Sara @midwestnomadfamily

Climbing as a team-building experience for families

Many climbing towers are designed to work as team-building experiences. They are used as team activities at summer camps, colleges, and resorts across the United States. Depending on how they’re set up, climbing experiences can allow a team to work together to reach a common goal. 

This team-building experience can offer families a unique opportunity to forge deeper connections and strengthen their bonds. As each member tackles the ascent, the challenge transcends individual achievement and becomes a collaborative effort that demands communication, support, and shared strategies. The process of identifying the best routes, offering encouragement, and lending a helping hand instills a sense of unity and interdependence among family members.

In this setting, roles shift from parent-child dynamics to that of teammates, where mutual respect and active listening are paramount. The shared accomplishment of reaching the summit fosters a profound sense of achievement that is not only celebrated individually but also collectively. This shared memory becomes a cherished anchor in the family’s narrative, reminding them of their ability to overcome obstacles together and reinforcing the notion that as a united team, they can conquer any challenge life presents.

ryze park

Photo Credit: Sara @midwestnomadfamily

Different kinds of climbing structures

Until fairly recently, I had never encountered the concept of climbing structures. I knew about rock climbing, of course. Some of our Creative Team members here at Run Wild My Child have shared all about rock climbing with kids and indoor rock climbing, also. But the rising trend of climbing structures is all new to me.

There are amazing parks and resorts across the country that have built challenging climbing structures for all ages, sizes, and skills. Some have entire Adventure Towers, with multi-level complexes of ropes courses and climbing challenges. The Alpine Tower is a more compact climbing structure, standing 50 feet high, with multiple courses contained in one structure.

Usually, climbing towers are larger structures that combine various climbing features, such as nets, walls, and ropes, creating a comprehensive climbing experience. They are versatile and engaging play structures designed to offer kids (and adults) a wide range of climbing experiences. These towers typically consist of multiple levels, platforms, and interconnected climbing elements that provide various routes for kids to explore and conquer. 

climbing structureOur Alpine Tower experience

We came across an Alpine Tower at Seven Springs Resort in southern Pennsylvania. My husband’s company planned a trip there, and my kids were determined to conquer every single outdoor activity covered by our all-day activity pass. We moved through the kiddie rock wall easily, the trampoline bouncer quickly, and had a great time on the 1900-ft drop Alpine Slide. Our kids were in their element with all these fun activities. Some of them scared me more than the kids!

But, when we rode the shuttle out to the Alpine Tower, and I caught a glimpse of its towering 50-ft height, my stomach did a little flip. The tower loomed high in the air, with magnificent cross beams and ropes connecting the four poles.

climbing structure

Alpine towers are great for healthy risk-taking for teens

During the formative years of adolescence, the need for healthy risk-taking becomes increasingly vital. Teenagers and older kids are at a stage of development where they are eager to assert their independence, explore their capabilities, and discover their own boundaries. Engaging in calculated risks provides them with opportunities to test their limits, develop self-confidence, and learn to manage challenges effectively.

Alpine towers offer a secure and structured avenue for fulfilling this need. These towers are designed with safety measures in place, such as harnesses and trained facilitators, ensuring that the risk-taking experience is controlled and supervised. As teens navigate the complexities of an alpine tower’s climbing routes, they acquire critical skills in risk assessment, problem-solving, and teamwork. These skills extend into other aspects of their lives, helping them make informed decisions and navigate uncertainties with poise. In this controlled environment, Alpine Towers offers a safe yet exhilarating arena for teenagers and older kids to embrace risk, fostering personal growth and a deeper sense of self-awareness.

Our 15-year-old son is a veteran tree climber, fearless and agile. He’s been terrifying me from the tops of trees since he was in early elementary school. So I wasn’t the least bit surprised that he quickly stepped up to try out the tower. This sort of challenge was right up his alley.

rappeling down

Excellent guides for climbing structures

The employee in charge of the tower was knowledgeable, safety-conscious, and very friendly. She had quickly fitted our son with a secure climbing harness and a helmet. He was also connected to her by a belaying rope at all times. Despite the great height of the tower, the safety measures made it feel reasonably safe, even for this mama standing on the ground!

She showed our son the various routes he could take to the top of the tower. He chose the most challenging route open that day. (There were other variations from the different sides, but with only one employee working the tower, she could only have one side open at a time.) He made the whole ascent look pretty easy, but I had guessed that he would. For a kid who will free-scale a 75-foot pine tree all the way to the top, this tower was just a fun challenge.

The employee guided his descent off the side of the tower, lowering him carefully to the ground with the belaying rope. Before each climb, she anchored herself to a heavy belay bench on the ground. There was no chance her own weight could get thrown off and put anyone in danger. Once again, we were impressed by the safety measures in place. Although the thought of just pushing off the platform and trusting that rope to bring me down safely would have terrified me, it didn’t seem to bother our kids at all.

belaying bench

Next one up

After our son was unharnessed, I thought we’d be ready to take the shuttle back to the main resort. But the sweet employee (whose name I never did catch) had noticed our 11-year-old daughter watching carefully, and she asked if she’d like to try, too. I was a little surprised when our daughter agreed. Before I knew it, she was harnessed up and carefully scaling the posts of the tower.

She chose her route and was soon sitting on the platform halfway up. The guide was encouraging our daughter every step of the way. She allowed her to set her own pace, to think through each step, and to stop to rest whenever she needed to. We were so impressed by the guide’s skill and kindness.

I thought my daughter might choose to come down after reaching the midway point. Instead, she kept right on going to the top. She navigated the rope ladder up to the top platform, and I was truly amazed at her bravery. She sat up there at tree-top level for a minute before pushing off to belay down to the ground.

Alpine Tower

Fun for kids of all ages

At this point, I realized that every single one of our children was determined to scale the Alpine Tower. Fearless and undaunted, our eight-year-old daughter was next. Partway up the first climbing pole, she got stuck. She wasn’t afraid, just uncertain of her footing. The employee kept calling out encouragement to her: “Just take your time! You’ve got this! You can come back down if you need to, but you can do this!” As we all cheered her on, our daughter decided to return to the bottom of that post and re-evaluate her route.

The guide helped her belay back to the last platform. You could see her renewed focus and the problem-solving skills she was building as she began again. She moved past the section where she’d frozen up before. With renewed confidence, she kept climbing up.

climbing alpine tower

Climbing structures help kids build skills

Watching the challenges our kids were facing and the skills they were building to overcome them, I began realizing what an amazing tool this climbing tower was. It was more than just a climbing course for people who were already skilled at climbing. It was a carefully designed obstacle course that could help climbers at any level. Kids could move past their comfort zone and safely accomplish new feats. The employee was trained to help and encourage people of any skill level to enjoy this and push through their fears.

It felt like our little girl was climbing up into the clouds. She stopped and rested on the midway platform, then resolutely began climbing again. I really thought she’d decide to come down, but she was determined to make it to the top.

One step at a time, she climbed the rope ladder and pulled herself up onto the platform 50 feet in the air. She had done it! She’d made it all the way to the top. She later told me that her favorite part was the feeling of accomplishment as she stood and took in the view at the top of the tower.

standing at top of alpine tower

Even little kids can climb

Pushing herself off to be lowered down by the rope harness and the watchful guide, she belayed to the ground, a little giddy with her victory. And there waiting at the bottom was our five-year-old, who had already picked out her harness and helmet. She’s spent her whole life keeping up with her big siblings, and she wasn’t about to stop now.

Before I knew it, she was harnessed up and on her way up the tower. She resolutely went as high as she wanted to, then announced she was ready to come down. She belayed to the ground with great satisfaction. Climbing 25 feet in the air was plenty enough for that tiny human. She was so happy with her accomplishment!

little girl climbing tower

Tips for climbing structures

Are you ready for your own climbing structure experience? Here are a few pointers to get you started!

Know before you go

Some climbing experiences and Alpine Towers have minimum height or age requirements. Be sure to consult the guidelines for your location before planning this excursion with littles!

Allow plenty of time

This kind of experience can’t be rushed. If the kids feel the pressure of a time crunch, they probably won’t enjoy it nearly as much. Make sure they can take all the time they need to work their way upward.

Be patient

If your child is nervous or hesitant to try a climbing structure, don’t put pressure on them. Let them observe for a while. Sometimes, cautious kids need to spend a good bit of time watching other kids before they’re ready to try something. They may need a friend or sibling to climb it first. Or they may just need time to plan their own ascent. Also, let your child know that it’s okay if they don’t reach the top on their first try. The goal is to have fun and challenge themselves, not necessarily to conquer the entire structure.

Dress appropriately

Be sure to wear comfortable clothing that allows for ease of movement. Closed-toe shoes with good grip are essential for climbing safely. You may also want to bring water and snacks (because…kids). 

Encourage communication 

Teach your children to communicate with climbing partners or facilitators. Clear communication is vital for coordinating movements and ensuring everyone’s safety. If the climbing activity involves multiple participants, encourage teamwork and cooperation. Kids can assist each other by offering guidance and support. Offer encouragement and positive reinforcement as your child climbs. Celebrate their efforts, regardless of the outcome.

Have fun

Make this a special experience for your kids by approaching it with an encouraging, uplifting attitude. Let this experience be a memorable one because of the challenges they meet and the fun they have!

Top of Alpine Tower

How to find a climbing structure near you

If you’re ready to get climbing, use Google to find a climbing structure experience near you! Use keywords such as “Alpine Tower,” “ropes courses,” and “adventure towers” to find locations all across the United States. Check with your local parks and recreation departments. Many cities and towns have public parks with climbing structures or adventure courses. Look for outdoor adventure centers, adventure parks, or nature reserves that offer climbing experiences. These centers often have alpine towers and other climbing structures. You could also research nearby adventure camps, team-building retreats, or educational facilities that provide alpine towers for activities. 

Have your kids ever tried a climbing structure?

About the author

Leslie is an Ohio farm girl and chaser of light, children, and sometimes chickens. She’s a lover of Jesus, wife to her high school sweetheart, and a homeschooling mom of four wild rascals who love the great outdoors as much as she does. As a family, they love hiking, camping, fishing, and just about any outdoor activity. She and her husband are just beginning the process of building a homestead from the ground up, doing most of the work themselves. Leslie has a lifelong obsession with writing and capturing everyday life from behind the lens. Follow along with their homesteading, homeschooling, and everyday adventures on her Instagram account.

You can find more from Leslie in the following locations:
Instagram: @c_l_allofus
Leslie’s RWMC posts: Leslie Alvis