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Bouldering at The Circuit Gym
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What’s to Love: I’m republishing this article because The Circuit now has a Northeast location (410 NE 17th Ave.) as well as their SW Macadam location (6050 SW Macadam Ave).  The NE location is EVEN BIGGER than their Macadam spot, which is hard to believe.  Also, the NE location has more kid-friendly climbing with a cool slide and bridge structure.  I’ve included some pictures and a video clip.

Over the years, The Circuit has been one of my absolute favorite indoor places to take my oldest son (now 7). We were going so often that I had to get a yearly membership, which can be paid monthly via automatic debit (nice!). This is an amazing experience for young children, and we started our first son here when he was around two years old. Bouldering is a form of climbing where there is no need for a rope due to the fact that you’re never very far off the ground. The emphasis is practicing and mastering hard sequences of moves.

Kids learn a wide variety of motor skills and how to get in touch with how their bodies move.  They learn coordination, footwork, dexterity, balance, strength – it’s a well rounded experience for all participants. The Macadam gym offers a special boulder that is perfect for small children. Kids can “top out” and slide down a big wooden slide, which is very fun. The kid “boulder” has big blocky holds for kids to grip.

Both gyms have a padded floor and movable crash pads, which provide a soft landing. There is a big rope to climb, and a “slack line,” which is similar to a tight rope, to practice balance. This is a very friendly business with an excellent staff! Even the climbers without kids are friendly toward small children, as long as they don’t get in the way.  Here a bunch of clips – the first one is the NE location.


Update 12/1/2009!

Caveats: This is a well run business, and to fill this section with something, I have to be very picky. Parking can be an issue, especially at the Macadam location. There are usually enough spaces when we go after dinner on weeknights, but I have had to park across Macadam on two occasions. Of course, I wish there were more boulders for kids. At age 4, my son is now venturing onto the adult climbs, which can be an issue if it’s busy. It’s a big place, and the staff has to cover the front desk and monitor everyone in the gym. Usually, it’s not a problem, because people are pretty conscientious. The only problem I’ve had is with parents who are not interested in watching their kids. I have talked to them myself, and it was resolved easily.

The issue of “…not enough kid climbing” has really been solved with the NE location.  They have isolated the kid climbing in an area away from the adults – good idea!

Website: The Circuit Gym

Distance from Portland: Within Portland city limits.

Recommended Ages: We started our son around 2 years old, and he did fine. At this age, you’ll need to keep an eye on them at all times. Older kids and teen-agers frequent the gym as well.

Parental Stress Factor: Medium stress – Climbers generally keep their cool. If it’s busy, and your toddler wants to run all over, your trip will be stressful. Plus, it’s a bit daunting watching your toddler, top-out on a climb where you cannot touch the bottom of his/her shoes. Older kids will be fine, and they generally understand how to get off a climb safely.

Physical Difficulty: Medium to High – it’s a physically grueling sport at times. Young children seem like they are just flying up the walls, but when my kid gets home, he is TIRED! It’s definitely not for everyone, and some parents will not like the heights involved, even if they are not the ones climbing.

Family Fun Factor: This is difficult, because I usually think of the whole family when writing about activities. This is not the best place if you have several kids under 5 or 6, and both parents want to climb. It doesn’t work. Bouldering is a perfect 1-1 sport for younger kids. It’s too difficult to watch multiple children. Older kids, as long as they are pretty responsible, should be fine. I don’t climb when my kid is there – I just let that go. I’m there to keep my kid safe and help him learn to climb.

Pet Friendly: No Dogs.

Weather Considerations: When rainy season is upon us, this is the perfect indoor activity.  During nicer weather, both gyms are airy enough for bouldering without getting too overheated.

Insider Info: I’m a climber, and I’ve spent a lot of time in gyms and at outdoor crags. I find the climbing community to be very friendly…but sometimes, intense. Please understand as a parent that many climbers are there for a serious workout, and don’t appreciate kids running all around them, especially going underneath them while they are climbing (very dangerous and against the rules!). Make sure you use common sense when you’re around these folks, and they will treat you well.

Please keep an eye on your kids. Personally, I believe you should always stay underneath your kids when they are climbing – it’s called “spotting.” The climbs top out at a height that could be harmful if they fall, even on padded ground. As a parent, you should be there to catch them. I have played baby-sitter to other people’s kids, and it’s not fun. Do not pass along your responsibilities to other parents.

The slack line looks pretty harmless, but it can throw kids for a serious loop! Make sure you spot them. There is a great climb for kids setup by a wooden staircase at the Macadam location (see pictures). This “boulder” is higher than the kiddie boulder, and kids may get scared when they are right near the top. My son did, and I had to climb up behind him to help him out – be prepared! Coming down from this climb, the staircase is a bit tenuous for young kids, and a fall would definitely hurt…bad. Kids are easily distracted in the gym – keep them focused while they’re walking down the stairs, and be prepared with a spot.

Family Tips: If you want to avoid the crowds, bring your kids during the week right when they open or early afternoon.  Chances are, you’ll have most of the place to yourselves!

Don’t push little kids to climb on routes that scare them. I’ve seen this happen, and it’s just not good for the kids. Put them on routes where they feel comfortable, even if they want to do the same route over and over. Repetition is good for learning!  Rather than move their feet and hands with your hands, talk them through moves.  This will teach them to keep their cool while climbing and to search for holds.

Keep kids away from the rings and other weight equipment, and don’t get them in the habit of swinging on the rope (against the rules!). Make sure they understand the rules, especially the rule about NOT climbing under other climbers. Kids are so excited, and they often do not pay attention to other kid-climbers around them.

Finally, watch out for special classes just for kids. The Circuit is also a great place for birthday parties.

Technorati Tags: Bouldering, Circuit Gym, Portland indoor Bouldering, indoor climbing, bouldering, climbing, kids’ climbing

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4 Comments


  1. Thanks for posting this site! I'm going to have to check it out.

  2. Amazing boulder circuit!

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