A couple of Chicago tech entrepreneurs who love rock climbing and nature partnered with the city of Lemont, Illinois to transform a 300-acre former stone quarry into their passion project – a place they call, “The Disney of outdoor recreation.” It’s the largest aerial adventure park in the U.S. Here’s what you need to know before visiting The Forge: Lemont Quarries.
‘The Disney of Outdoor Recreation’
You may not think of ziplines when planning your family trip to Chicago, but it’s a trend sweeping across the Midwest. Recently opened in Chicago’s south suburbs, The Forge: Lemont Quarries, has recreational activities for all ages and difficulty levels. Each element is ranked based on difficulty, so you know what you’re getting yourself into (185 are easy, 90 are moderate and 25 are hard).
Considering adding a visit to your trip itinerary? Here’s a review of the park and what to know before you go.
Activities at The Forge: Lemont Quarries
- Daredevils might try the 120-foot-high climbing tower and rappelling stations. If you like to navigate the ropes, the high ropes course has 300 different elements, and it’s touted as the largest ropes course in the world.
- Mountain bike or skateboard lovers can cruise along ramps on expansive skills courses filled with jumps and ramps. Families or friend groups can play tactical laser tag in a large wooded area. They provide new, high-tech equipment that doesn’t require wearing clunky vests, just a headband with a sensor.
- Tech-loving kids will love The Forge: Lemont Quarries’ adventure games, played using an iPad they carry outdoors. Since the property is so large, nature lovers can still find peaceful kayaking, walking or mountain biking along 7 miles of crushed limestone trails.
- And then, there’s the main attraction: the ziplines. There are literally miles of ziplines. Visitors can do their Eight Towers Adventure and zipline between skyscraper towers and ropes courses, clipping and unclipping their ropes to go where they want, and ending with a final, long zipline across a lake.
The Forge: Lemont Quarries plans to open other locations across North America in the coming years.
This first venture, in Lemont, Illinois, is definitely impressive. Set in a lovely natural area along the I&M Canal, the once-neglected Heritage Quarries Recreation Area now has new wooden bridges, Adirondack chairs along the water and well-groomed crushed stone paths lined with prairie plants and flowers. Stylish black shipping containers (a nod to the area’s industrial history) are used as ticket offices and equipment buildings.
The Forge: Lemont Quarries is still very much a public park. Admission is free. People can bring their own kayaks and bikes to ride the trails. Joggers will occasionally run by, or a group of seniors might walk in to attend a free performance in the park’s amphitheater. To take part in any of the adventure park outdoor activities, reservations should be made in advance.
What’d the Kids Think of The Forge: Lemont Quarries?
I brought two 18-year-old girls to test out The Forge: Lemont Quarries on a hot and humid evening in July. They gave the place the thumbs up, and were impressed by the activities and safety measures taken. However, they felt the adventure park was better suited to the 8- to 16-year-old crowd. The girls both commented on how much their younger brothers would love it here.
They also said it would be too expensive for them to come by themselves (my daughter and her friend received one complimentary ride during our visit) and do the recreational activities with their friends (which, let’s face it, is a good thing for families. Who wants to visit a place overrun with groups of teenagers?) but they’d come back again “if their parents were paying.” Ha!
Free Admission is a Huge Perk
Me? I thought The Forge: Lemont Quarries was super cool. I liked the choose-your-own-adventure concept – and that you could visit here for free if you brought your own bikes or kayak — and that all of these different outdoor recreational activities were available in one place. The setting was very pretty and well designed. I’d recommend it as a fun place for tweens or teenagers to spend a half-day. It’s also a nice happy hour spot for adults (there is a bar, restaurant, lots of outdoor seating and cornhole). It’s an easy road trip from downtown Chicago.
Another big plus: you don’t have to pay to get in. You just pay to do the activities you want. Mountain bikes, kayaks and canoes are all available for rent. Their Ultimate Adventure day pass, which is $110, is the best value and includes all activities and equipment.
Tips for Visiting The Forge: Lemont Quarries
Based on my visit, here are a few tips I can share:
- There’s great signage directing you to the entrance, but once inside, you’ll feel like you took a wrong turn because the roads are narrow and a bit overgrown. You didn’t. It’s just the way the entrance is.
- There is no official entrance gate. You just walk in and follow the map to whatever activity you’d like to do.
- The city of Lemont has a quaint, little downtown area along the water, with teen-friendly restaurants like wood-fired pizzas and an ice cream shop. On the weeknight we visited, we drove around Main Street and saw strung lights across outdoor patios and live music. You’ll likely drive right past this area on your way to the park. It’s worth a before- or after-visit stop.
- You don’t have to be athletic or fit to enjoy the park. It’s a nice place to just take a walk, do some slow-paced paddlesports or sit on the waterfront patio and enjoy a drink.
- The equipment is all new and really nice. They take safety very seriously, which the parents and kids appreciate.
- Handicap accessible ziplines are available by appointment. People can even zipline across the lake in their wheelchair! Which is awesome (and a little terrifying).
- Wonder what younger kids can do while their older siblings zipline? There’s a kids’ zone playground area, called Two Towers Adventure, with mini ropes course and mini-ziplines. That means you can bring adventurers of all ages.
- The Forge: Lemont Quarries has a restaurant and bar, plus special nighttime activities ranging from chef dinners to musical theater performances.
- The Forge: Lemont Quarries has a terrific website, forgeparks.com, which show all the adventure park activities in great detail. Be sure to visit it before you go.
Be sure to check out stories of other cool adventure parks, skills courses and zipline courses on TravelingMom.com, including one in Florida that flies over alligators and an indoor one that goes across Mall of America in Minneapolis.