Everyone talks about the fun (seriously, so fun), but ropes courses have legit health benefits.

By Kelsey Ogletree
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This story in the May/June 2020 issue of Midwest Living was published just as coronavirus-related restrictions went into effect nationwide. Please check websites for the current status of attractions.

Leaves brush your cheek as you slowly navigate swinging steps a few dozen feet above the ground, legs shaking. Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Except—look, a wild turkey! That fear-conquering rush (plus the novelty of a squirrel’s-eye view) explains a surge in ropes courses around the Midwest. But these recreational parks offer great workouts too.

Boundless Adventures park in Bristol, Wisconsin.
Courtesy of Boundless Adventures

“Ropes courses provide as much of a physical challenge as they do a mental challenge,” says Stephanie Mansour, a certified personal trainer in Chicago. Every step calls on the stabilizing muscles around your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and wrists, and keeping steady engages your core. In addition to toning legs and arms, you task your brain with focusing on each obstacle—and that’s to say nothing of the head-clearing perks of a day in the woods.

Three to Try

Boundless Adventures Navigate more than 120 obstacles, including ziplines, wobbly bridges and tightropes, to get from tree to tree at this new park in Bristol, Wisconsin, near Kenosha.

Treerush Adventures This course opened last summer at Fontenelle Forest, a sprawling nature center just outside Omaha. Spend up to two hours on progressively challenging trails, color coded like ski runs.

St. Louis Ropes Course Opened late last fall as part of Union Station’s revamp, this indoor option includes two ziplines, reaching heights of 50 feet above the lobby floor of the St. Louis Aquarium.