The challenge course industry grew out of a desire to implement a wilderness type experience in a fixed setting, as opposed to the expedition setting. A course is defined as a series of activities, sometimes on or close to the ground (usually referred to as a low course) and sometimes built on utility poles or trees, or in the rafters of a building (a high course). An article outlining the history of the challenge course can be found here
Challenge courses are installed in wide variety of places – schools, camps, park districts, and outdoor education centers, as well as in corporate training centers. Each course can serve a single group, such as students in a school, or multiple groups, such as a park district course which might serve student and adult groups. The single identifying feature is that most often, it is an intact group which comes together to share the challenge course experience, and that a curriculum is designed for the specific outcome desired by that group.
The course itself is comprised of many different elements. Names of these elements vary throughout the industry, as do belay systems, access systems, the number of elements at a course and the sequence of the elements. Each course is individually designed and built to accommodate the local terrain, climate, and program delivered at that site.
Climbing walls have also become increasingly popular over the last years, partly for recreational purposes, and partly as educational tools. When climbing walls are built for educational purposes, they are often used in conjunction with a challenge course.
The Association for Challenge Course Technology supports and promotes independence, inclusion, and the meaningful participation of people with disabilities in the challenge course experience, and has created a position statement on Accessible and Inclusive Challenge Courses.