July 11, 2012 at 2:33 PM ET
Looking to add a little zip to your summer vacation plans? The zip line industry feels your ennui. From the cypress forests of central Florida to the edge of Denali National Park in Alaska, zip line operators are offering experiences that are higher, faster and wilder.
“Zip lines have been around for 40 or 50 years,” said James Borishade, executive director of the Association for Challenge Course Technology, an industry trade group. “They were originally an element of challenge courses; then they became they’re own entities. Now what we’re seeing are aerial adventure parks that combine zip lines with challenge elements.”
And the options just keep growing, said Michael R. Smith, president of ArborTrek Canopy Adventures, which operates a zip lining course at Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont. According to Smith, there were 319 venues (including zip line/canopy tours, aerial trekking facilities and single-element zip rides) in the U.S. and Canada in 2011, an increase of 66 percent over the year before.
In fact, the offerings are so varied that would-be zippers would be advised to do their homework, deciding beforehand what sort of experience they want. For some, that may mean a Costa-Rican-style canopy tour, in which the environment and natural history are emphasized; for others, a more adventurous experience that combines dizzying heights, mile-long lines and speeds that tend to clench various body parts.
“You want to be careful about which zip lines you pick,” said Smith. “Some are better suited for Baby Boomers and active seniors; others are better suited for the young and adventurous.”
Either way, one of the following operations, all of which are new this year, should fit the bill:
Aerial Forest Adventure Park
Opening at Loon Mountain Resort in N.H., on Friday, this park is a prime example of the new, multi-level, multi-element challenge course. It features 61 different challenges spread across five courses that combine zip lines, swinging bridges and other elements made from logs, chains and ropes. The self-guided tour uses a Smart Safety Belay system so users remain tethered even while switching courses and costs $49 for a two-hour session.
For a glimpse of the future of zip lining, head to St Cloud, Fla., where you’ll find Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida, home to the nation’s first zip line roller coaster. Instead of cables, the 1,000-foot-long line utilizes a rigid-rail system that has riders dangling as they swoop through a series of dips and curves. Admission to the park, which includes The Rattlesnake, plus the multi-segment Zipline Safari, a bike-based canopy tour and three other new zip-style rides, is $135.
Rumrunner Moto Zip Ride
Or maybe the future of zip lining is ... motorized! At least that’s the idea behind this new ride at Pirate Cove Resort, outside Needles, Calif. Starting atop a 50-foot platform, riders climb aboard three-person seats equipped with steering wheels that allow them to initiate circular spins as they travel 1,000 feet across an inlet of the Colorado River at up to 50 mph. The kicker, though, are the 30-horsepower motors that allow you to defy gravity and zip back up to the start. Two roundtrips cost $25 per person.
Angel Fire Zipline Adventure Tour
Among the newest zip line offerings in the country, this course at the Angel Fire ski resort in northern New Mexico is also the nation’s highest. Opened on July 6, it starts at the mountain’s 10,600-foot summit; traverses six zip lines, and ends with an ATV ride back to the summit. The highlight is a 1,600-foot-long “dual” zip designed for side-by-side racing that soars several hundred feet over the forest floor. Price: $89 per person.
Denali Zipline Tours
Also opened on July 6, this operation is located in Talkeetna, Alaska, just south of Denali National Park. It features nine zips, three suspension bridges, a rappelling station and, not surprisingly, spectacular scenery. “You zip through this boreal forest wonderland and end up on a ridge with wide-open views over town, the Alaska Range and Mt. McKinley,” said guide and marketing manager Sandra Loomis. “It’s just a bomber view.” Tours are $149 per person.
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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.