Zip into Summer
by Amy Smith and Beth Balga
Want to feel like an action hero this summer? Take a look at these five high-flying zip lines and outdoor challenge courses, all about an hour from the metro area. You’ll soon be hooked onto a cable, ready to soar through hardwood forests, swing from suspension bridges 30 feet in the air, and have the time of your life.
Lake Lanier Canopy Tours
Lake Lanier Islands Resort
7000 Lanier Islands Pkwy., Buford. About 45 miles from Atlanta.
Open daily, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; 770-828-7654
Lake Lanier Canopy Tours offers four different experiences: Atlanta Parent tried the two-hour Legacy Tour, which features seven zip lines and two sky bridges all around the lake’s Legacy Lodge. Zippers remain up in the tree canopy the entire time, often on platforms. Our mom and kids were handled by two tour guides who did all the hard work, allowing them to just zip along and enjoy the magnificent scenery. One guide always went first – to make sure that the zip line was clear and safe, but also to “receive” each person as they zipped to each platform. Other options here include the more adventurous Pine Isle Tour (up to four hours), which features the highest and fastest lines among its 11 total zip lines, all with views of the lake. The Lakeside Tour (three-four hours) has 14 zip lines and four sky bridges, but is not as “high adventure” as the Pine Isle. The Legacy “night tour” is also available: headlamps, glow sticks, lanterns and the moon light the way. The night tour is not recommended as anyone’s first zip-line experience.
- What the kids liked most: Screaming really loud (at the guides’ request) to scare the next group of people who were at the training camp below!
- What parents liked most: Trying to drop a golf ball into a bucket below while on the Pine Isle course in an attempt to win a T-shirt or a discount on the next tour – because we’re definitely going back!
- Know before you go: Reservations and waivers required. Minimum age is 8, and minimum weight requirement is 50-70 lbs., depending on the tour. Group tours available for 8-10 zippers. Water is available along these courses. Cameras with straps are allowed. No cellphones.
- Cost: Canopy tours are $60-$100 for all ages. Discounts available on the website. $10 gate charge to enter Lake Lanier Islands Park.
North Georgia Canopy Tours
5290 Harris Rd., Lula. About 65 miles from Atlanta.
Open daily, from 7:30 a.m. until dark; 770-869-7272
Billed as “Georgia’s Ultimate Zipline – A Treetop Adventure,” North Georgia Canopy Tours offers three choices. Our daring mom plus kids tried the Adventure Tour, which spans more than three hours and 12 zip lines as riders zip over ponds, over the North Oconee River and much more, finishing with a dual zip line. It’s a workout! There’s also the Premium Adventure Tour that includes video and digital photos (limited to a smaller group of six), and the Sky Bridge Tour, a two-hour adventure with zip lines, two sky bridges, two nature walks and the dual zip line race. Two guides assisted with the equipment and handled the hard work, with one going ahead and one bringing up the rear. What a fantastic time – to simply go flying!
- What the kids liked most: High adventure, the great views and racing each other on the dual zip lines.
- What parents liked most: It’s a cool tour and the guides help you in every possible way.
- Know before you go: Online reservations are a must, and every zipper must sign a waiver. Be prepared to hike a half-mile. Kids 10-15 must be accompanied by an adult but be able to participate independently. If accompanied by an adult other than a parent, a minor must have a copy of his parent’s driver’s license. Minimum age is 10; minimum weight is 70 lbs. Use GPS coordinates to get there, rather than entering the address. One road is bumpy with flying gravel. This wilderness attraction offers much more, including air-conditioned teepees and other lodging options. Afraid to camp? Ask about “glamping”!
- Cost: $69-$139, depending on the tour. For the Adventure Tour ($89), kids 10-15 “fly” half-price Tues.-Thurs. except holidays (one discount ticket per each full-price adult). Group discounts available weekdays for groups of 8 or more.
Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center
2020 Clean Water Dr., Buford. About 65 miles from Atlanta.
Open daily, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. in June and July; 770-904-3500
This self-guided obstacle course amid the forest canopy is a physical workout! Each participant gets a harness, gloves (helmets for small kids), plus other equipment so you can move through various courses. Learn the basics at “ground camp,” then you’re free to swing through each course as many times as you want during the 2½ hours. Guides on the ground are there to help you (the “zipper”), but this is an adventure you can enjoy at your own pace. There are five different zip-line/canopy courses to choose from; “Your Place in the Sun” is the most challenging and difficult. You’ll be climbing ladders, moving across suspension bridges, encountering pirate-like cargo nets and much more as you hook and unhook yourself from one zip line to another, all in a beautifully shaded ecological paradise.
- What the kids liked most: The challenge of being on their own and never having to wait before they moved on! The kids liked Course 3 because it had the most zip lines and required less work.
- What parents liked most: The many options. If you are zipping with smaller children, there are courses made just for them. And if you want to go on a specific course all on your own, you can.
- Know before you go: Anyone under 18 must be supervised by an adult (one adult is required for every three kids). All zippers must sign a waiver, available on the website so you can fill it out at home. Bring a cooler with water, etc., as water is not available at this course.
- Cost: “Canopy tour” packages start at $45 for adults ($59 for a nighttime climb); $19 for one hour or $25 for 2½ hours for kids 4-6; $29 for 2½ hours for kids 7-11; $39 for 2½ hours for kids 12-17. Group discounts, birthday party options and “Vertigo Season Passes” are available; see website for details.
Screaming Eagle Zip Line Canopy Tours
Historic Banning Mills
205 Horseshoe Dam Rd., Whitesburg. About 43 miles west of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sun., 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; 770-834-9149
Banning Mills’ Screaming Eagle is one of the world’s largest zip-line canopy tour courses (almost 40,000 lineal feet), with five levels to choose from. At Level 1, the Forest Tour, enjoy nine zip lines, one or two sky bridges and a cool tower. The Forest tour and the new Woodland tour were designed with families in mind. Allow up to 2½ hours. Guides take up groups of 10-12 after training you. The motto here is “200 percent safe.” This tour employs the buddy system: Each climber must check with a buddy before unclipping to transfer to another location.
- What the kids liked most: “Swinging through the air like a monkey was the most fun ever!”
- What parents liked most: Having total confidence in the guides, who were friendly and knowledgeable, and the camaraderie that developed among the group as others cheered you on.
- Know before you go: Advance reservations are required. For Level 1, participants must be at least 8 years old and weigh more than 50 lbs. All other levels: must be at least 10 years old and weigh at least 90 lbs. You must be able to climb two 65-foot towers, a 100-foot tower and perhaps even a 150-foot tower. Banning Mills offers lodging in cabins and cottages, as well as a lodge and an RV and tent park. The lodge restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are also a full range of outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking. Check the website for package deals.
- Cost: $49-$149, depending on the tour you choose and the number of zip lines you add. The Extreme tour is $149 a person and includes extreme sky bridges that traverse back and forth over the gorge at heights over 100 feet. “All-Day Rush” ($249 per person) includes all the zip-line tours, the Aerial Adventure Challenge Park and the Power Free Fall (a 100-foot controlled free fall), plus a hearty lunch at the restaurant.
Callaway Gardens’ TreeTop Adventure
17800 U.S. Hwy 27, Pine Mountain. About 70 miles from Atlanta.
Open daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; 800-225-5292
TreeTop Adventure is a self-guided ropes course that covers nearly 1,500 feet horizontally and soars up to 30 feet above the ground. The five zip lines, ranging from 44 to 210 feet long, are interspersed with 19 different obstacles, including suspension bridges, swinging beams and high wires. Allow about 90 minutes.
- What the kids liked most: Ropes course seemed like obstacles in spy movies.
- What parents liked most: The mandatory training session included a trial zip line close to the ground; guides evaluate your ability to stop before you get up in the trees.
- Know before you go: Reservations required. Climbers must be at least 54 inches tall. Guides ensure that all equipment is properly secured. Kids must pay attention so they can recall the safety instructions. Open on rainy days, but closes during thunderstorms. The Discovery Café in the Discovery Center, adjacent to TreeTop Adventures, offers indoor and outdoor seating and sells drinks, sandwiches, ice cream and more. This 13,000-acre one-stop family resort and nature preserve also has several lodging options, a butterfly conservatory, swimming, a wide range of kids’ activities, superb bike paths and more.
- Cost: $33.10 (includes tax); gardens admission fee is an additional $18 for adults, $9 for children. Check the website for seasonal packages, including additional activities, lodging and meals.
Hats off to our two thrill-seeking moms, Amy Smith and Beth Balga, plus the kids they took to try out these zippy adventures!