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Fly Through the Forest

Zip Lines Soar Across the Southeast

In recent years, canopy and zip line tours have exploded in popularity across the Southeast. The once-exotic adventure that was on everyone’s must-do list if they ever traveled to Costa Rica has increasingly become one of the top thrill rides for weekend warriors in the United States. With more than 20 zip line and canopy tours scattered throughout the Southeast alone—and new ones being constructed every year—it seems as though the surge in popularity that this booming new industry is experiencing is here to stay.

Me Tarzan, Me Jane: A canopy tourist zips through the wild forests at Navitat.

One of the leading designers of zip line canopy tours in the United States is John Walker, owner of Bonsai Designs. Walker got his start as a challenge course designer and installer for various summer camps.  The first zip line he designed and installed was a 1500-foot zip across a lake that started 60 feet off the ground in a tree.

Then in 2005, Walker launched Bonsai Designs and began developing zip lines full-time in Alaska, working with giant trees and rugged, mountainous terrain. Since then, Walker has been the innovative design guru for 11 different canopy tours in the U.S.

Walker’s most recent design is Navitat, a 10-zip course near Barnardsville, N.C. Navitat is a canopy tour in the truest sense. Canopy tours first originated in Costa Rica as a way for biologists to get into the tree canopy and see the ecology that thrives high off the forest floor. For Walker, one of the main goals of Navitat was to allow participants to observe nature without disturbing it. During construction of the Navitat zip lines and platforms, Walker utilized the most tree-friendly system possible.

“The course is built to protect the trees,” he says.  “We go to great lengths to make sure the trees can grow and breathe and move the entire time.”

Navitat’s canopy tour crisscrosses a 242-acre valley and includes two sky bridges, allowing participants to get up close and personal with massive maples, oaks, and tulip poplars.

“The focus here is on flying across the mountains, getting big views, and landing in really special trees—big, multi-stem giants.”

While the thrill of riding the zip lines is sure to entice many, Walker hopes that canopy tours will also provide participants with a chance to slow down and take in the magnificence of the forest.

“People like trees,” says Walker.  “The tree canopy experience is both thrilling and contemplative.”


Earthshine > Lake Toxaway, N.C.
The Earthshine Mountain Lodge boasts the very first canopy zip line in the United States. The seven-stage course takes about two and a half hours to complete.
Reservations required.

Screamtime > Boone, N.C.
Zip down  mountainous terrain on nine lines that offer incredible vistas of the High Country.  The tour culminates with a fast ride down the Super Zip, a 2,000-foot ride that reaches speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.
$89 (The Super Zip can be added for $29).

Hawksnest > Banner Elk, N.C.
It’s the longest on the East Coast with over 1.5 miles of cable riding. Ride ten different cables through forests and over open fields.  The various zips on this course offer incredible views of some of the region’s most notable mountains, including Grandfather, Hanging Rock, and Beech.

Navitat > Barnardsville, N.C.
The tour takes about three hours from start to finish and hosts eight guests per tour. It begins with a couple of intermediate zips through the deciduous forest before launching into the longer rides that travel through the tops of the lush canopy.

North Georgia Canopy Tour > Lula, GA.
The Sky Bridge Tour takes about two hours to complete and consists of nine stages that cross two sky bridges and the North Oconee River. The Adventure Tour includes a dozen stages that cross rivers, ponds, and includes rappelling. Both tours end with a dual 680-foot zip over the Hilltop Pond in front of the observation deck.

Dollywood’s SkyZip > Pigeon Forge, TENN.
Five stages, including a 1,000 feet zip and 100-foot swinging rope bridge. The course takes between 60 and 90 minutes to complete.

TreeTops > Fayetteville, W.Va.
The course includes ten zips, five cable bridges, and rappelling. Observers can watch from two observation stations accessible from a hiking trail that passes near the canopy tour.

ACE Canopy Tour > Fayetteville, W.Va.
Spectacular views of the New River Gorge highlight this tour that offers nine zips, including the longest zip in West Virginia. The Plunge allows participants to get that sinking feeling of free-falling as they jump from a tower—only to be caught seconds later by the cable and begin the zip line ride.

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