Marie McAden



Canopy tours offer high-flying thrills

Posted 7/15/2013 4:22:00 PM

Man up, thrill seekers. The canopy tour — once reserved for jungle travelers — has gone mainstream. 

Today, South Carolina vacationers can fly from treetop to treetop at the beach, in the mountains, by the river and soon, over the zoo. The heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping zip lines have become the eco-adventure of choice, drawing wannabe daredevils looking for a Tarzan-like rush without the risk.

Instead of a flimsy vine, participants are outfitted with helmet, gloves and full-body harness and then clipped to overhead cables by a zip line trolley and secondary tether. Having two lines attached to your harness ensures you are always secured by at least one lanyard as you move from holding cable to launch cable on each platform.

But that won’t stop your knees from knocking when you’re standing at the edge of a 75-foot tower preparing to step out into thin air.

And then there’s the little issue of speed. Rocketing toward a tree at 30 to 40 miles an hour might cause some to have midflight misgivings. But it’s easy enough to slow yourself down if you paid attention to the pre-departure instructions. Should you lose your head and come in hot, a trained guide is ready to stop you from having an unwelcome arboreal encounter.

Canopy tours typically begin with a zipping demonstration and practice run on a short cable not more than 10 feet off the ground. To ease the nerves of anxious participants, most offer a “bunny run” that serves as a warm up for what’s to come.

As you gain confidence in your zipping skills, the runs get higher and longer. Then just when you’re feeling comfortable zipping through the trees, they throw in a new challenge. You might have to walk across a wobbly sky bridge or inch your way along a slack line. Of course, you’re always safely secured to an overhead cable.

Each canopy tour has its own signature feature. It could be an extra long cable, dual racing zip lines or a run over a river or lake. Below are some of the highlights of South Carolina’s canopy tour offerings.

Wildwater’s Chattooga Ridge Canopy Tours
Long Creek

Well known for its whitewater rafting trips on the Chattooga River, Wildwater is home to the state’s first canopy tour. The three-hour Upstate adventure offers more than a half-mile of air time with 12 zip lines — six of them across a lake — and four sky bridges.

New this year is the Bell Tower Express, an 1,100-foot run that gives Wildwater bragging rights to the longest zip line in the state. From the 50-foot high tower, you get a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains.

Cost: $79 for adults, $59 for youth 18 and younger.
Contact: www.wildwaterrafting.com or (866) 319-8870

Canaan Zipline Canopy Tour
Rock Hill

Built on a 100-acre island surrounded by the Catawba River, Rock Hill’s zip line offers a three-hour thrill ride with six water flyovers, including a 900-foot run capable of propelling participants through the air at 30 miles an hour.

There’s no warm-up on this tour. The first run starts with an exciting flight from the top of a seven-story tower. What makes it particularly harrowing is that you launch from a sitting position off a small wooden board extending out from the main structure. The landing is equally unnerving as the circular platform — wrapped around a wooden telephone pole — sways slightly.

Canaan’s tour has another unique feature. On two of the zips, you travel from treetop to ground, running to a stop Fred Flintstone style.

Cost: $75 for adults, $70 for youth 15 and younger.
Contact: www.canaanzipline.com or (803) 327-6932

ZipLine Hilton Head
Hilton Head Island

Opened last year, Hilton Head Island’s canopy tour has already upped its game with the addition of a 900-foot dual-cable racing zip line. It serves as the finale of the two- hour excursion through 15 acres of oak and pine forest overlooking Broad Creek.

The course features eight zip lines along with two suspended sky bridges. It starts off slow and low and gets higher and faster as you cruise through the upper forest canopy. At 75 feet, Station No. 8 is my favorite with its spectacular view of the creek and surrounding salt marsh.

To add to the fun, night flights will be available during the summer months Tuesday through Friday nights. Those booking trips on Tuesday may be able to see the Shelter Cover fireworks from the highest towers on the zip line course.

Cost: $89 or $20 for just the Racing Zip Ride. 
Contact: www.ziplinehiltonhead.com or (888) 283-6084

Riverbanks Zoo Canopy Tour

Ring-tailed lemurs soon will have company swinging through the trees at Riverbanks Zoo. Two separate canopy tours will open this summer, offering high-flying thrills for both intrepid and anxious adventurers.

The tamer course will feature four short zip lines through a wooded area on the zoo side of the Saluda River. Those up for a higher, faster ride can continue on the more challenging course, offering two 100-foot zip lines, a suspension bridge and the mother of all runs — a 1,000-foot long trip over the Saluda.

The grand finale starts from a 25-foot high platform on a huge white oak tree perched on the ridge north of the river. Flyers will glide just 20 feet over a massive rock ledge as the terrain descends beneath them. They’ll be 75 feet off the ground by the time they emerge from the forest canopy to soar over the river.

Cost: To be determined.
Contact: www.riverbanks.org or (803) 779-8717

Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures
Myrtle Beach

This one isn’t a full canopy tour, but one fast ride from tower to tower across 600 feet of open space. It features six side-by-side racing zip lines engineered to propel flyers up to 40 miles per hour. The adventure ends with a jaw-dropping free-fall from a 60-foot tower.

Cost: $29 for one zip and one freefall, $35 for four zips and one freefall.
Contact: www.mbziplines.com or (843) 839-9477