Flying about 50 mph above the trees at Lake Guntersville State Park, I swivel my head to catch the Tennessee River miles below. With the wind roaring past my ears, I soon return my focus to the mountain bluff ahead, which is approaching fast, and watch for the zipline guide to give me the "brake" signal. When he waves, I pancake a gloved hand on top of the thick cable, which slows me down to an easy glide before I stick the landing on the sloped earth.
At the newly opened Screaming Eagle zipline, I’m reminded of why I love this kind of aerial adventure. While ziplining doesn’t require a great deal of training or skill, it’s still a real thrill that engages all of your senses and reveals a fresh perspective of the surrounding environment.
Don’t be surprised if, after trying the Screaming Eagle, you get bitten by the zipline bug and feel the urge to try others. Fortunately, Alabama and nearby states are home to a growing number of zipline tours that offer both a shot of adrenaline and a new way to explore the great outdoors. Here, a rundown of five fantastic ziplines in the Southeast that definitely warrant a trip.
1. Lake Guntersville State Park
While Lake Guntersville State Park opened its first zipline course in 2016, it added a more advanced course with longer lines in spring 2017. Together, the park’s Level 1 and Level 2 courses include 19 ziplines, including one that stretches 2,020 feet across a forested canyon. On the Screaming Eagle, the thrills start right away, as visitors must make their way up an 80-foot wooden tower to access lines that offer an unmatched view of the river valley and rolling hills stretching for miles.
Typically, the Level 1 and Level 2 tours last about two and a half hours, depending on the size of the group. While zipline tours don’t require a lot of strength or stamina, you’ll get some exercise on this Level 2 course as you pull yourself up and across a variety of metal and wood suspension bridges. Between lines, you’ll also walk a few short trails, but there are no long hikes.
2. Historic Banning Mills, Georgia
Located about 50 miles southwest of Atlanta, Historic Banning Mills Adventure Park boasts its own Screaming Eagle zipline, but this one stretches half a mile, earning it a Guinness World Record. Spanning 1,500 acres of preserved forest, this expansive park includes a whopping 60 ziplines and a wide range of tours to suit different comfort and ability levels, including options for kids.
If you want to go big, the Extreme Zip Line Canopy Tour lasts three to four hours and includes the lengthy Screaming Eagle, plus a zipline where you step off a 200-foot cliff to take a 900-foot-long ride. It also includes a trek across the 600-foot-long Sky Trek Bridge, which hovers 190 feet above the Snake Creek Gorge.
3. Climb Works, Gatlinburg, Tennessee
The next time you take a trip to the Smokies, set aside a few hours to do a zipline tour with Climb Works. Located right across the street from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Climb Works occupies 60 acres of unspoiled forest that mirrors the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
During a two- to three-hour tour, you’ll never set foot on the ground as you fly between platforms at the tops of towering trees. Each tour includes nine ziplines, including one that measures about 1,000 feet. While the lines are entertaining, Climb Works is also known for its high-quality guides, who do a great job of engaging participants and making outings lighthearted and fun. Don’t be surprised if your guide challenges you to sing a favorite song at the top of your lungs while racing through the trees.
4. Red River Gorge Zipline, Kentucky
Looking to really raise your heartrate? Try flying 55 mph while 350 feet above a rugged canyon. Tucked away in the Daniel Boone National Forest, about 65 miles east of Lexington, Red River Gorge Zipline Tours has lines that measure between 330 and 1,900 feet and cross the massive Red River Gorge. Lasting a little more than two hours, the tour also includes two Dual Racing Zips that allow you and another person to slide side by side and compete. As you move between ziplines during the tour, you’ll cross four canopy bridges, climb some stairs, and do a bit on walking, so you should be reasonably fit.
5. Navitat, Barnardsville, North Carolina
North Carolina is a ziplining Mecca full of heart-thumping options. One recommended pick is Navitat, located about 20 miles north of Asheville, with two levels of zipline tours explore the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
During the Moody Cove tour, you’ll take seven lines, including one that measures 1,250 feet and offers a long-range view of the Blue Ridge as you soar over the cove. Plus, you’ll cross two bridges and rappel 36 feet to the forest floor. For the Blue Ridge Experience tour, Navitat has upped its game, with longer, faster zips, including lines that measure between 1,100 and 2,200 feet and allow riders to reach 60 mph. Due to the length of the lines and the high speeds, Navitat has added an automatic braking system—so you can truly savor the feeling of flying.
If You Go:
If you’re bringing the family, check the tour weight requirements beforehand to ensure that kids are allowed to participate.
Wear shoes that offer traction, protect your feet, and provide enough support for light hiking. In other words, no flip-flops.
Since most tours last more than two hours, consider bringing a snack, and check to see if water will be available and/or provided or if you should bring it.
If you’re planning to bring a camera, make sure you can secure it while ziplining and while taking shots from small platforms high above the ground.
Written by Marcus Woolf for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL.
Featured image provided by Marcus Woolf