Move over, Costa Rica: Western North Carolina has its own selection of "zip-line" tree-canopy tours. OK, there's no jungle, but it is a temperate rain forest, and Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours zips visitors along a half-mile route some 80 feet above the ground.
Don't be alarmed: There are no sudden drops, no plunging into the cold waters of Fontana Lake, says company representative Carolyn Allison. "But it is a thrilling ride," she notes. Allison recently completed training as a "canopy ranger" at the Falling Waters Adventure Resort, the 22-acre site near Bryson City where the zip line whisks you through the trees. A cable strung between platforms, it carries snugly harnessed riders past the treetops of giant Fraser magnolias, mountain laurels, dogwoods, rhododendrons, beech trees, a host of oaks and rare umbrella magnolias.
Jungle-canopy tours have become common in Mexico, South America and Central America, but there aren't many comparable experiences in the United States, says Allison. She knows of zip-line tours in Hawaii and Alaska and, closer to home, in Gatlinburg and Boone. Falling Waters came up with the idea as a unique way to more fully exploit the 22-acre property. The resort already has a camping village featuring yurts, Allison points out, remarking, "We do things a little different around here."
The Nantahala zip-line trip takes about three hours and includes a safety orientation, a short walk to the first platform, and then a series of zips between platforms and "sky bridges" (the longest stretch is about 450 feet, and the platforms have names like Eagles Nest and Slingshot). "If [you] get nervous, there are several ways to exit," Allison assures potential riders. She also points out that the course was built and designed by folks who create similar facilities for the military.
The resort even consulted an arborist when developing the route. But instead of the hoots and hollers of jungle monkeys, expect to hear woodpeckers and, just maybe, a hawk that's nesting nearby.
After the orientation and a practice run on zip lines closer to earth, participants take a brief walk up to the first platform, says Allison, "And then we fly."
For more information, visit www.wildwaterrafting.com/nanzip.php, or call (877) 398-6222.