Climbing trees and swinging from their branches is exciting, but zipping between them is even better. For centuries, miners used cable-and-pulley systems to transport supplies through inhospitable terrain. For decades, biologists and researchers in Central and South America used similar mechanisms to get themselves across low narrow river valleys and into the rainforest’s high canopies. Finally, ecotourism companies got wind of the idea and developed a way for travelers to explore areas that were once impenetrable. Now, in places all around the world, you can hook on a harness, attach to some ropes, and embark on a flight made for speed lovers and tree huggers alike.
Here’s where it all started. In 1997, the Original Canopy Tour opened just below the peak of Monteverde. Though there are dozens of canopy tours offered in Costa Rica today, there’s something special about the original course. After a short, guided hike through the cloud forest, you climb up to a platform attached to an enormous tree and fly through the sky. After a few zips, just when you’re starting to relax, your heart begins pounding again as a steep cable takes you rushing down toward the forest floor. From there, it’s back above the treetops before a final rappel from what the guides refer to as the “scary tree.” www.canopytour.com.
Ziptrek Ecotours, Canada
The winter is the best time to take the 3-hour Ziptreck Eagle tour that takes you all the way from the wilderness back to Whistler Village at speeds up to 80 kmph (50 mph). Soaring between the snow-covered Whistler and Blackcomb mountains —over the choppy waters of Fitzsimmons Creek in the valley below, surrounded by enormous Douglas fir trees and Western red cedars—is pure exhilaration in a winter-wonderland setting. www.ziptrek.com.
Flight of the Gibbons, Thailand
This zipline course is set in a 1,500-year-old rainforest just outside of Mae Kompong village, an hour from Chiang Mai, Thailand’s largest northern city. From here, you spend about 3 hours crossing sky bridges, dangling from cables, and gliding between 18 platforms in the treetops, flying above the lush forest and swiftly moving streams far below. Along the way, your guides will fill you in on the story of this ancient ecosystem, which the company works to restore and maintain. www.treetopasia.com.
Flying Fox Neemrana, India
This is the world’s first heritage zip tour and India’s first zipline course. You fly above old forts, majestic palaces, and the rolling countryside while learning about the enchanted region of Rajasthan, once home to India’s kings and queens. Flying Fox opened in 2009 at the Neemrana Fort Palace, originally built in 1464 and reopened in 1991 as a heritage hotel. Spend 2 hours whizzing across five long cable lines with spectacular views of the more than 2 billion-year-old, Acadia-covered Aravalli hills. www.flyingfox.asia.
Haleakala Skyline Adventure, Hawaii
The hottest thing to do on Maui is zip down the side of a massive volcano called Haleakala (“house of the sun” in Hawaiian). After hiking through the gorgeous upcountry for about a half-hour, you cross a long swaying footbridge, and finally sail across five super-fast ziplines far above sea level. This exhilarating journey showcases Maui’s rocky nooks and crannies, abundant greenery, waterfalls, valleys, and rare vegetation. To help protect these rare natural wonders, this company donates 1% of sales to conservation efforts. www.zipline.com.
Scream Time Ziplines, North Carolina
In Boone, North Carolina, you’ll find the only three-person-wide zipline course in the U.S.—and three times the rush. You meet at a pickup spot off U.S. 421 North, hop in the company’s all-terrain vehicle, and take a bumpy ride across rolling hills at the outer edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. After a safety briefing on site, start off with a course of six ziplines—each running between 450 and 800 feet (137–244 m) in length, about 150 feet (46 m) above the ground—before embarking on the 2,000 feet (601 m)—or about a half-mile—“super zip” line where you can reach speeds of more than 50 mph (80 kmph). www.screamtimezipline.com.
Mokai Gravity Canyon, New Zealand
After a 15-minute climb up to your take-off point, don a required pair of goggles, strap into your harness next to two other passengers (three people can be attached on one zipline), and take a leap of faith. Before you know it, you’ll be speeding along a 1 km (0.6 mile) cable, 175m (574 ft.) above the Rangitikei River, at nearly 160 kmph (99 mph). The velocity and views will render you speechless. www.gravitycanyon.co.nz.
ZipRider at Icy Straight Point, Alaska
This is North America’s longest and highest zipline. At 1,330 feet (405 m) above the ground, an innovative braking system maintains your speed at around 60 mph (95 kmph) as you zoom along on one of six parallel cables for 5,330 feet (1.6 km). You whoosh over a cliff, above woodlands and open spaces, with amazing views of Port Frederic and Icy Straight, for a full 90 seconds. www.ziprider.com/rides/icy-strait-point.
Iguazu Forest Eco Aventura Canopy Tour, Argentina
After you spend time exploring the wondrous wet Iguazu Falls, you might want a break from being waterlogged. Dry off with a zipline tour in the nearby jungle along the Parana River coast, just 7 km (41⁄3 miles) from Puerto Igauzu and 15 km (91⁄3 miles) from the falls. The cables here run about 800 m (2,625 ft.) long at heights between 15 m (49 ft.) and 25 m (82 ft.). This excursion will take you high above the trees, where you might see birds (such as the great dusky swift) and vibrant butterflies in this dense green forest. www.iguazuforest.com.
Cypress Valley Canopy Tours, Texas
At this private reserve outside of Austin, you can zip all the way home sweet home—straight into your own luxury treehouse for the night! After you soar over the gorgeous landscape, cross two swaying bridges constructed of narrow slats and cables, take a short hike, fly through the sky again on increasingly challenging lines, it’s just one more zip into Lofthaven, your special sleeping quarters deep in the wilderness. www.cypressvalleycanopytours.com/index.php.