Is ziplining on your bucket list? It wasn’t on my bucket list. I’ve been before, at church camp. It was fun, but nothing spectacular. When we visited The Dillard House for the Dillard House 100th Birthday celebrations, I was given the chance to go on a zipline adventure at the nearby Highlands Aerial Park. I expected it to be fun, but not thrilling. I was wrong.
Highlands Aerial Park in Scaly Mountain, North Carolina, is based off canopy courses and ziplines the owners visited in Costa Rica. They had a lot of fun on their Costa Rican adventure, and wanted to bring that back home to North Carolina. With its scenic views and abundant forests, Scaly Mountain was the perfect fit.
Highlands Aerial Park offers fun for the whole family, with 3 different levels of adventure. They also have a “mountain swing,” along with nature trails for anyone in the family who can’t swing through the trees. There are a few rules: you must be five or older for the family-friendly Brave Indian Zipline and Mountain Challenge Course, or older than eight for the Mountain Top and World Class Canopy Tours. You must weigh less than 200 pounds for the Brave Indian Zipline and Mountain Challenge, or between 70 and 250 pounds for the Canopy Tours. Wear comfortable clothing and close-toed shoes.
When I arrived at Highlands Aerial Park, I was feeling a little nervous. Not because I’m scared of heights. Nope, I was nervous because I am absolutely terrible at outdoorsy things and I was scared I was going to injure myself…or my pride. Luckily, our two wonderful guides reassured me, and by the time everyone in our group had arrived, I was ready to go.
The first part of the adventure is purely technical. Your guides explain your gear and help you suit up. As you suit up, you realize why they tell you to wear comfortable clothes, so I was happy I had worn leggings instead of jeans. I noticed that all the female guides were wearing leggings or workout pants as well, so I must have been onto something. After you’re suitable geared up, you head over to “ground school” and your guides show you the ropes. (More literally, they show you the lines.)
After ground school, you get one chance on the practice line. I realized it was about as big as the zipline I had been on at church camp. If that was a practice line, what was in store for us next? The two people on the tour with me did great on the practice line, which our instructors referred to as “dumb luck.” I managed to punch myself in the face so hard that my glasses nearly broke in half. Somehow, I was still excited for the next line.
We took stairs to the platform for our next zipline, and I was enthralled. We were SO high up! There are no nets, barriers, or anything like that around you. You rely on being clipped to a safety line. I was thrilled. (The people in my group, being terrified of heights, were slightly less thrilled.) The line didn’t look too hard. I stepped onto the stump, kicked my legs out, and flew through the air. The rush of adrenaline hit me like a brick wall, similar to how my hand hit my face when I tried to brake. If you’re sensing a theme here, so were the guides. They started braking for me several lines in. That would seem embarrassing, but everyone at Highlands Aerial Park was so nice and so genuinely passionate about ziplining that it really didn’t bother me.
We worked our way through progressively bigger and badder ziplines until we got to the big baddie: The Squealing Mare. Named after a Cherokee legend, this line crosses from one mountainside, over a valley, and onto another mountainside. It’s 1500 feet long. It’s amazing, and it’s the biggest reason I would give anyone for upgrading from the Mountain Top Canopy Tour to the World Class Canopy Tour. Sure, doing four extra lines was fun, but this one? Bucket list worthy. Pro-tip: look to the left for the best view as you’re crossing the valley.
The lines start shrinking as you work your way down from the Squealing Mare. The next line, back across the valley, is only 850 feet. The catch? You have to walk across the sky stairs to get to it. My teammates called the walk from the Squealing Mare to the 850 “the scariest part of the tour.”
Don’t feel disappointed about the smaller lines, though. On the two after the 850, you’re able to give up on everything you learned so far and practice cool tricks. I didn’t want to push my luck after the glasses incident, so I mostly ziplined with no hands. Our guides were much more impressive.
After the trick lines, you arrive at the bottom of a steep hill. Not to worry, though. You get to ride a little ATV back up the hill, because by this time, you’re pretty exhausted. When you arrive back at base camp, you’re shown the pictures your guides took of you throughout the trip on the GoPro camera attached to their helmet. You have the opportunity to purchase a USB of all the pictures taken for $25. Although we received our pictures complimentary to facilitate this post, I would have bought them anyway. You’ll definitely want to be able to look back on them later.
Although ziplining wasn’t on my bucket list to begin with, I’m counting my adventure at Highlands Aerial Park as a check off the list anyway. Had I known what a cool experience it was going to be, I would have had it on the list to begin with! If you want to check ziplining off your bucket list, we have a treat for you! You can get 1/2 off the World Class Canopy Tour (regularly $89!) at Highlands Aerial Park using our Highlands Aerial Park Coupon code “SIMPLYSOUTHERNMOM.”
What’s on your travel bucket list?