7 Crazy-Thrilling Zip Lines We Dare You to Ride
Zip lines channel that same sensation as a roller-coaster—all while zooming past Mother Nature’s finest. But today’s rides are pushing the limits, getting faster, steeper, and longer as more destinations add zip lines as a way to explore. Here are seven options around the United States that could give even the most extreme adrenaline junkie a fix.
1. Royal Gorge Cloudscraper: Cañon City, Colorado
Built in 1929, the Royal Gorge Bridge ranks as the highest suspension bridge in the U.S., clocking in at 955 feet high and 1,260 feet long. Many visitors are content to view the canyon from the overpass, but for a different—and even higher—canyon view, the hands-free zip line gives visitors the chance to hurtle from one side of the gorge to the other. The single-ride line extends 2,350 feet at a height of about 1,200 feet and can reach speeds as high as 40 miles per hour. (Open seasonally; royalgorgebridge.com)
2. Mammoth Mega Zip: Mammoth Mountain, California
Beginning in the summer of 2019, the Mammoth Mega Zip will catapult riders down the steepest zip line in the country, courtesy of a 2,100-foot vertical drop. Zip line riders take the resort’s mountainside gondola up to the launching pad, which is sits 11,053 feet in the air. Once there, riders choose between going down the zip line seated or Superman-style. (Translation: on their stomach). The zip line’s design, with side-by-side cables, lets riders race a friend at speeds that can top 60 miles per hour. (Open seasonally; mammothmountain.com)
3. MEGA ZIPS: Louisville, Kentucky
Ranging from about 100 to 165 feet below Louisville, one of the largest caverns in the U.S. and a former limestone quarry has been transformed into the only fully underground zip line course in the world. The Louisville Mega Cavern includes the MEGA ZIPS, where riders don mining helmets, fully equipped with lights, to trek through the two-and-a-half-hour tour, which includes six zip lines and two bridges. Ceiling heights within the cave reach anywhere from 70 to 90 feet, including one stretch where you can race the person next to you on a dual line. (Open year-round; louisvillemegacavern.com)
4. X-Tour + SuperZip: Hocking Hills, Ohio
Hocking Hills sits in the uppermost corner of the Ohio Appalachia, dotted with state parks. The Hocking Hills Canopy Tours makes the most of this idyllic location, offering various types of zip lines. For the most heart-pounding experience, combine the X-Tour with the SuperZip. The X-Tour plunges from one tree platform to the next (11 in all), with one zip halfway through the tour that goes right through a waterfall and ends in a recessed cave. After the tour, wind your way up the 85-foot tower to take the one-line SuperZip down the hillside. Expert riders can reach speeds up to 45 to 50 miles per hour. (Open seasonally; hockinghillscanopytours.com)
5. Stowe ZipTour: Stowe Mountain, Vermont
Glide down a mountainside on this three-line zip course, starting near the summit of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield. Riders start at the top of the Stowe Mountain Ski Resort, first hooking into the ominously named Nosedive Zip, the third-longest continuous line in the country with a 4,462-foot span. The course's two other lines are equally impressive, with lengths measuring 2,247 and 3,484 feet. (Open seasonally; stowe.com)
6. Icy Strait Point ZipRider: Hoonah, Alaska
Beyond the thrill of soaring along one of the world’s longest zip lines, extending two miles down an Alaskan mountain, riders can also watch for area wildlife like grizzly bears, eagles, deer, or even whales in the distance. Most riders make their way to Hoonah via the cruise ships that dock here, not far from Glacier Bay National Park. The zip line, which starts at a point higher than the Empire State Building, is the only one in the world to include six side-by-side cables, so riders can go down in groups. (Open year-round; icystraitpoint.com)
7. HeliZippin’ Volcano: Hilo or Kona, Hawaii
Speeding over a tropical jungle is just part of the fun at the HeliZippin’ experience at KapohoKine Adventures on the Big Island. First, guests board a helicopter to get an aerial view of the Kilauea Volcano before whizzing through the landscape on the 8-line zip course. Riders pass over multiple waterfalls on course, the longest of which spans 2,400 feet. From the zip line, visitors then hike with a ranger-trained guide through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Open year-round; kapohokine.com)
14 Scary Places You Should Definitely Visit
Don't get us wrong: You should most definitely visit each and every one of these one-of-a-kind vacation spots. After all, they include some of America's most beautiful national parks, beaches, and mountains. But be aware that your risk of being bitten by a shark, swept out to sea, mauled by a bear, or blown off a winding ridge trail are just a little bit greater here than it is back home. 1. CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK, UT Canyonlands is in the incredibly beautiful but treacherous area where Aron Ralston famously amputated his own right arm when it got pinned under a boulder. Ralston, the subject of the James Franco film 127 Hours, had the right idea: Searches and rescues in this remote desert region—where visitors routinely fall off ledges or are overcome by heat and dehydration—can take days. 2. HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HI On the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to Kilauea, which still spews hot ash and lava into the sea. Follow the advice of rangers and signage and you’ll get a scary-but-safe peek at this hothead in action. 3. VOLUSIA COUNTY, FL This coastal community has more recorded shark attacks than anywhere else on earth. Yep. Sounds crazy, no? But this stretch of beach is shark central. The good news: If you do get bitten here, it almost certainly won’t be fatal—no previous shark attack here has ever killed a swimmer. 4. THE MAROON BELLS, CO In the beautiful Elk Mountains, the Maroon Bells have earned the nickname the “deadly bells,” but even expert climbers are slow to perceive the danger here. Deceptively easy climbing can lead people into tight spots and weak rocks that break away unexpectedly. 5. DENALI NATIONAL PARKS, AK Listen up: If you keep your distance from the grizzlies, you’ll be fine. But Denali National Park is crawling with massive bears and you’ve got to keep your food packed up, never hike alone, and stay away from the mama bears and cubs. A fatal mauling in recent years got lots of press because the victim photographed the bear that attacked him. Don’t do that. 6. YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA Yosemite offers some super-safe tour experiences and also some super-risky adventures. Iconic Half Dome is a popular, and relatively easy, climb—but unfortunately that has led to crowding, carelessness, and visitors falling to their deaths. 7. ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, CO Like Yosemite and other popular climbing destinations, it’s perfectly safe to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, but those who venture up Long’s Peak—with its narrow paths, rock slides, and risk of lightning strikes—risk becoming the annual visitor (on average) who does not descend alive. 8. KALALAU, KAUAI, HAWAII Kalalau, on Kauai in Hawaii, poses multiple dangers, including narrow paths at dizzying heights and beaches so treacherous that more than 100 people have drowned here to date. 9. GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, AZ Even if you don’t get lost like the Brady kids or swept off a whitewater rafting excursion, the spectacular Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail may lure you in. It appears deceptively easy, but temperatures climb to 110 degrees and getting back can be tricky for those who don’t pace themselves and carry water. 10. MOUNT WASHINGTON, NH Mount Washington is a surprisingly hideous experience for those who don shorts and a T-shirt for a quiet stroll. The highest wind speed ever recorded on earth was here: 231 miles per hour. Temperatures at the summit have never been warmer than 72 degrees, and you run risk like getting blown off the ridges, hypothermia, and, yikes, avalanches. 11. HANAKAPIAI, KAUAI, HAWAII Hanakapiai, on Kauai’s Napali Coast, Hawaii, is a gorgeous beach that’s not only famous for lovely photographs of the breakers but also for pix of a hand-carved wooden sign that reads: DO NOT GO NEAR THE WATER. UNSEEN CURRENTS HAVE KILLED VISITORS. 12. OAHU HAWAII Oahu boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world—and it's a safe and beautiful place to visit! But Oahu's scenic waves and rocks make some beaches treacherous places to take a dip. Stick to lifeguarded, well-populated areas (Waikiki is the most obvious, and popular). 13. MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, WA Mount Rainier is home to an active volcano that last erupted only a little over a century ago. The park poses risks of mud flows and “glacial outburst floods,” which can damage roads, campgrounds, and, um, hikers. As with any national park, arm yourself with ranger know-how and obey the signage and you should be fine. 14. YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WY & MT Don’t worry: If the “supervolcano” under Yellowstone blows its top, the disturbance to hiking trails, campgrounds, and roads may seem minor compared with the fact that the eruptions could cover most of the United States in thick ash. Scientists peg the risk at about 1 in 10,000. We don’t mind those odds.
Want to escape to Alaska without leaving home? We've been having a blast checking out the live BearCam at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Alaska. THE COOLEST WEBCAM IN THE NPS? Each fall, Katmai's live web camera sends streaming video of Alaska brown bears (gigantic relatives of the grizzly) as they visit Brooks Falls to catch salmon. An ever-growing body of fans are apparently as ravenous for up-close views of the bears as the bears themselves are for the fresh fish they catch at the falls. OTHER GREAT NPS WEBCAMS We heartily recommend that you check out the BearCam at Explore.org, but we also want to pass on some links to webcams at other national parks that we've come to love. More than any reading material, the images available from these national parks may make you want to fill a backpack and hit the trails. Here's a starter kit for anyone interested in diving into as many parks in the shortest possible amount of time.Glacier National Park provides views of Apgar Lookout, an overview from Apgar Mountain of the North Fork area of the park; Apgar Village, with its visitor center, shops, and restaurants; and Lake McDonald, allowing you to stand at the pebbled shore and look out at the park's highest peaks, which are sometimes reflected in the lake and sometimes shrouded in clouds. (nps.gov/glac)Yellowstone National Park links to a collection of webcams offering a view of Old Faithful Geyser from the spectacular visitor education center, which opened in 2010; a view of the Upper Geyser Basin, including the geyser itself; and Mount Washburn, a view that is used to track fires (this camera is typically turned to a default view at the end of fire season). (nps.gov/yell)Yosemite National Park provides images of a number of the park's most popular sites, including Yosemite Falls, which is actually a combination of three falls (Upper Yosemite Fall, Middle Cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall); Half Dome, including a view of the Yosemite Valley from nearby Yosemite Village; and Half Dome from 8,000 feet, taking in the High Sierra as well. (nps.gov/yose)Grand Canyon National Park links to just one webcam of the park, which is currently undergoing maintenance, but it's worth checking back for the amazing view when the camera is back online. The camera is meant to provide weather and air quality information, but also serves to whet the appetite of future visitors and to remind former visitors of what makes this place like no other on earth. In addition, the site provides links to live webcams of the San Francisco Peaks and other vistas in nearby Flagstaff, Arizona. (nps.gov/grca)Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides images of iconic spots in this popular park, including a view from Purchase Knob to the northeast; and Look Rock, at the western edge of the park. (nps.gov/grsm)
Confessions of a Former White-Water Rafting Guide
PJ Stevenson, white-water rafting guide turned director of marketing for West Virginia's Adventures on the Gorge, has spent nearly a quarter-century in the industry, and she's seen it all, from bachelor-party hijinx to aquaphobic guests to nonagenarian regulars. Here, she unpacks the best, worst, and most bizarre things she's seen on the job. How did you discover you were destined for this line of work? I came to West Virginia with my mom to go rafting when I was 14. And that was kind of it. I told her when we were leaving to go home that I needed to be a guide when I was old enough. Not that I wanted to, but needed to. When I was 18, I applied for guide training and was accepted. That was 24 years ago, and I’ve never questioned that this was where I was meant to be. Destiny is a funny thing. I had no intention of working in marketing for a river company. However, there was one fateful day on the river when I hit a rock and broke my leg, which led to light duty work in the office. The following year, I continued to guide but also took on some office responsibilities. After a company merger, I landed in the marketing department, where I’m now the director of marketing. It’s really cool to be able to do this job and still be able to go rafting if I want to! What do you love about guiding? River people (and outdoor folks, in general) are really amazing. There’s a very strong bond among our staff and the community, unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. That, combined with having the river gorge as your office and a stream of vacationers with one goal in mind—fun—makes guiding and being a part of this business very fulfilling. Being there for guests while they experience the crazy adventures we offer here for the first time brings back memories of my first river trip. It makes me appreciate the path I’ve chosen. My niece will tell you that my job is as a convincer, and that I go to work every day to convince people to come have fun in the Big Nature, as she likes to call it. If that were really an official job description, I’d chose it every time. And I get to wear flip flops to work every day. What’s not to love? What's the biggest surprise you've experienced? I’ve been in the outdoor industry for 25 years, so it’s safe to say not much surprises me anymore! One foggy morning, I get to the dam (where the Upper Gauley begins) to meet my crew for the day. We had a single guest who was afraid of water and decided that he was going to go rafting to cure his fear. He chose to do the toughest section of whitewater we have, not once, but twice in the same day and paid extra for the smallest raft that we have. It was just me and him in the boat, which makes it more challenging. In the middle of Pillow Rock Rapid, a Class V, he fell out and went deep. His life jacket popped him back up and he looked for me with great big eyes and a smile and said, “I think I’m cured!” (I don’t recommend this as a cure, but it sure was fun that day.) What's the strangest thing you've experienced? What's the funniest? Adventures on the Gorge, by its very nature, draws out the fun (and sometimes weird!). Guests come for all kinds of reasons and to celebrate just about anything. It’s not uncommon to see men dressed in embarrassing outfits for bachelor parties or a group of ladies in beaver pelt vests and bikini tops. We used to have a group who would pick a theme for the weekend and dress the part—pirates, Vikings, ninjas, whatever struck their fancy. Each year, it got a little crazier. One of these guys had a prosthetic leg and actually wore different ones that matched the theme. What's the scariest, or the most intimidating? Funny that after 15 years of guiding Class IV-V whitewater, my first tourism grant presentation to a panel of 12 people was one of the most intimidating experiences I’ve had in my career. I was also one of the first women to R1 the Upper Gauley (meaning navigating a small raft by myself). At the put-in, or starting point, I attempted to start my trip three times before finally pushing off. At the end of each rapid, commercial boats were there hanging out to watch and see what happened next. After each of the big Class V rapids, the crowd grew larger. At the end of the trip was a 14-foot waterfall, with a large calm area where people were gathering to relax. It felt like I was dropping into the Coliseum. I could hear people chanting my name right before the drop, a collective gasp, and then cheers as I sailed right through it. Who is the most memorable guest you've had? We have had a lot of really amazing guests—people who come from all over the world and from all walks of life. As a part of my job, I get to host cocktail parties on Saturday nights for our loyal guests, and each has unique stories and memories about their time spent at Adventures on the Gorge. A few of the folks I most look forward to seeing each year are Alex, a blackjack dealer about to complete his 100th rafting trip; Frank, a 90-plus-year-old gentleman who rafts the Upper Gauley River with his adult kids; and Shawn, who has three tattoos based on our company logo. It’s so much fun to hear what the past year held for them and to meet the new folks that they are bringing into the fold. What's the most challenging thing about being on the water? Guiding has been the least challenging part of my time in the industry. The most challenging part of my job is getting more people to see West Virginia the way I do. It’s an amazing place filled with the friendliest people who are open to sharing their little piece of heaven with anyone who is interested. West Virginia is often a mystery to people, but there are wild and wonderful things you can see and do here.
How to See a Rocket Launch in Cape Canaveral, FL
There’s a lot of excitement these days about the next frontier - space travel. So far, in 2018, SpaceX launched a car into space with it’s Falcon Heavy rocket - the powerful and reusable rocket that will take us to Mars. The James Webb Space telescope is the long-awaited follow-up to Hubble that will allow us to see the beginning of time itself will launch from French Guiana in 2019. Soon, the first commercial flights to space will launch, giving anyone the chance to be an astronaut (if you have a lot of money to spend, that is). We don’t have any budget tips for taking a spaceflight (yet), but here’s how you can see a rocket launch without breaking the bank. CAPE CANAVERAL, FL The area around Cape Canaveral, known more broadly as the “Space Coast” (how cool is that!) has seen a boom in activity thanks to the increase in space activity, so the area around is worth planning a mini-vacation for. Notably, the beaches are some of the most pristine beaches in the country. In fact, the Space Coast offers such a unique experience that it was named to Lonely Planet’s Best in US list for 2018. Orlando is only about a 45-minute drive west, and the Spanish colonial town of St. Augustine, Fla., is only about two hours north. Reasonable flights into Orlando can be found roundtrip from most major airports. Hotel rooms can be found nearby for under $100/night. You’ll need to rent a car, which you can do for as little as $23 out of the Orlando airport. PICK A THREE-DAY LAUNCH WINDOW There are frequent launches from Cape Canaveral through the summer seasons. You can find the schedule for space-flights around the world is published at spaceflightnow.com. If you choose to go for the launch of a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy, then you’ll also get to witness the landing of these reusable rockets. Keep in mind that rocket launches are highly dependent on weather, so there is a possibility that the launch you want to see has to be rescheduled. Plan to be around Cape Canaveral, Fla., for at least two days—the scheduled day and the day after. (We suggest you arrive a day ahead of the launch date so that you can take a tour and snap photos up close of the rocket on the launch pad.) WATCHING THE LAUNCH Rocket launches are open to public viewing, so there are many ways to watch launches without paying admission, even from a nearby beach! You can find a list of launch locations at the Space Coast information page. Listen for launch details on the radio on AM stations 1240 and 1350, and plan to deal with a lot of car traffic on launch days. You don’t want to pick the wrong place and be downwind of the smoke! The Kennedy Space Center offers several options for viewing shuttle launches, and tickets can be purchased at kennedyspacecenter.com or by phone at 321/449-4444 about six weeks before a launch. Launch viewing is included in the price of a ticket to the Center, but upgrades for better visibility can be added for an additional $20-$49. The Kennedy Space Center is also an interactive museum, great for families and space nerds alike. Daily admission is $50 for adults 12+ and $40 for children under 12. The price of admission includes access all of the Center’s exhibits like “Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted,” as well as entry to the IMAX theater to see incredible space documentaries play out on huge screens. A WORD OF CAUTION If your launch is rescheduled up to the day before, your tickets will be valid for the rescheduled launch date. But if you enter the Center and the launch is rescheduled to another date, your launch viewing tickets are considered “used” and you'll have to buy a new ticket for the new launch date. And if a launch is canceled (or "scrubbed," in NASA lingo), you don't get a refund.