The Northern California Wine Country has a reputation for many fabulous things, but being family-friendly isn’t one of them. Wine tasting with kids is do-able, but different. And though wine is obviously the toast of the town, kids have a new, fast-flying reason to celebrate when they visit.
Move over grapevines, some towering Redwoods have a new view of wine country to share. Ziplining is a favorite activity in family vacation spots like Cabo San Lucas and Costa Rica. Now, the California wine country can be added to the list. Sonoma Canopy Tours opened its doors — or should I say treetops — to the public a little less than a year ago. Nestled among Coastal Redwoods about an hour north of San Francisco in the tiny town of Occidental, guests get an adventure and outdoor education all rolled into one.
Now before you say “no way” hear me out. If you have a serious fear of heights, this might not be your thing, but I would like to clear up some misconceptions. Ziplining really doesn’t take a lot of physical effort. You do not have to be a marathon runner to do this. Gravity truly does most of the work for you.
The tour my family was on had folks of all shapes and sizes. That said, there are some rules. Kids must be at least 10 years old and weigh a minimum of 70 pounds. For those of us older than 10, there is a weight maximum of 250 pounds. And, yes, they have a scale.
The tour begins with a ziplining lesson at base camp. This first zipline experience allows you to get a feel of what it will be like suspended mid-air with the benefit of being just 6-or-so feet off the ground. You’ll learn a few simple tricks like where to put what hand and how to stop. Once you’ve passed your ziplining test, (no worries, everyone does) you’ll climb aboard the back of a pick-up truck for the bumpy ride up to the first zip of the course.
The course is laid out in a way that allows you to gain experience and confidence with every zip. The first “junior zip” gently gets you into the swing of things while giving you your first view of the amazing redwoods. The next zip is longer, faster and higher - around 80 feet off the canopy floor. Now that you’ve worked out all the kinks, it really gets fun! The zips are longer, but this is when my family really relaxed and starting enjoying the amazing world around them. Our fabulous guides were also outdoor educators that have spent a fair amount of time working with school-age kids. In between clicking on for safety and launching off for thrills, we learned about the area’s ecosystem. Ask my girls about the difference between the roots of a Douglas Fir and a Coastal Redwood and they’ll be jumping out of their seat to answer. I’m a big fan of having so much fun you don’t realize you’re learning. It’s magic when it happens!
Sonoma Canopy Tour’s longest zip rockets you forward 800 feet into an old growth forest. Fast and furious, you can hit speeds up to 25 miles an hour. The heavier you are, the faster you can fly. Which can present a bit of a glitch for the younger, lighter members on the tour. At about 90 pounds, my 10-year old isn’t exactly a lightweight, but our guides were concerned she might not make it the full way across. They gave her the option of doubling up with one of them, or learning a few new moves. She wanted to go it on her own, so they showed her some tips on how to tuck her legs and tighten up like a ball and off she went, reaching the other side without any trouble. Bragging rights all around!
The hardest part of the course (and hard really isn’t the right word) is toward the end. You’ll cross hanging bridges, climb a 30-foot spiral staircase, your guide will introduce you to Walter, the resident 800-year old redwood tree that has survived fires and lightning strikes, and then you’ll rappel 80-feet down back to terra firma. Those 80-feet look intimidating, but once you swing off it’s just plain fun and it’s not hard. It really takes very little effort on your part, and you can go as fast or slow as you want. A woman on our tour said she signed up to work on conquering her fear of heights. She finished everything with flying colors.
The entire course takes about 2 and-a-half hours to complete. Time flies and you’re done before you know it. While you’re taking off the safety gear be prepared to listen to your kids ask if you can do it again.
Check off another successful vacation activity. It’ll score you some serious bonus points, and maybe even a little more patience when you drag the kids wine tasting tomorrow. If and when the high wears off, tell the kids about TrapezePro, the trapeze & circus arts school in Sonoma. That’s bound to get their attention. It got mine — so it’s my family’s next high-flying adventure. Stay tuned for a full report.
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