Zip It Good
Treetop tours offer a soaring airborne experience above the Hocking Hills
PHOTOS BY JODI MILLER
Above the sandy banks of the Hocking River, a still and silent cable awakens.
It’s anchored to a sturdy wooden tower and disappears into the dense canopy hundreds of feet in the distance. Through it comes a quiet hum that builds in momentum—a drone, a whirr, a steady buzz.
About 10 seconds behind the sound, a rider explodes through a hole in the tree line and into view.
He’s harnessed face-down and head-first, shooting like a superhero above the forest floor. As he emerges from the trees, his lightning-quick shadow traces the contours below, and his reflection flashes for an instant on the river’s smooth, glassy surface.
Jamie Brasee of Wellington is a speeding bullet—a telegraph message with limbs—smiling and whooping for joy.
Most of the zip line adventures at Hocking Hills Canopy Tours inspire similar reactions.
“The popularity of zip lines across the nation is skyrocketing,” said Julieann Eckel, a partner at the Rockbridge operation opened in 2008. “To be honest, 98 percent of our business is referral. We do have repeat customers, but it’s mostly people saying, ‘You’ve got to try this!’ ”
Most recently, guests have been abuzz about the experience and impressive stats of the SuperZip. The stand-alone attraction stretches nearly a quarter-mile, propels riders up to 50 mph and starts from a tower that’s 85 feet tall.
Yet the company trademark remains the canopy tour—a trip with 10 shorter zips and five sky bridges that vary in length, speed and intensity as they traverse the valleys and dense forests of the Hocking Hills. Zippers experience the thrill of airborne transport and a vantage once attainable only by arborists and avian species.
“The canopy tour is the heart of who we are,” Eckel explained. “On the canopy tour, we create a memorable experience for our guests.”
Shorter canopy tours are offered at sunrise, twilight and nighttime.
For those who’ve enjoyed the woods only at ground level, zip line participants are kept safely in the trees by surprisingly comfortable harnesses, karabiners and straps. They traverse cables strung between trees using a metal rolling device known as a trolley.
Even those who feel awkward during practice runs are usually comfortable by the end of the trip. Each small group is led by a pair of talented, knowledgeable guides who prioritize safety, offer tips and engage groups with humorous, educational banter.
“What makes a fun tour is individuals who have an open sense of humor—and aren’t just like, ‘Holy crap, we’re really high up,’ ” guide Mike Matthews said.
During an April tour, he and colleague Leifken Andrews spoke about bald eagles nesting nearby, American Indian artifacts found in a local cavern and the sustainable course design that allows native trees to grow naturally while supporting cables. The two also shared nicknames for each zip—for example, Leap of Faith, which has a landing partially hidden by trees.
“I liked the view, the feeling of flying and definitely the nature,” said Rachel Irwin, who zipped with her mom and several friends in April. “I thought it was worth getting up early for, and I’d definitely do it again.”