Flying along a cable or making your way through an elevated ropes course can be more thrilling than a roller coaster ride.
Ziplines and ropes courses have been steadily growing in number and size, with many including scaled-down portions for the younger set. The newest just opened at Carnegie Science Center within the SportsWorks complex.
With these adventures, there’s no high-tech mechanics involved, and no sitting back for the ride. It’s a physical and emotional rush of conquering fears and accepting the challenge. For kids, that sense of accomplishment is priceless. You can see kids transition from a sometimes nervous “Can I do that?” look in their eyes to the punch-in-the-air “Oh yeah!” excitement at the end.
“Some are a little quiet and reserved at the beginning,” says Tony Smith, operations manager for the recreation department at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, where the Little Tykes ropes course and ziplines are part of the property’s Activities Center. “But we get them up there and coach them through it and get them loose. By the time you get them back on the ground, they’re pumped. They’re ready to do the next activity. That adrenaline rush is unlike anything else.”
Traversing ropes courses and flying along a zipline involve exercise that can improve strength, endurance, and flexibility. The physical triumph is as important as the jubilation of success.
Why we seek out and ultimately enjoy leaving our comfort zone is part of the Science Center course.
“There’s the whole physiology of fear, even though you know you’re 100 percent safe,” says Dennis Bateman, senior director of exhibits and experience at the Science Center.
The idea of how your body perceives and reacts to excitement is explored through this exhibit. For example, how does your brain react to a challenge? What makes you sweat on a more difficult task? What happens in your body when you experience success?
“A lot of it is visual,” Bateman explains. “When you’re looking down, you’re not seeing the harness. The message you’re getting from your eyes is ‘I’m in trouble.’ It’s conflicting information to your brain, so that starts throwing you off.” Then, whatever fears you might have about heights or climbing come into play.
“But when you get some confidence on a few things,” Bateman says, “it’s all right.”
Little ones who start working out on the Sky Tykes course will likely develop the self-reliance to graduate easily to the more advanced second-story course as they grow little taller.
Here’s where kids can zip and zoom throughout the Pittsburgh area:
Carnegie Science Center
The new Ropes Challenge course appealed to Science Center planners for the fun of it, of course, but also for the cross-over science lessons offered. Signage will point out concepts like kinetic and potential energy, angles of momentum, and gravitational force. The staff will be trained to discuss these ideas, too.
The second-story course offers 11 challenge elements before reaching the zipline. Plucky participants who are 48-inches or taller will walk the plank, balance on rolling logs, walk a rope bridge, and climb across a horizontal net. The free-flowing course gives kids the opportunity to decide on the direction they take.
Younger kids can do the same challenges on a smaller version of the course directly underneath. On Sky Tykes, kids are harnessed in, too, but the level allows Mom or Dad to walk alongside and offer encouragement.
The SportsWorks ropes courses are free with Science Center admission. Fun on the indoor course goes on without fear of nasty weather. Other new SportsWorks features include the CPR Kiosk and a laser batting cage that will show how far and fast your swing would send a baseball in a major league ballpark.
Go Ape North Park
Go Ape tree-top adventures in North Park is one of this national chain’s 16 locations. This forest canopy course takes adventurers through 41 crossings, two Tarzan swings, and five ziplines, the longest of which is 440 feet. Some of the platform elements allow you to choose between easy, advanced or expert, which can add a little more competition between siblings.
It is amazing how easily kids adapt to strolling along rope bridges at tree-top levels as high as 40 feet. The exhilaration of walking among the trees in the shaded forest is a terrific way to appreciate this beautiful county park.
The 2- to 3-hour escapade begins with a 30-minute safety class, so kids are prepared for the challenges ahead.
Ten-year-olds, at least 55 inches tall, are the youngest allowed to participate. An accompanying adult is required for every two kids between 10 to 15 years. Those 16 and 17 years need a parent-signed waiver, which can be printed at home, signed and brought to Go Ape.
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
Fun is taken very seriously at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, where the adventure center includes some exciting ropes courses, ziplines and features not seen anywhere else in the area.
The QuickJump, for example, begins at the height of four stories. From 50 feet off the ground, kids in the QuickJump harness are released for a screaming free fall until they’re caught toward the end and gently lowered to the ground. Minimum weight is 40 pounds on this one.
The Little Tykes rope course is 6 feet off the ground and includes eight obstacles and two ziplines, including a 200-foot platform to ground zip. Kids can traverse a swinging log, a cable walk, swinging tires, and a suspended bridge. This course is suggested for ages 4 to 8 years.
The 40-foot-high Fatbird Canopy course finishes with the 3,000-foot Fatbird Super Flyer zipline, where you can reach a speed of 60 miles per hour. But before you get there, spend about 45 minutes working your way through challenges like the Burma Bridge and stationary log. The minimum height here is 52 inches.
Teens will enjoy the 20-foot high Ropes Course. With obstacles carrying names like (gulp!) Walk the Plank, Leap of Faith, X-Factor, and Tight Rope, we can guess the levels of tension – and rewards.
Nemacolin’s activities are open to the public, not just guests staying at the resort, but there are some great packages if you want to plan an active family vacation. Reservations are suggested for most adventures.
Pittsburgh Mills Sky Trail
For a completely different view, zip high above the food court at Pittsburgh Mills Mall in Fazer. The Pittsburgh Mills Sky Trail offers two level of excitement, including 30 elements. Zig-zag beams, criss-cross rope ladders, and cargo nets are part of the challenges along with horizontally strung rope bridges. Kids can choose their path through the maze of activities at each platform.
The Sky Rail zip line connection sends riders down a 69-foot line.
For the main course, kids must be 48 inches or taller, but those 42 inches and up can join in with an adult in attendance. Kids less than 48 inches can get their kicks on the Sky Tykes course, designed for kids ages 2 to 7, which is a mere three feet off the ground, allowing parents to assist.
Ohiopyle Zipline Adventure Park
The family-owned Ohiopyle Zipline Adventure Park offers two levels of zipline courses to allow kids as young as 4 years to enjoy the thrill. The Laurel Highlands company includes rafting, camping, rock climbing, and other outdoor activities. Packages can be combined to get the most out of your visit.
Ages 10 and older begin their zipline excursion by climbing up the 25-foot entry net. Balance is challenged on elements like the Tarzan Walk and Rickety Bridge. Make your way through the Spider’s Web and leap across the Swing Planks. The course ends with the Silver Surfer that zooms through the trees to the 200-foot zipline.
Ages 4 to 9 climb the entry net, then work through obstacles like the Taco Net and Big Foot’s Footprints before rocketing down a 90-foot zipline. Their flush of pride on the ground is no less impressive.
The Laurel Ridgeline Zipline Tour at Seven Springs begins with kids from age 10 and a minimum of 90 pounds. This rigorous 3-hour course includes 10 ziplines that range from 145 to 1,500 feet in length. The quest incorporates rappels and rope bridges, too. Expected to be anywhere from 2 to 175 feet off the ground. The tour begins with a chairlift to the top of the mountain, then gradually makes its way back down through graceful ziplines.
The 2-hour Screaming Hawk Zipline sends riders down nearly 2,000 feet of zippy goodness. Kids must be at least 10 years and weigh 70 pounds. The progressively faster ziplines will reach speeds as fast as 30 miles per hour.