Zip lining Alaska – thrills among the treetops
Over the past several years, a new type of tour has taken Alaska visitors through the treetops and over rivers and streams to give them a bird’s eye view of the landscape while teaching them about the forests and natural habitats in different parts of the state.
Zip lines seemingly become more popular every year, and now zip line tours through the forest canopy are available in at least eight Alaska communities. In a state as big as Alaska, each will offer a different perspective and a different experience – not to mention a vastly different landscape.
Zip lines first appeared among tour offerings in cruise-port communities in the Inside Passage region nearly a decade ago. Here, zip lines traverse the heavily wooded temperate rainforest that dominates the region, much of which is part of the Tongass National Forest – the largest national forest in the country. Typically, guests are transported from the cruise dock or other central location to a forest site where platforms are built into the trees. Steel cables connect platforms, and guests whizz from platform to platform. Most include some information on local history, the ecology of the forest, and even the opportunity to spot wildlife on the forest floor below. In each Inside Passage community with a zip line, visitors will encounter different scenery and natural features. Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway each have zip line experiences similar to the one described above, while Hoonah’s private cruise ship destination, Icy Strait Point, takes zip lining to a whole different level – literally.
The ZipRider zip line at Icy Strait Point is different than its regional kin in that rather than taking guests from platform to platform, the ZipRider is all about one big, long thrill ride. Guests are transported to the top of a mountain that towers over Icy Strait and the cruise ship dock below. After being safely buckled into a harness, guests sail down more than 1,300 feet in elevation and over a mile in distance to the bottom at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. Icy Strait Point’s zip line is the longest and tallest zip line in the United States, and an experience you won’t soon forget!
Beyond the Inside Passage region, visitors will find zip lines in Talkeetna, near Anchorage, in Seward and within the nation’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias. The zip line in Talkeetna, located about 120 miles north of Anchorage in Southcentral Alaska, boasts views of North America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley, and the surrounding Alaska Range from its treetop platforms. Operator Denali Zipline Tours is developing a similar experience near Seward, south of Anchorage, which is expected to be open for the summer 2014 season.
Just a bit closer to Anchorage along the scenic Glenn Highway, Mica Guides’ “Nitro” zip line is an experience akin to the one in Hoonah. The Nitro takes guests from a 200-foot tower on a quarter-mile thrill ride along the Matanuska River and treats them to stunning views of Matanuska Glacier. Located right along the Glenn Highway between Anchorage and Glennallen, Matanuska Glacier and the various attractions located there (glacier trekking, hiking, sightseeing and of course the zip line) provide a great opportunity to break up a scenic drive with a little adrenaline rush.
Farther east, Alaska Boreal Canopy Adventures bills itself as North America’s most remote zip line. Located near the town of McCarthy and the Kennicott Mine historic site in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, guests zip from platform to platform while learning about the northern boreal forest. With a launch site on bluffs above the Nizina River, stunning views abound.
No matter where you do it, consider adding a zip-line tour to your Alaska itinerary as a great experience that appeals to both young and old, and provides a unique perspective on the forests that dominate Alaska’s vast wilderness.