“Wow! I never knew a place like this existed in Ocala!” These are words Traci and Dave Walker, owners of The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours, have heard often over the last few months.
And the words couldn’t be more accurate.
When I stepped onto the property, located north of Ocala at the intersection of FL-326 and Northwest Gainesville Road, I was greeted by a simple barn-style welcome center. It wasn’t until I took a deeper look into the woods that I got a taste of the real adventure that awaited me.
I stepped through the welcome center and onto the back porch beyond. As I inched out to the edge of the cliff and looked down, I could see the expansive rope bridge in the distance. It looked like something straight out of Indiana Jones. My heart started pounding a little faster.
Seeing valleys, steep drop-offs and small lakes surrounded by cliffs just 20 minutes from downtown Ocala caught me by surprise.
“This is where visitors will do the rappel at the end of the zip line course,” says Traci.
Never having the desire to scale down the side of a cliff, I wasn’t sure I even knew what it meant to rappel. I’d quickly find out.
Opening in just a few short weeks, The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours is an adventure park spanning almost 100 acres and treating guests to a two and a half- to three-hour-long eco-adventure along an engineered network of cables. Located in an abandoned limestone quarry from the 1920s, the property features large oak trees, five spring-fed lakes, cliffs and massive canyons—elements not possible in most parts of Florida due to the area’s usual flat terrain.
“We offer the longest, highest and fastest zips in the state,” says Traci. “It’s bigger and badder than anything other parks in Florida can offer.” Before deciding on Ocala, Traci and Dave looked at other locations throughout Florida. “Nothing compares to the location we have here. You really have to have this type of property, with these types of elevations, to do it right,” she explains
Professionally certified guides lead visitors through a series of nine zips, three rope bridges and one rappel, with the longest zip spanning roughly 1,100 feet over a lake and taking you within 10 to 15 feet of the water’s surface. The highest zip takes you 150 feet off the ground, and another sails you alongside enormous cliff walls.
When creating the zips, Traci and the designers were mindful of the environmental aspects. Other than the dirt roads carved throughout the property, natural steps in the dirt to make hiking up hills easy for all ages and, of course, the zip lines strung from treetops, the area remains untouched.
“We made every attempt to keep the area as natural as possible. Fortunately, we only needed to lose a few oaks during construction,” says Traci. “We are also very lucky to have an on-site arborist who surveyed the strength and health of the trees.”
Ocala Style Editorial Assistant Amanda Furrer zips above the trees.
Because Traci and her team were still in the process of putting the final touches on the park when I visited, I along with another Ocala Style writer—who I brought along to push me off the edge, so to speak, if I needed it—were given a behind-the-scenes look at what visitors can expect.
Once open, visitors will don their full-body safety harnesses and hard hats within the walls of the visitor’s center before taking part in “Ground School,” a 15- to 20-minute hands-on tutorial that takes you on a mini zip 4 feet off the ground and teaches you how to stop and “self rescue” on the off chance you were to get caught in the middle of the zip. After Ground School, visitors will take a hayride through the woods to the first zip, adding to the tour’s rustic flair.
To start our adventure, we pile into Traci’s SUV, along with our guides—husband-and-wife team Dave and Love Burland, and their son, Reid Burland. Part owner of Geronimo Construction based out of Biwabik, Minnesota, Reid, along with Ross Curry, was charged with designing and building The Canyons Zip Line.
We stop at a clearing where we disembark and find our gear situated neatly in piles waiting for us. Dave and Love give us clear instructions for stepping into our harnesses and tightening the straps around our waists and torsos. I listen intently—making sure to pull the straps a bit tighter than suggested, just in case.
As I put on the safety helmet and gloves provided, our guides lead us up a hill where we find a tree stand from which we will zip to another tree stand some 450 feet away.
I have to pause here to say that before this day, I had never climbed a tree, let alone attached myself to a cable and jumped out of one. Needless to say, I was a bit anxious. I carefully examined how the cables were attached to the tree and was comforted in the fact that the guides took the time to explain how to position your body, manually control your speed and “self rescue,” which sounds intimidating and scary but is actually fairly easy to do. Also, anytime you’re in a tree stand or waiting your turn to zip, you’re safely hooked to cables above you by multiple carabiners. This allows for safety, yet doesn’t feel restricting.
“Participant and staff safety is the primary concern when building and operating a canopy tour,” says Reid, who began facilitating challenge courses in 1997 and building canopy tours in 2005. “To ensure this, all of the structures and training at The Canyons Zip Line exceed the industry standards, and every critical connection on the course is redundant,” he says, adding that all guides go through several weeks of training on the course to get their guide certification and are first aid, CPR and AED certified.
Adrenaline and a little peer pressure got me through the first zip. If you’ve never zip lined before, don’t be surprised by the sound of the trolley, which is the metal piece overhead, as it slides along the cable. It sounds, appropriately, like a giant, high-pitched zipper on a piece of clothing.
On some zips, taking that first step is as easy as just lifting your feet. The harness holds all your weight and, before you know it, you’re flying through the woods, over a clearing or above a lake. I have to admit, I spent most of my first zip with my eyes closed. Thankfully, I opened them toward the end long enough to know when it was time to stop. (I could insert a clever George of the Jungle song reference here, but I won’t.) The first zip was a great starter; it offers a taste of the mechanics of zip lining without being too long, too fast or too high.
Having survived the first zip, I made a conscious effort to take in the view on the others. While our first experience was through a heavily wooded area, the second was over a large clearing and approximately 85 feet off the ground. It was a bit more intimidating but twice as exhilarating. This zip departs off the edge of a cliff and arrives on another some 460 feet away. When you’re in the air, definitely take a moment to look down below you—if you can stomach it. There’s nothing like the feeling of dangling from the sky with nothing between you and the ground below.
As if the zip lines weren’t enough, The Canyons Zip Line connects the zips through a series of three rope bridges dispersed throughout the course, the largest being just over 200 feet spanning the rims of a large canyon, and ends with a 25- to 30-foot rappel. This was a day of firsts for me, so why not throw in a swaying bridge made of rope and scaling off the side of a cliff as well, right?
Ocala Style Associte Editor Melissa Peterson (left) and Editorial Assistant Amanda Furrer make their say across the 200-foot rope bridge.
During the journey, your tour guide will keep you entertained by filling your head with plenty of nature, history and wildlife facts. Once up and running, The Canyons Zip Line will offer night tours, and a “super zip” will be added in the future, which will allow visitors to zip side by side racing to the finish line.
Sporting a few grass stains and more than a few mosquito bites (Don’t forget your bug repellant!), at the end of the tour, I felt a sense of self-satisfaction, as if I had accomplished some great feat. And while I learned that people experience and enjoy zip lining differently, most either do it for the thrill or the challenge—or both.
“I enjoy zipping because it gives me a chance to be out in nature and see it from a different perspective,” says Love. “It gives me some physical challenge, but most of all, I love zipping because it’s fun!”
Her husband Dave agrees, although he has a somewhat different perspective on the matter.
“Zipping allows me to be outside of my comfort zone with speed, challenge and different environmental things to learn,” he says. “If I relax, it is almost soothing.”
While I don’t consider myself an avid outdoorsman, I do enjoy the thrill of taking part in activities that test my boundaries and slightly terrify me—the experience is always worth it in the end. The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours proved to be no different.
The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours
8045 NW Gainesville Rd, Ocala
Zip The Canyons Giveaway
Want to experience The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours for yourself? Ocala Style will be giving away tickets on Facebook during the month of November. Simply “Like” us on Facebook and stay tuned for your chance to view Ocala as you’ve never seen it before!
Things to Know Before You Go
Ticket prices are $89 per person, with group and local discounts available, and reservations are recommended.
Participants must be 10 years of age and weigh between 70 and 270 pounds. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
A participation waiver must be signed before the tour begins.
Closed-toe shoes are required, and guides recommend leaving jewelry and valuables at home.
To participate, visitors should be in reasonably good health and must be able to endure short ground hikes and maneuver themselves along the cables.