It’s a bright, clear day, so from the starting platform at New York, Texas ZipLine Adventures, we can see forever, or nearly that far — across rolling hills, acres of pine trees, even the fuzzy outlines of a condo development outside Tyler, nearly 25 miles away as the crow flies.
But really, we’re not here just for the views. Everyone in this group is harnessed up, wearing a helmet and thick gloves, and they’re ready to fly. I gulp as my son is one of the first to go: He gets clipped to the cable, crouches down and steps into thin air. As he glides across the cable toward the next platform, one of the guides shouts after him, “Have fun, man!”
Zip-lining used to be something you did on vacation, in Costa Rica or Jamaica. But over the past decade, the number of courses here has exploded; it’s estimated there are now about 300 in the United States. And nowhere in Texas has the adventure taken off like it has in East Texas.
The tall trees, gentle hills and sparsely populated areas of this region have made it a natural for zip-lining courses: The New York course is just the first of several to open in these parts since 2008. (One course, Wired in Canton, closed this winter but may reopen with new owners.)
These courses are all a day trip from Dallas-Fort Worth — and with most offering extended opening dates for spring break next week, it’s the perfect time to cowboy up and take the plunge.
Thomas Falls, Diana
The course: Six lines, ranging from about 400 to about 770 feet.
The story: Owner Stan Thomas has been developing this 65-acre plot for about 20 years, with the original goal of building an event center and golf course. (With a backdrop including a pavilion and a 42-foot covered bridge, the property is often booked for weddings.) But a few years ago, Thomas was standing on a cliff overlooking his property and decided it would be a great spot for a zip-line course, too.
The golf course has since been put on hold, but ziplining opened in April 2013. The course is specially designed for novices, Thomas says. Guests are driven between platforms in an antique wagon, so little walking is required. Unlike on many courses, guests ride in a seated position and don’t have to grip the cable or do the braking at the end. The lines use a redundant braking system, so the guides, not the rider, are responsible for stopping the ride and reaching the opposite platform.
Built on land north of Longview that includes lovely vistas from one of the highest points in East Texas, the lines cross a lake and zip near a covered bridge. Riders have been unofficially clocked going as fast as 41 miles per hour, Thomas says. The entire tour takes up to three hours.
Restrictions: Weight limit of 70-275 pounds; height, 4 foot 2 to 6 foot 8.
Open: By reservation only; groups can be accommodated most days during spring break.
Cost: Packages start at $55.
Details: 5543 U.S. 259 N., Diana. 903-968-6924; www.ziptf.com.
Zip Nac, Nacogdoches
The course: Five lines, from 85 to 900 feet, and a 60-foot sky bridge.
The story: Owner Susan Rice says she had a longtime fear of heights, but when her family took her ziplining for her birthday several years ago, she loved it — and the experience helped her confront her fears.
A few months later, she and her husband, Larry, were sitting on the front porch of the Nacogdoches property they had inherited from family. And she had an epiphany: This heavily wooded plot of land was perfect for a zip-line course. And, she thought, the course could not only provide a much-needed opportunity for family fun in Nacogdoches, but could help others conquer fears, too.
They opened the course in July 2011. It includes five lines, with dual 900-foot lines that allow riders to race to the finish. A 60-foot sky bridge overlooks a pond, home to ducks Zippity, Doo and Da. Unlike some other courses, Zip Nac is a canopy tour, meaning riders zip from platform to platform, with no climbing or walking in between. The tour takes up to two hours.
Extras: The Rices also operate an adjacent vacation rental, Zip Inn ( www.zipinn.net). It sleeps up to 12, and guests can hike through 60 acres of forest, including two ponds, and enjoy outdoor activities including volleyball, croquet and basketball. Zip Inn guests also receive a discount on zip tours.
Spring break hours: Open Tuesday-Sunday; reservations only.
Restrictions: Weight limit of 60 to 275 pounds.
Cost: $40, includes five lines and the sky bridge.
Details: 199 Brother John Road, Nacogdoches. 936-645-5094; www.zipnac.com.
New York, Texas ZipLine Adventures, New York
The course: Six- or nine-line packages; lines range from 150 feet to 950 feet long, and soar to about 100 feet above the ground.
The story: This was just the second zip line in Texas when the Shultz family opened it in 2008, building the course on an 80-acre plot of land that it had owned for years near Lake Palestine. The family built the first platforms in their garage, says son and co-owner Carson Shultz, who helps parents Connie and Charles operate the course. Family members and their friends learned to zip on the 950-foot line, the first one they built, but today, guests start out on a gentler 150-foot line. “We can’t have people bust their britches right off the bat,” Carson Shultz says.
The course flies over heavily wooded terrain with far-reaching views, with some short hikes between a couple of platforms and a couple of short, easy inclines or staircases to climb. Guests are responsible for braking, but guides are trained to assist and will step in to operate brakes when needed. The tour takes up to about two hours.
Cost: Six-line packages $60, nine lines $80.
Restrictions: Guests should weigh at least 70 pounds.
Spring break hours: Open all week; reservations required.
Details: 7290 County Road 4328, New York/LaRue. 903-681-3791; www.goziptexas.com.
Adrenaline Rush, Jacksonville
The course: Eight lines, ranging from 175 feet to 1,900 feet, plus a sky bridge.
The story: Owner Annette Kimbrell is an entrepreneurial sort who has always loved working outdoors, says her daughter Keri McGehee, who helps operate the course. So, after Kimbrell was taken ziplining for her birthday a few years ago, she got the idea that she could build a course on her rural, wooded 109 acres.
Kimbrell designed the course herself but used a professional company to help build it, and opened the course in 2011. It includes a sky bridge, lines that cross over water and over other lines, and a 1,700-foot finale that is one of the longest in Texas. (Riders have been clocked at up to 40 miles per hour on that line.) For most of the course, riders zip from platform to platform, but in a few spots, walking and climbing is required. Unlike some other courses, guests are not required to brake; the guides do that for you.
Restrictions: Guests should be at least 8 years old and weigh at least 65 pounds; maximum weight 275 pounds.
Cost: $50 for five lines, $60 for seven, $75 for eight.
Spring break hours: Open all week; reservations only, with 24 to 48 hours’ advance notice recommended.
Details: 2371 County Road 1613, Jacksonville. 903-683-6855; www.daretozip.com.