On the trail of Florida wine, you may find yourself in downtown Ocala visiting The Corkscrew Winery or Katya Vineyards’ tasting room. But, if your soul is seeking outdoor adventure, drive a few miles north of town and try zip lining.
I spotted the rack card in my hotel’s breakfast room. The Canyons Zip Line, it blasted across the air waves to me. Canyons? In Florida? The highest point in the state is Britton Hill at 345 feet above sea level and that’s located north of DeFuniak Springs, a long way from Ocala. So, I determined, this must be a sink hole, which means it won’t be very big.
I was wrong on both counts.
The Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours is just north of Ocala off Interstate 75 at exit 358. Billed as the highest, fastest, and longest zips in Florida, the Canyons is an adventure destination. There’s horseback riding on trails that wander through 100 wooded acres, and a “Fly like a Super Hero” package where you hang suspended in a harness 1600 feet above the lake.
So, how is it that Florida has such a natural phenomenon? The answer is it’s man-made and not just for this purpose. Years ago, phosphate mining was a major industry in central Florida and this huge canyon was once a phosphate mine. Sheer cliffs drop from ground level into the canyon. Water has filled the bottom forming a lake that is green with phosphate. A hill left behind by the mining forms a high point of tree- filled canopy from which a rope suspension bridge hangs connecting two cliffs. It doesn’t look at all like Florida.
The day I was there, two young women had signed on for the full tour, two and half hours of hiking and zipping. They were waiting to be guided out and started on their adventure. “Are you going?” they asked excitedly. I was on my way to another winery so, sadly, I had to beg off, but after they told me what they were about to do, I though it best to leave it to them.
Over a mile of zip lines connect the hiking trails, cliffs, and forest, with some pretty hefty climbing. Nine different zips, two rope bridges and a rappel are included. The tour is led by a professionally trained guide and starts with a crash course (oops, wrong word) at the zip line “ground school.” Participants are equipped in safety gear and the first part is fairly mild and easier with shorter and lower zips just to get you used to the idea. The trail gradually increases in intensity and finally you are soaring from tree to tree and cliff to cliff.
A shorter tour of one and a half hours is designed as an introduction to zip lining. It includes the first five zips that are at lower levels and are easy flights through the trees. The guides are there to help and they also have interesting information about the wildlife and history of the area.
To participate in the zip line adventures, you must weigh between 70 and 270 pounds, wear closed-toed shoes, be in reasonably good health, and able to endure short ground hikes with elevations and climb stairs. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
The Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours is located at 8045 NW Gainesville Road, Ocala, Florida 34475. You can call them at 352-351-9477. Reservations are recommended.