The most fun I've ever had while fearing for my life – that should have been emblazoned on the T-shirt I wore while traipsing through two of Tahoe's three unforgettable Treetop Adventure Parks with my daughter.
If you love to scramble up tree trunks, whoosh along a zip line or experience a day in the life of a squirrel, this is the ultimate sport for you. Make no mistake, these aerial trekking courses, which snake through towering pines and cedars over bridges, platforms and zip lines, can be a real workout. Comfy clothes and a little warmup are the keys to making the most of swinging from the treetops.
Open year-round, the Tahoe Vista Treetop outpost near the Nevada border is an epic forest playground with seven courses – ranked green for easy, blue for medium and black for very challenging – so you can pick and choose to suit your thrill level. There are 70 tree platforms connected by 30 zip lines and 40 bridges or traverses scattered across the treetop park.
If you're a scaredy squirrel or new to this type of adventure, test your mettle first on the easy-peasy green-level Bananas course, where you can learn the ropes of zip lining. The first step is a doozy!
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It took me a while to figure out that if you kick your feet out in front of you, it helps you reach the next tree facing forward. Which is desirable. Spinning as you zip is extremely thrilling, but you may arrive backwards at the next tree, which makes it harder to scramble onto the platform. (Clearly, upper-body strength is nothing to sneeze at.) Also, if you don't muster up quite enough momentum when you jump off, you may soar out, then swing back and get stuck hanging in the middle of the tree canopy. Of course, dangling in mid-air is super fun, if you're 7 years old and giggling the whole time.
Indeed, my daughter Daphne and I had such an exhilarating time, we wanted to do the Lakeview route all day long. It has easy obstacles, simple rope bridges and long, leisurely zip lines. The views of Big Blue as you soar through the sky are unparalleled. It's also pretty high up, which bothered some folks. Not us. We were invincible after our awesome treks on the Lakeview route.
That's when we got cocky.
We entered the Zig Zag course, with its lack of handholds and its ropes just out of reach. It's a blue-level course, which should have been doable for us, but I lost my footing on the tricky wind chime-like element and almost fell right off. Thank goodness for my harness and helmet.
Heart pumping and breathing heavy, I slowly pulled my way back up and regained my footing while Daphne turned around, so she wouldn't have to watch me crash and burn. Then she tried to talk me through the obstacle course, but I couldn't actually hear anything because I was focusing on breathing, which suddenly seemed rather complicated.
Once I made it to the next platform, I realized how ecstatic I was to encounter a zip line where there is little skill required. Gravity does all the hard work for you. The rest of the course was challenging, especially if you have short arms, but doable. By the time my feet touched the ground, I was back on cloud nine. There's nothing like spending the day overcoming your deepest fears to make you feel empowered.
Wonder Woman's got nothing on me. And Daphne? Well, no sooner did she land than she wanted to go again.
So the next day we made our way to the smaller Tahoe City Treetop Adventure Park, behind the Granlibakken hotel on the lake's northwest shore. The real bonus here is that parents can let the kiddos loose on the Flying Squirrel course all by themselves, keeping your own parental feet firmly planted on the ground, while still keeping everyone in sight. Everything is sized smaller and my little one was soon off and running on her own. She even made sure to strike victorious poses here and there so mom could memorialize her feats on Facebook.
For those who are afraid of heights, there's even a route with no zip lines. That came in handy for one little girl we met who could not bring herself to step off the platform. No. Matter. What.
But if you feel the need for speed, there's an easy run here with three lovely long zips to get your glide on. There's more fun and less fear if you stick with the Squirrel course, but if you're over 56 inches tall and feeling the need for speed, try out the Monkey Zone. They say the black diamond route is the fiercest in all of North Lake Tahoe. We'll have to take their word on that.
IF YOU GO
There are three Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks, in Tahoe Vista, Squaw Valley and Tahoe City, each with a variety of beginner, intermediate and advanced courses and challenges. Book ahead – $40-$60 – at www.tahoetreetop.com.