There is a wealth of things to do in California’s wine country. Here is an activity you may not have thought of: Ziplining through Sonoma’s coastal redwoods.
My son and I took a “flight” through the forests of Occidental in Sonoma County, about two hours north of San Francisco. I’d heartily recommend it for families or anyone who is looking for something a little different than the usual Sonoma and Napa Valley pleasures of wine tasting and dining.
When I told my sister-in-law that I was about to go ziplining, she said, “No way would you ever catch me doing something like that!” But in fact it is utterly safe and a total kick, although you may have a little case of nerves beforehand.
Operated by Sonoma Canopy Tours, the flight or ride we took consisted of seven ziplines of varying distances, heights and speeds. Cables are strung between redwoods and Douglas firs, and you ride the cables from platform to platform between the trees. There are two guides on each tour—one to assist you when you launch from a platform, and the other to help you land safely when you arrive at the next wooden platform after flying Tarzan-like through the air.
The guides—in our case, both helpful and friendly college students—are solely in charge of clipping and unclipping you from the cables. Only they do that critical task, and you’re glad they do. Your snug and sturdy two-piece seat and chest harness comes equipped with two carabiner clips, at least one of which is attached to the cable at all times. And when you’re in full flight, speeding between the trees, you’re fully clipped in so you can focus on the fun and adventure of what you’re doing.
One caveat: On the trip we were on, a woman asked to be let down from a platform in part because of how high we were up on a tree. Her request was granted instantly, and she was easily and quickly returned to earth. If you’re similarly queasy about heights, this may not be the thing for you.
Besides the harness, you wear a helmet, thick gloves and a braking pad on one hand to slow yourself down on the cable as you wing into a platform. You also take an introductory zipline tutorial before you start the course, and even once you’re on it, the first two rides are very short and mild. These help you get the hang of the thing before you go on the longer and faster zips to come.
Near the end of the course are two “sky bridges,” which are short suspension bridges hung between the trees. Just before you go on one of them, you are introduced to “Walter,” the oldest redwood on the property. After the devastating 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, the Sonoma forests were logged heavily to supply the wood for the vast rebuilding needs of the city. There are many amazing redwood specimens such as Walter in the area, mixed in with the majestic firs.
The last stop on the tour is when you reach the final platform and “rappel” to the ground from high up on a tree. After swinging your body into the proper position, you can then let your hands go as they basically lower you down to the ground via the rope. Safe as ever, it is one more moment of excitement in an afternoon filled with them.—Kevin L. Nelson