Matt Niswonger

A zipline adventure near Santa Cruz captures the magic of a redwood ecosystem

By Matt Niswonger

Photo courtesy of Redwood Canopy Tours

Looking for the perfect fall adventure to share with my 11-year-old son, I booked a redwood canopy tour. We arrived for our two-hour tour with a feeling of excitement and maybe a few butterflies.I normally don’t have a problem with heights, but I must admit, that first leap offaith made me a little nervous.

Luckily, our two instructors made the whole process easy. After a short “ground school” training session to help us get the feel of our equipment, we were ready to start the tour. Leaping off a platform perched 150 feet up a redwood tree is disconcerting at first, but we werequickly able to trust our equipment and master the technique. Soon the butterfliesdisappeared, and we were totally immersed in a unique experience that emphasizes the wonders of a redwood forest.

The tour is powerful in a way that hardcore thrill seekers might not appreciate. What I mean is, floating fromtree to tree on a zipline feels surprisingly peaceful once you get used to it. Sure it was a little scary at first, but the instructorshandled all the safety aspects with such professionalism that everyone in our group quickly relaxed.

Photo courtesy of Redwood Canopy Tours.

Photo courtesy of Redwood Canopy Tours.

With the help of our guides, the majesty of the redwood canopy zone came to life. I noticed that we all began to talk in hushed voices out of a sense of reverence and awe. Nils loved it. Zipping through the trees is a thrill, but as we settled into the tour we felt more like Ewoks in the forests of Endor than adrenaline junkies at a Red Bull event. Judging from the smile on everyone’s face, this was the perfect amount of “fear factor” for our group of children and adults.

As soon as my son and I got used to the fact that we were on the world’s most exciting natural history lesson, we settled in and tried to learn as much as possible. Hearing that redwoods drink much of their life-sustaining water from the fog that frequently blankets the area, we realized that much of the action in a redwood ecosystem takes place at zipline level—over 100 feet off the ground. Watching the children in our group become totally inspired by the natural history of the world’s tallest tree helped me appreciate that the right amount of thrill is a powerful learning tool.

Photo: Matt Nsiwonger

Photo: Matt Niswonger

Zipping from platform to platform and walking on sky bridges, our two-hour tour ended too quickly. As we reached the last platform and unclipped our tethers, I looked back and realized that I will never look at a redwood tree in quite the same way again. Given how much fun we had and how much we learned, I can honestly say that our canopy tour was ten times more memorable than any ride at Great America or Disneyland.
Book a redwood canopy tour by logging on to and clicking the Redwood Canopy Tours tab. Tours are $80 per person with discounts for large groups. There are some restrictions on height and weight. See website for details. GoPro helmet cams are available to rent and this is highly recommended!