There is a wealth of things to do in Sonoma County. You can sip the latest Cabernet release on the patio at Chateau St. Jean, stroll through early California history at the Sonoma town plaza, or catch a high-speed automotive race at Sonoma Raceway.
Here’s something else to do you may not have thought of: Go ziplining through the California coastal redwoods on Sonoma Canopy Tours.
We—my 14-year-old son and I—did this not long ago, taking what is described as “a flight” through the forests of Occidental, about thirty minutes west of Santa Rosa or less than two hours if you’re driving up from San Francisco. And I’d heartily recommend the experience especially if you’re looking for a family activity or something a little different than the usual wine country 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.” No doubt there are others who feel like this—I got a similar reaction from a few of my friends before taking a helicopter tour of Napa Valley—but like a helicopter ride, ziplining is utterly safe and a total kick, although you may have a little case of nerves beforehand.
Operated by Alliance Redwoods, a conference and educational program center, the “classic” ride or flight that we took consists 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. You don’t do it; only they do it, 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 free your mind to just focus on the fun and adventure of what you’re doing.
One caveat: On the trip we were on, one 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, which helps 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,” as they are called, which are short suspension bridges hung between the trees that you walk across. 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, this forest was logged heavily to supply the wood for the vast rebuilding needs of the city, which had been burnt to the ground. Still, there are many amazing redwood specimens such as Walter around, 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.
One added bonus: Those who complete the tour receive a coupon for free bruschetta at the Union Hotel in Occidental. We shared the bruschetta and a pizza and enjoyed both.
Sonoma Canopy Tours, 6250 Bohemian Highway, Occidental. Reservations required. Open year-round. Must be at least ten years of age and weigh 70 pounds; no one over 250 pounds allowed. Cameras are permitted but not camera phones; helmet cams are available for rental. 1-88-498-7868.
Kevin Nelson blogs at WineTravelAdventure.com.