Over the weekend our family had one of the best days ever (or "boss-est" day, as my son put it) at the spring season opening of The Adventure Park At Sandy Springs Friends School. Designed by Swiss alpine mountaineers, The Adventure Park stretches over 5 wooded acres of the 140 acre campus of the Sandy Spring Friends School and is the largest aerial forest park in North America. What is an aerial forest park? Think Ewok village crossed with a circus trapeze and you'll begin to get an idea of the fun in store high-up in the trees. Each course has zip-lines (usually at the end) but is comprised mostly of various configurations of cable, wood, and rope that form bridges, tight-ropes, and climbing challenges in between over 150 unique tree platforms.
If you have adventurous kids looking for outdoor fun, it doesn't get better than this. There are 10 courses for ages 7 to adult ranging from beginner to expert and designated by colors like a ski slope (yellow, green, blue, black and double black). And new this year are two special purple courses for your littlest climbers ages 5-6. With the addition of these purple courses, our whole family was able to join in the fun. The courses were definitely challenging, but appropriately rated for their difficulty. As one of the kids shouted out with glee, "Hey Mom, this is easy! But HARD!"
If you are a parent with a 5-6 year old, you will purchase a parent/tot combo pass for 90 minutes of climbing on the purple course and you will be required to stay with your 5-6 year old throughout the course. A ratio of one parent per one 5-6 year old is required. Older kids can proceed unaccompanied on age-appropriate courses. Although my 5 year old daughter could clip in herself, unclip and transfer from element to element, she did need my help clipping into the zip-lines. My 8 year old travelled along with us on the purple course without needing any help while our 10 year old braved the yellow, green, and blue courses with Dad.
The bigger courses included much higher elements and much more difficult crossings. My husband said the blue course was very challenging and even saw some adults bail-out (there are "escape" routes on some courses), but working as a team they were able to complete the course together.
If climbing is not your thing, I saw plenty of excited children navigating the courses together while their parents watched from below (you do not have to pay admission to watch). But having tried it myself, I would highly recommend getting into the action yourself!
We were so impressed by what the kids accomplished on their own. Although all the kids had tried indoor rock-climbing before, this was our first time attempting something so daring. I really thought that at least one of them would balk at the prospect of crossing a tight-rope high above the ground but they didn't. They were so excited and eager to complete the courses that they powered through any fear and figured out ways to climb through even the most challenging obstacles. As a parent, it was simply THRILLING to watch them push themselves and gain confidence while having so much fun.
As for safety, aside for a flutter in my stomach watching my first-born scaling an element 40 feet over my head, I had no concerns. Before climbing, everyone takes a safety course and is helped into a harnass by staff. Climbers are clipped in by two safety lines while on the element and one clip is always locked-on while you are transfering from one element to another (the mechanism makes it impossible to take both clips off at once). Clicking on and off of the safety lines required some practice but was doable enough that even our 5 year old had mastered it after the first course. None of us "fell" off any of the elements, but if we had we would've been caught by our safety lines. Friendly staff is always nearby and available for encouragement or rescue if you get stuck, but I didn't see anyone need them.
To Know Before You Go:
- As a parent, you'll have the best guess as to whether your child is ready for this type of climbing adventure. We knew all three of our kids were comfortable with heights and using a harnass, but we were prepared to have the youngest ones come and just watch if they weren't ready yet.
- There are porta-johns, water coolers, and picnic shelters, but no other facilities or food for sale. We packed light snacks, but next time I think we'll bring a full picnic lunch. Climbing took a lot of energy and we were tired, exhilarated, and HUNGRY when we finished.
- If you take a break to use the facilities or remove a layer of clothing, make sure your harnass is checked and retightened if necessary by a staff member.
- Plan on leaving all your personal items in the car. I got away with carrying my phone, camera, snacks and sunglasses in a backpack, but it did get in the way of climbing at times. Next time I'll leave all of that stuff in the car and go back for it. Parking is in a field right next to the course and is free.
- Although I sneaked in a few shots that you see here in this article, you really shouldn't stop to take pictures or use your phone while climbing the course...it can be distracting, cause delays on the course, and could result in an expensive drop to the forest floor below. Instead, its far better to take your phone calls and pictures from the forest floor.
- Don't let your excited little ones run around the forest floor willy-nilly (like mine tried to do). There are marked off trails which you need to stay on in order to avoid potential collisions with descending zipline riders.
- Comfortable shoes and clothing that is form fitting (not loose or hanging) are a must. Long sleeves helped protect our arms from getting abrasions from the ropes and cables. (Fashion alert: I could have used a longer shirt to tuck in more securely...having my stomach pop out over the harnass from time to time was not a good look for me!)
- Long hair needs to be tied back.
- Gloves are provided, but definitely coach your kids on keeping their hands in the appropriate position when zip-lining. No one got their fingers pinched on this trip, but my mommy-brain could imagine it happening.
- Make sure your kids secure all clips to their harnass when not in use. Dangling clips can result in painful wacks on the shins and if the clips are dragged on the ground, dirt and mulch can jam up the mechanisms.
- We arrived early and didn't experience any bottle-necking on the courses. However, unlike golf, you can't just "play through" a slower group ahead of you, so on crowded days your progress might be slowed on some courses. For the best climbing experience, try to arrive early (before 10:30 a.m.)
With so many challenges still awaiting us at The Adventure Park, I have a feeling that this is a family activity that our kids will never get enough of. We will definitely be back the next chance we get!
The new Online Store allows you to buy season passes and gift passes online (hint: passes would make a great birthday gift!). First time climbers will need to register at the cashier and complete a waiver. Once registered, you are given a personal caribiner with your name and a barcode to make future check-ins faster. For more information and some cool videos of climbers visit sandyspringadventurepark.org.
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