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A Guide to Ziplining in Southern California

Margarita Adventures  | Photo: Chris Leschinsky
Margarita Adventures | Photo: Chris Leschinsky

Sometimes, when the commute down Coldwater is like a parking lot, or you've hiked all the way to the top of Mount Hollywood, don't you wish you could just fly across the canyons, bypassing all obstacles, to get where you're going?

Around the world, countries like China and Australia have used ziplines for centuries to cross rivers, traverse mountainous terrain, and deliver goods via a simple pulley and cable rig. But here in the U.S., ziplining is considered recreation -- an "extreme hobby" -- and increasingly popular way to enjoy the outdoors.

Last week, it seemed like we might actually have a chance to get our own zipline in Los Angeles -- which we haven't had since the summer of 2013, when the Flightlinez Venice Beach zipline closed and never reopened. The two principals of local sports management firm UOU Sports & Ent. LLC, Jeff Pruitt and Ryan Woods, presented a proposal to the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council to install a zipline in Runyon Canyon -- an idea which community groups like Friends of Runyon Canyon publicly opposed. And although it doesn't have veto power per se, the neighborhood council also did not support the proposal, which could have helped push an approval through the Department of Recreation and Parks.

Runyon Canyon isn't exactly tranquil now, and parking nearby is already nearly impossible, so the idea of taking a free shuttle there and soaring like an eagle above all those off-leash dogs and rolling strollers actually could be appealing. But in the meantime, if you enjoy ziplining or would like to try it, there are plenty of places in Southern California to zip, depending on how far from L.A. and how intense you want it:

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Skull Canyon, Riverside County
Skull Canyon installed zipline runs on a former chicken farm in Corona's Temescal Canyon region, just off the 15 freeway north of Lake Elsinore. On their two-hour, intermediate-level Original Course, participants don't have to brake themselves, freeing up their hands to snap photos or shoot video of the breathtaking scenery, or just show off their cool moves. The Extreme Course should be fine for anyone who's zipped more than once before, and for those who don't mind using their hands to pull the brakes themselves, but there are no refunds or bailouts for anyone who changes their mind. For those with less than two hours to zip, a quick "Speed Run" option (the final run of the Extreme Course) is available a la carte for a quickie, and also makes a nice add-on to the Original Course for a shot of extra adrenaline.
Price: $40-115
Level(s): Beginner/Intermediate and Advanced Courses

Catalina Zipline Eco-Tour
This two-hour course, though intense, is actually appropriate for beginners: the guides provide thorough instruction before suiting you up, and start you off on a bunny slope before the runs get increasingly longer and more exhilarating. It's an epic way to witness and learn about Catalina's ecologically diverse (and wild!) interior without having to do any hiking, and it's the only place in Southern California we know of where you can zip at night, so you might as well spend some time in Avalon afterwards and go home the next morning.
Price: $115-125 per person
Level(s): Single Course, starting with Beginner runs and escalating to Intermediate and Advanced

Big Pines Zipline
Now under new ownership after having operated as Navitat Canopy Adventures (see our zipline adventure video here) since 2011, Big Pines Zipline is a true Indiana Jones experience nestled in the trees of Wrightwood. Its zipline course runs between the sugar pines, where you launch yourself off of platforms built high into the forest canopy, but that's not all: in the MountainView Zipline tour, there are also two free-fall rappels, and in the Zipline Canopy tour, two rappels and four bridges made of rope and planks. You can even book an "All Day Ultimate Adventure Package" to experience them both. This one is not recommended for beginners because there's no real "bail-out" opportunity in case of a freak-out, so the only way out is...down.
Price: $99-195 per person
Level(s): Intermediate to Advanced

SkyPark at Santa's Village
Slated to open Summer 2015, SkyPark is a re-imagining of Santa's Village in Skyforest near Lake Arrowhead, a year-long Christmas-themed amusement park whose novelty wore off. SkyPark's new "adventure" theme will include a zipline and mountain biking trails at the resort, which once offered family fun in the form of Santa's log cabin, candy canes, gingerbread men, and giant mushrooms. Many of the original elements have been rehabbed and repainted for inclusion in the new park, though the fate of the "Bee Ride" monorail is yet to be determined. Either way, we're betting this will be the most whimsical zipline in the West.
Price: TBD
Level(s): TBD

Action Zipline Tours | Photo by Sandi Hemmerlein
Action Zipline Tours | Photo by Sandi Hemmerlein

Action Zipline Tours, Big Bear
Like Wrightwood, Big Bear is another resort area better-known for skiing and other winter outdoor activities, but worth visiting during summertime. And Action Zipline has got to be less frightening than Big Bear's other main summer attraction, the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain. Ziplines are a great way to utilize those steep slopes in the off-season and to see the scenery without the snow. Because Action Zipline is so focused on safety, they don't allow any loose items such as cell phones or cameras -- which means no photos or videos anywhere on the course. With a minimum three-hour commitment to complete nine runs and a suspension bridge, you can also double- or triple-up with Segway touring, flyboarding, or tree rope climbing combo offered in the Action Pass. Couples can also get a room for an overnight stay during the week for an additional charge.
Price: $120-219 per person
Level(s): Intermediate

Margarita Adventures in Santa Margarita
Most other zipline companies forbid the presence of alcohol anywhere near their courses. Margarita Adventures drops you off at Ancient Peaks Winery, a Central Coast favorite just north of San Luis Obispo. For two and a half hours, you'll be flying high above Santa Margarita Ranch, one of California's oldest continually operating cattle ranches, and learn about history and nature, as well as wine. This zipline experience is more of an interpretive tour than a thrilling adventure, so it's suitable for beginners and even kids, who can ride tandem with a parent. Families in particular may enjoy the replica gold mining camp added to the property, a unique addition to any zipline or winery, for that matter. And spectators who don't want to zip are welcome to come along for the tour and watch from the bottom.
Price: $40-99 per person
Level(s): Beginner

Vegas, Baby, Vegas
If you venture out of Southern California and over to Las Vegas, you can reach new heights at three different zipline options. The Slotzilla zipline at the Fremont Street Experience is a quick-and-dirty version that requires absolutely no skill from participants. It's surprisingly fun, as you fly horizontally (like Superman) through the neon-lined streets with the crowds cheering you on from below. For a grownup nighttime ziplining experience, the RIO Hotel & Casino has installed VooDoo ZipLine, a thrill ride that runs between its higher and lower tower at speeds exceeding 30 mph. It's perfect for adult couples since you ride in pairs seated in chairs, and all riders must be 21 or over from 8 p.m. to midnight. But those with real adventurous spirits will venture 30 miles off of the Las Vegas Strip to Boulder City's Red Mountains, where Flightlinez operates an epic zipline eco-tour in Bootleg Canyon, also known for its extreme Mountain Bike Park. Flightlinez will let you bring your camera but not take photos during the actual run, unless you have a GoPro or other handsfree means of recording. Throughout most of the course, you can see Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, and you can even book a Sunset or Full Moon tour, which can last up to three hours.
Price: $20-179 per person
Level(s): Intermediate, Advanced

Note: All of these zipline operators will enforce certain safety requirements and exclusive use of their equipment. They'll all demonstrate proper form and etiquette during an orientation before the adventure begins, and they will check harnesses and other gear repeatedly throughout the course. All participants must wear a helmet and sign a waiver, since this is a physical activity with some risks, including rough terrain.

Of course, Runyon Canyon would be the most centrally located (in Hollywood!) and cheapest ($50!) option of them all, with the advantage of a steep grade and enough rough terrain to make it exciting. Have a suggestion for some other area of L.A. better-suited for a zipline? Fill out UOU's survey and and tell us in the comments below.

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