Several riders are crowded behind me, waiting impatiently. My only way out is a yellow plastic slide in front of me, leading to midair oblivion — a zipline that appears to plunge 75 feet down into Sand Creek. I remind myself: Trust the program! I am latched by two lanyards onto a steel cable that has a tensile strength of 20,000 pounds. What could go wrong?
Well, for Anna Achtenberg, a whole lot. “I think I’m going to die,” the Lakeville woman recalled thinking as she teetered over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis last year, stuck in the middle of the Super Bowl’s Bold North Zip Line. According to KSTP it took several minutes for technicians to escort her safely to the end of the line.
Forcing those images out of my head, I grab my lanyard for dear life and push off the platform. I quickly gain speed to more than 20 miles per hour, buzzing along the line with the wind rushing through my harness.
I reach top speed directly over the creek. What a rush! And then thankfully, the line slackens and levels out, causing me to decelerate to a more comfortable speed. Moments later I land safely in the arms of a park employee on the next platform.
I am at Sand Creek Adventures (sandcreekadventures.com) in Jordan, a short drive for Twin Cities adrenaline seekers. Sand Creek is a congenial first stop for novices like me to sample the burgeoning sport of ziplining. Unlike some of Minnesota’s larger operations, the speeds on its three lines are modest enough that you don’t have to do your own hand-braking. Trained personnel are waiting to land you at the end of each run. The cost is reasonable at $49, with a $5 discount for veterans or seniors.
It is said that you never change your life without getting out of your comfort zone. After an exhilarating day flying above some of Minnesota’s most picturesque terrain, your zipline adventure will provide just the right spiritual dose of Red Bull to lift your summer to new heights. Buckle your harness and hang on — we’ll lead you on a thrilling tour of some of the best zipline excursions across the state.
Kerfoot Canopy Tour (Henderson)
Kerfoot Canopy Tour (kerfootcanopytour.com) looms only 25 minutes from Sand Creek, near Henderson. Kerfoot launches my zipline experience into a new stratosphere. Its course contains a whopping 14 ziplines spanning a mile of the Minnesota River Valley. Along the way, I also navigate a challenging 170-foot suspension bridge.
Owner Lee Kerfoot points to his grandmother Justine, a North Woods pioneer and past owner of the Gunflint Lodge, as his inspiration for this sprawling park. “We want to empower guests through outdoor adventure,” he says.
After descending one of Kerfoot’s longest lines, Kong, more than 900 feet over the treetops, I squeeze the cable with my sturdy leather gloves to slow my pace. The striking views of forest and sandstone bluffs are framed by the top of the valley.
Besides the sheer scope and ambition of this park, I am impressed by the new buildings, platforms and up-to-date equipment. Kerfoot Canopy Tour initiates your visit with a “Ground School,” in which you receive a safety briefing and practice at low altitude. There’s a minimum age of 10 and a mandated weight range of 70 to 250 pounds. Current rates are $85 on weekdays, $99 on weekends; group discounts are available.
Brainerd Zip Line Tour (Nisswa)
For Brainerd Lakes cabin-goers, Lee Kerfoot makes your ziplining diversion easy. He recently built a second expansive course, the Brainerd Zip Line Tour (zipbrainerd.com) over the rugged terrain of Mount Ski Gull. The new park features seven lines with picturesque vistas of Gull and Agate lakes splashed across miles of pine forest. The operation delivers the same Ground School and top-of-the-line facilities enjoyed in Henderson. The park has a suspension bridge, too, and an optional and slightly scary 50-foot rappel called the Drop.
The Brainerd Zip Line Tour provides free shuttle service from Grandview Lodge, Madden’s and Cragun’s resorts. It’s open May through October. Rates are $75 on weekdays and $89 on the weekend.
Towering Pines Canopy Tour (Gunflint Trail)
The storied Gunflint Lodge in northern Minnesota has created a breathtaking zipline course across its back basin. The Towering Pines Canopy Tour (gunflint.com) delivers. There are eight lines, most offering views of Gunflint Lake (with Canada on the opposite shore) or the smaller Lonely Lake. The course winds between pines at elevations of more than 100 feet.
Gunflint Lodge is about three hours out of Duluth, 43 meandering miles from Grand Marais up the Gunflint Trail. The adult rate is $95 and the tour is open from June through October. Towering Canopy even runs nighttime ziplining in October.
Spirit Mountain (Duluth)
Technically, Spirit Mountain’s Adventure Park in Duluth (spiritmt.com) has a zipline, but when I reviewed GoPro videos from the ride, it was easy to jump to the conclusion that I should skip it. There is just a single 700-foot run. Two riders climb into a bench seat that is closer to a downhill chairlift than a zipline.
But don’t write off the resort. I haven’t seen anything like its sister attraction, the Timber Twister. It’s a relatively level roller coaster that glides and swivels through more than a half-mile of beautiful vistas of Lake Superior, the St. Louis River and Duluth. Spirit Mountain only charges $14 for this unique rendezvous with nature.
Mall of America (Bloomington)
The Mall of America’s Nickelodeon Universe operates what it bills as the world’s longest indoor zipline. The Dutchman’s Deck Adventure Course (nickelodeonuniverse.com) includes a 405-foot-long zipline and a ropes course. The big advantage here is that unlike some of the bigger parks, you only need to be 48 inches tall to experience it.
When I bring my nieces, it’s immediately evident that kids love this ride. They glide at moderate speeds down and back, the length of the indoor park. There is something special about flying above the lights and commotion of the roller coaster, carousel and Ferris wheel.
Tip: The line for the Adventure Park moves a lot slower than the other rides. Because wait times during weekends can be excruciating, your best bet is to bring the family during the day on weekdays. The zipline price is $13.99.
Tony Randgaard is retired after more than 20 years in marketing. His cold-case mystery novel “Unpremeditated: A Murderous Caribbean Travelogue” is available on Amazon.