Picture yourself standing on a wooden tree platform high up from the forest floor, trying to convince yourself to jump off… now picture the spectators watching from below, and the eager kids behind you waiting for their turn… an experience like no other!
While doing a google search in May of things to do in the Kingston area this summer, I discovered the Skywood Eco Adventure Park in Mallorytown, Ontario (near Brockville), which the Parks of St. Lawrence would be opening in Summer 2016. It was to have aerial games and zip lines within the forest canopy. It sounded like a lot of fun, so we hoped it would open in time for our visit to the Kingston area, and that Ailish would be able to spend her 12th birthday there. I kept checking the website, and just 2 weeks before the big day, I saw that the park was open and they were accepting bookings! So we reserved the Adventure Course for the morning, and the Zip Line Tour for the afternoon.
In short, we had an amazing day.
According to the park’s brochure, Skywood Eco Adventure is “a collection of low ecological impact aerial adventure activities within an old growth forest” and is “in the unique setting of the Frontenac Arch UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.”
We arrived at around 8:45 AM for our 9 AM start. We checked in at the base camp, filled out waivers, used the washrooms, and were each fitted into a full-body climbing harness with shoulder straps, waist belt and leg loops by the helpful staff. We were then fitted with a helmet, and waited for a few minutes before everyone was ready to go. Two guides took our group of about 20 people a couple hundred metres to the safety orientation site, where we were given a briefing on our equipment, how it works, and the rules for the park (e.g. only 1 person on a game at a time, only 2 people on a platform (or 2 + 1 guide), only one smart belay detached at a time, etc.). The instructions were very clear.
Then, we each had to demonstrate that we understood the instructions, by climbing a short ladder (clipping in properly), and showing that we could do a “safety fall”, and clip to a zip line. Our large group split during this demonstration process, with half the group showing their abilities at a safety orientation spot just down the trail. Then, we headed for the adventure courses.
There are 5 adventure courses, 2 beginner (Loon and Heron), 2 intermediate (Eagle and Osprey), and 1 advanced (Vulture). There are age and height restrictions for these courses. Note, though, that kids 5+ can do a separate Discovery Course and a Discovery Zip Line. The Discovery Zip line is accessible and suitable for people with reduced mobility or requiring mobility aids. And in August, a course for kids 3+ will be opening. Check the website for more information!
While the Adventure Courses are self-led (you move at your own pace), there are guides throughout the course (at the start, at the beginning and end of each zip line within the courses, and on the ground) assisting and watching to make sure safety rules are followed. You have to start with a beginning course, and cannot do an intermediate course until you’ve done both beginner ones. The easier of the 2 intermediate courses has to be done before the harder one. And you have to get permission to do the advanced course.
There are various obstacles, including bridges, swings, nets, and zip lines. Some are more stable than others, some very wobbly, others requiring you to stretch your limbs quite far (there are height restrictions for a reason!).
We started with the Loon course, making our way through the approximately 10 aerial games (there were about 10 or more on each course). The courses were in the shade, but we were sweating buckets! We were glad to have brought our water bottles to the nest (the main hub), where all the courses began. Our second course was the Heron course, and then we moved onto the harder intermediate courses.
At some point, Ailish and I walked back to the base camp so we could pee, but we had to get help from guides there to get out of our harnesses and get back in them! As we did the courses, we watched others (including the person directly in front of us) to see how they made their way through the games. Alasdair tried to do as much as he could without using his hands. This became more difficult as the courses got harder. Some of the games were more slow-going than others, and some I liked less than others! When one relied on only my arms to swing between 2 platforms, I feared that they would fail me and I would fall. I knew that I would only fall about 4″ until my harness caught me, but I still stood there for a minute or so trying to convince myself to go!
Before starting the harder of the intermediate courses, we were warned that while all the other courses ended with a zip line, this one ended with a 4 foot drop from a platform, after which we would be slowly lowered to the ground! “No problem!” we said. Until we stood on that platform. Alasdair went first, then Keaghan, then Ailish. I stood on the platform with Ailish and the guide while she tried to convince herself to go. Nicole, the guide, was really great with Ailish, telling her that she has trouble jumping too, and that some guides look at the trees when they jump, others the sky, etc. After a couple of minutes, Nicole suggested that she could push Ailish off – and that’s what she did! Other than her harness whacking her face, it went well! And then it was my turn… Nicole said that I could step off, or jump, my choice. I didn’t hesitate for too long (though it did seem like forever). In the end, I don’t even remember if I stepped off or jumped! And as soon as I did, I realized that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (isn’t that always the way?!). It was slower and more controlled than I expected.
At that point, we had done 4 courses and were more than ready for lunch. But we wanted to do the advanced course before we ran out of time. Ailish found some parts of the intermediate courses quite challenging, so I figured she wouldn’t want to do the advanced course. But she decided to join us. Keaghan opted for food back at the van. We had to get a short briefing from a guide on the difficulty of the last course and sign a paper before we were allowed to do it. I had heard from a boy that the first game on that last course was the hardest. We hoped he was right. That last course (Vulture) took us quite a while to do. No one was directly behind us, but after a while, a few people caught up. However, they were very patient with Ailish’s pace and we didn’t feel rushed. Well, other than the fact that we were supposed to be doing the Zip Line Course at 2 PM, and we were quickly running out of time to get there without being late. And, we still needed to eat something for lunch! She was in tears at times, insisting that she couldn’t do it, that she was going to die etc. But step by step she made progress and she made her way through it!
That’s the one thing about the courses – once you start, you have to finish! However, the guides are able to do the course behind you and meet you on a game to help you if need be.
We were impressed by the guides, the layout of the course, the variety of obstacles, and the varied difficulty. At one point we had to climb through tunnels, at another spot we rode a skateboard between platforms, and elsewhere we climbed a spider web. It was so much fun. It was at the end of the very last course when the guide at the zip line checked our wrist bands and told us that we actually climbed for longer than we were supposed to. I didn’t realize that there was an end time, and assumed that we were able to make our way through all 5 courses. According to him, we got a “bonus climb”.
Alasdair left us to finish the last couple of games on that last course and returned to the base camp to let them know that we were there for the Zip Line Course! When Ailish and I arrived, people were getting suited up, but we still had to unharness, pee, and get harnessed up again. Plus we had to get Keaghan from the van, grab some plain bagels and juice and be ready to go again! We managed to have our quick lunch after getting suited up, but before our 2nd safety briefing of the day.
Zip Line Course
For the Zip Line Course, we were in a group of 8, including 2 couples, with 1 man and 1 woman cousins. We also had 2 guides, Nicole (from the jumping platform) and Luke. After the briefing we headed for the start of the Zip Line Course, which was a series of ladders to get us up into the tree canopy.
This is where we discovered that one of the men was afraid of heights, and one woman was quite afraid of the climbing (she was in tears at the top and said that she was a “blubbering baby”)! I cannot imagine doing the zip lining while afraid of heights! The 4 of them did great! Talk about overcoming fears. We were super impressed with Nicole, who worked with the one woman to help her through ladders. We climbed one by one, but we all fit on a 10-person platform, where we were shown how we would be clipping onto the zip line (it was a little different than how we did it on the Adventure Course).
And then we began the series of 8 zip lines that would take us through the forest! Nicole would go first, and then radio to Luke that the next person could go. Alasdair, the kids and I did not find the zip lines scary, but very very fun! We changed the order up a bit as we went so we could get pictures of various people. We took a few videos as well. Some of the zip lines were longer than others, with the longest about 600 feet. It was also the most scenic, running alongside the Jones Creek Marsh.
Ailish and Keaghan were told that it was possible they wouldn’t make it all the way to the next platform because of their lower weights, but this never happened – sometimes they pushed off with their feet, and once Keaghan got a push from Luke. On the longest of the zip lines, with the wind behind us, Nicole even had to set the brake (not for the kids) to slow us down near the end. I got better and better with my landings as we progressed through the zip lines.
After 5 lines, we took a break at the “chill platform”, where we had a drink of water (Luke carried my bottle and Ailish’s in his backpack, and a jug of water and little cups for everyone else). The guides also carried ropes, so that if necessary we could be lowered from a platform or line to the ground.
It wasn’t until the very last zip line that one of the women in our group didn’t quite make it to the platform – she then went backwards along the line, and had to be helped to the end!
Some of the platforms were in the sun, so it was quite hot at times. I was pretty sweaty!!
We were sad to finish but loved every minute of our afternoon zip lining! We enjoyed the company of the 2 couples and our 2 guides!
We loved it. The Adventure Course was physically and mentally demanding, but doable for those in good shape and with a bit of flexibility! I am black and blue on the back of my left upper arm today – clearly I used it more than I realized on the Adventure Course!
The check-in process was easy, the guides fantastic, the safety focus clear, and the courses awesome! I highly recommend Skywood Eco Adventure Park, and would love to go back!
When we left the park, we drove 2 minutes West along the Thousand Islands Parkway to Brown’s Bay Beach and Picnic Area (the oldest of all of the Parks of the St. Lawrence) where we swam for just a few minutes to cool off. It felt so good! There is a small fee to use the area, but it’s so close to Skywood that it’s well placed for a picnic lunch before or after your climbing or ziplining adventure!
If you go…
Check out the Skywood website for all the details, including what to wear, how much it costs, who shouldn’t climb, etc. Or connect via Facebook at Skywood Eco Adventure Park or on Twitter at @SkywoodZip and #Skywood.