Swinging Through the Treetops
Northwest Trek has always been a wild and wonderful place for a family outing. Make the hour-long trek from Seattle to Eatonville, and you will find a lush educational park dedicated to preserving and educating us about our region’s wildlife. A 50-minute naturalist-guided tram tour takes you through 435 aces of meadows, woods and lakes where kids (and parents) will delight in the thrill of spotting free-roaming bison, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and more.
You can spy on a wolf pack from a kid-sized observation tunnel, use remote cameras to observe foxes and coyotes, or simply take in the beauty of Northwest forest scenery on five miles of paved and primitive trails.
And, Northwest Trek has recently added another animal to its observation list – the courageous human, zipping and climbing from tree to tree at the park’s brand new Zip Wild Adventure Ropes Course.
We asked two groups of reviewers to check out the new zip-lining adventure – seven teens and a family of five. Here’s what they found.
The Teen Test
By Haley McFarland
It isn’t hard to rally a group of teens to try out a new zip-lining course. Recently, seven of us made the drive from Seattle to the park (a little more than an hour without traffic) to see exactly how wild it could be.
After being led into the forest by a staff member and signing waivers, our group was instructed to get into our harnesses and adjust them until they felt snug. We then went through a brief training session to ensure that everyone knew exactly how to use their pulleys, carabineers, and safety equipment and to get us acquainted with the sorts of obstacles and zip lines we would be facing.
Soon after the safety course, our group got in line to begin ascending the towering 30-foot wall that marked the start of the course. While climbing the wall wasn’t all that difficult for our group (we were safely harnessed in the entire time), this first task on the course might be rough for those afraid of heights. Once you reach the top of the rock wall, the pace at which you move through the course is entirely up to you. The course alternates fairly consistently between zip lines and rope obstacles.
While there are several staff members scattered throughout the trees and on the ground below, riders are responsible for clipping themselves into the cables and zip lines, as well as calling to those behind that they have cleared the last obstacle.
“It was really nice having various staff members throughout the whole course,” said Tamara Boyle, 18. “Not only did they have the test course at the beginning to help you understand how to use everything and be safe, but the staff scattered throughout the course helped us newcomers whenever we had any questions.”
Each zip line varied in length. None seemed too long for the average-sized person to be able to make it all the way across; however, the smallest girl in our group had trouble on a few of the longer ones and at times had to pull herself by hand along the cable into the landing pad. Each obstacle also varied considerably, from stepping across a simple log bridge to climbing through an inclined cargo net. Warning: it is nearly impossible to get through this one gracefully!
The entire course of six zip lines, with several rope obstacles in between, (not including the introductory training session) took about 40 minutes to complete. This felt a little short to us, but we were told by the staff that they would soon be opening an “extreme” portion of the zip line with more difficult obstacles and an additional six zip lines. Still, the kids in our party all gave it a thumbs-up.
“While this is definitely more of a ropes course than a typical zip line you would see in more touristy locations, it was still a blast – definitely worth the drive,” said Nick Schleck, 18.
In addition to this, Northwest Trek will also soon have a version of the course designed for younger kids or those not keen on heights. That course will be close to the ground and much less intense.
Our group of teens found the experience enjoyable, but overall not too challenging, so we’re gearing up for opening day of the extreme course. However, while not overly physically challenging, it was a bit difficult for some of us to face certain parts of the course; for example, finding enough courage to jump off a platform, hoping we didn’t make a mistake in attaching our pulleys to the zip cable.
The Zip Wild adventure course is a definite must-do for adrenaline junkies and active families looking for a truly unique activity to do in the Northwest.
Haley McFarland graduated from Garfield High School this last spring, and loves spending time outdoors (or at least tells herself she does).
One Family’s Adventure
By Jen Laird
Our family thoroughly enjoyed the new zip line and obstacle course at Northwest Trek. My husband and two daughters, ages 12 and 10, tried it out. Our son, Zack, is 8 and therefore not yet old enough to go on the course.
The car was filled with giddy excitement on the ride down from Seattle, but after seeing the ropes high up in the trees, the giddiness turned to apprehension and fear. Our two daughters, along with their dad, who is somewhat intimidated by heights, were both challenged by the course and also felt fully supported by staff. About three-quarters of the way through, when our 10-year-old, Corrie, felt too overwhelmed to be having fun at a challenging part of the course, she chose to be rescued by staff.
"I felt safe and supported. They had a special system to get me down,” she told me. Our 12-year-old, Drea, can't wait to go back!
Before heading up into the tree tops, an instructor showed my husband and two daughters how to use the equipment, and we watched them complete a mini-course. As a parent, this helped ease my concern about my daughters having the skills necessary to ensure safety. And, it gave the girls confidence.
The staff was friendly and offered encouragement. Everyone in our group agreed it was a great mix of gliding through the tree tops and facing daunting challenges. A highlight was seeing a doe grazing with its mother in a meadow 60 feet below the lines.
While the rest of the family was on the course, Zack and I completed a scavenger hunt in the forest below. A map gave riddle clues to help us find hidden letters along the way which led to a hidden "treasure" at the end. It was fun to have our own adventure while still being able to see glimpses of the rest of the family in the tree tops above.
Jen and Dave Laird live in Seattle with their kids, Drea, 12, Corrie, 10, and Zack, 8.
If You Go...
Where: Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, 11610 Trek Drive E., Eatonville.
When: Daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., July 14 through Labor Day; daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sept. 4-30; weekends 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Oct. 1 to Dec. 31.
Cost: $39.95 per person plus admission to Northwest Trek. Park admission varies depending on place of residency. Adults (13 to 64) $16-$18, youth (5 to 12) $11-$12, tots (3 to 4) $8-$9, 2 and under free.
Contact: 360-832-6117, http://www.nwtrek.org.
Rules and Restrictions:
- Minimum age: 10 years old; ages 10-17 must be accompanied by an adult for the entire course
- Minimum height: 4’7”
- Maximum weight: 275 lbs
- Reservations required
- Closed-toe shoes required (think sporting or hiking shoes)
- Long pants recommended
- Zip Wild Extreme Course – Visitors will ascend a 60 percent incline cargo net to reach the more difficult course beyond the Adventure Ropes Course, and then find 80-foot zip lines (30 feet higher than the regular course), six additional zip lines, and more challenging obstacles. Cost: $59.95 per person, plus admission to Northwest Trek.
- Kid’s Course – low to the ground, so perfect for small climbers and zippers, adults will also be allowed on this course. Cost: $29.95 per person, plus admission to Northwest Trek. Check in for updates about course opening dates at www.nwtrek.org/zip-line.