Soaring Through Cypresses in Texas

The first experience people have with zip line or canopy tours is in places like Costa Rica or Nicaragua. In South Africa, you can experience the longest and fastest zip line in the world. Yet, if you're new to zip lining and want to test the waters before your vacation, there's a place in central Texas that you should visit.

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours is an easy drive from Austin - about 30 miles west on 71 and 14 miles from Marble Falls. Well disguised from the road, Cypress Valley includes a series of 7 zip lines that traverse a peaceful valley filled with towering bald cypresses. Each person is equipped with gloves, a safety harness and a helmet. Safety is first and you'll soon find that guides are sticklers. Yes... places in Costa Rica may let you fly upside down (something to look forward to) but in the sue-happy culture of the U.S., they'd prefer you keep both hands on the carriage that connects to the line.

After a basic flight school, you'll be set to take off from the main building and into the valley. The 6 lines and three sky bridges start nice and easy and increase in difficulty, culminating with a 350 foot zip line. First-timers will have a great time and quickly overcome any initial fears. Even those with a fear of heights will feel comfortable and will want to go back for seconds.

Along the way, the guides ask you to look out for interesting landmarks (like a cactus growing in a tree) and will fill you in on the plants and critters that make their home in the valley. Towards the middle of the tour, you'll pass Lofthaven, a pricey treehouse that you can rent by the night. Weekday rates are $250 a night and weeknights are $375. At that rate, you might want to check the Four Seasons on Town Lake.

The whole tour lasts about 1 1/2 hour. It's been a few months since we've been but the rates were under $50 a person. Once you've taken the tour, you can graduate to the Canopy Challenge, a more difficult tour that includes various obstacles along the course. We've yet to do this but plan to do it in the future.

Seeing U.S. safety standards vs. Costa Rican standards was a little unnerving. Places like Cypress Valley make sure you wear a helmet at all times and are quick to show off their heavy duty platforms and safety harnesses. In Costa Rica, our tour guide explained, "I like this tour - they don't make you wear a helmet" shortly before they taught us to fly upside down. Still, we wouldn't trade our Costa Rican tour for anything. Visiting Cypress Valley helped us get amped up for our visit to the Congo Trail Canopy Tour and is worth doing any time of the year when the tour is open.

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