The Central Florida theme parks offer powered thrills on a variety of rides, but Florida EcoSafaris has a new, exciting experience that gives you a thrill while it gets you back to nature. Their popular ziplining experience has sent people climbing towers and zooming though the sky, with gravity as the only power source, since 2009. Now, the brand new Canopy Cycles take you on a skyward journey through leafy canopies at heights up to 25 feet, moving along with pedal power.
It’s not surprising if you’ve never heard of a Canopy Cycle. Forever Florida is the only place in the United States where you can ride them (there is one other installation worldwide, in Mexico). The cycles open tomorrow (Friday), but thanks to the kind folks at Florida EcoSafaris, I got a sneak preview today.
At first I was a little worried that pedaling under my own power would be exhausting, but I discovered that the cycles move along easily to give you a view of the wetlands (and George, the resident gator) with only mild physical exertion.
Like the zip line experience, your Canopy Cycle ride begins with a journey on a swamp buggy to the starting point. On the way out, we saw a gator, a herd of cracker horses(a Floridian breed), and some wild pigs hanging around on the vast conservation grounds. Forever Florida is a far cry from the theme parks, both in distance (about an hour from Disney World) and in seeing undisturbed native Florida land and wildlife.
Unlike the ziplines, which require a long climb to the top of a metal tower, the Canopy Cycles start from a station much closer to ground level. You can see them in the slideshow at left. Before boarding, you suit up in a secure, full-body harness. We wore a half body harness when ziplining last time, but this full-body version lets you combine a day of cycling and ziplining without having to switch into a different harness.
My husband boarded ahead of me so I could grab some shots of him once we were moving along in the foliage. Then it was my turn; I climbed in, was strapped in securely, then pedaled off down the line. You eventually go as high as 25 feet, but it’s not nearly as strenuous as pedaling up a ground incline. The only challenging part if making it over the metal brackets where the course turns. If you don’t make it the first time, you simply back up and go at it again with some speed and you’ll make it over.
The course is meant for a slow, sedate place as you can sit back, relax and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Its a way to enjoy the wetlands without having to hike through swampy territory. The bike course was built in a way that causes no damage to the trees, so it’s an eco-friendly experience (part of the money also goes to support Forever Florida and protect the preserve land). You might even see wildlife below you; the only critter I managed to spot was George the gator, who was watching zipliners on the tower by his pond. It’s fun to watch them zipping along as you pedal by in the spot where your paths intersect.
The Canopy Cycle course normally takes an hour to complete, although I completed it in 40 minutes. We had a very small group, so we didn’t have to worry much about keeping our spacing, and I did stop occasionally to take photos.
The experience feels very safe, even if you’re afraid of heights. I love the ziplining, but the shaky metal towers always make my knees knock a bit. The cycles involve no high climbs, and you’re securely strapped in and much closer to the ground, so it’s suitable for just about everyone (you must be at least 10 years old and weigh no more than 275 pounds).
The bike does sway, especially when you pass over the brackets, but it’s not really a scary feeling and it’s perfectly safe because you’re well secured to the lines. You pick up a little speed at certain points; there are brakes, but I never felt a need to use them. The only bad part of the whole experience was realizing I was at the end already.
I recommend booking a morning Canopy Cycle ride for three reasons:
-It’s cooler out if you’re doing it in the summer
-You (hopefully) avoid the afternoon Florida rainshowers
-Wildlife tends to be more active in the early morning
I also recommend doing the cycle and zipline combination ($120 for both) because once you see the zippers, you’re going to want to try it out. Click here for more information and reservations,
Check out my slideshow at left by clicking the photo to see a whole series of shots, and click here for my review of ziplining at Forever Florida. Click here to read more of my articles, and click here to follow me on Twitter.