First Zip Line Canopy Tour in Arkansas Opens

By Jill M. Rohrbach, Ark. Dept. of Parks and Tourism

First posted on 07-20-2010

Get ready for the clicking of carabineers, zing of pulleys sliding on cables and the rush of adrenaline as your body rips through the air high above the forest floor of the Ozark Mountains. The Buffalo River Canopy Tour at the Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca opened Saturday, July 17.

The tour offers adventurers a treetop view of the lush Ozark terrain as they glide along a cable like a bird in flight. Harnessed to the cable on a zip pulley, participants are guided through a course of zip lines set from tree to tree.

“The tour consists of 12 zips,” BOC Owner Mike Mills explains. “You’ll actually start on the ground and zip out to a tree platform.” Set on a mountain overlooking Ponca creek, the total length of the course is the equivalent of about nine football fields (or half a mile).

The platforms between each zip line hold 12 people. The longest zip line is 400-plus feet, and the elevation ranges from 40 to 60 feet above the ground. “That doesn’t sound all that high until you’re up there looking down and then 40 feet hanging on a cable is pretty high,” Mills says. “Then add the feeling of speed to it. When you have tree limbs whizzing by you it’s like, ‘Oooh, this is pretty cool.’”

Mills adds that it will be the first canopy tour in Arkansas. Tours are expected to last about two and a half to three hours with guides providing interpretation along the way. Interpretation topics will range from flora and fauna in the area to the discovery of a hand dug well and plow points found during path construction for the canopy tour.

“It will be fun for couples because if you get three or four couples it becomes a social event in the air,” Mills says. The course will also provide photographic opportunities. He also expects companies like Walmart and its vendors to use the course as a team building experience. “The lodge at Buffalo Outdoor Center is utilized by vendors already,” he explains. “I think we’ll see a lot of corporate activity on it.” The company Challenge Quest is operating the tour and its expertise is in ropes courses and team building. Buffalo Outdoor Center is a canoe outfitter for the Buffalo National River. It also has cabins and a lodge.

Mills has been considering building a treetop canopy tour since he took one in Costa Rica a couple of years ago. “I’m president of America Outdoors, which is the largest outfitter group in the world,” he explains. “I have several friends within that organization that started canopy tours last year and they were highly successful.” Mills says he has the right location and demographics so it just made sense for him to create this adventure attraction.

He adds that the tour is very safe. “It is tested and operated by trained guides who have been doing this for about 18 years. Once you’re hooked in, you’ll never be unhooked even when changing from one zip to another.”

Mills offers a test zip line for people to try before committing to the full tour. To get a taste of the experience, people can zip from land to a small treetop platform about 30 or 40 feet high, then switch to another line and zip back to the ground. “It’s for people who have never done it. For people who don’t know if they can do it. We built this so if we’ve got a really squeamish person, the guide could take that person to the test run. If you like it, you go on to the course. If you don’t like it, you’re done,” he says. “That way you don’t have to pull someone off the course halfway through.” Although, if a person does decide they cannot complete the course, guides can lower the person to the ground at any platform.

On an environmental note, Mills explained that the cables never actually touch the tree, but are instead anchored through four by fours built around the tree. Some leg bolts are in the tree “but that’s not destructive,” he says.

A minimum of four and a maximum of 10 people per group are allowed with two guides to each group. However, there may be more than one group spread out on the course at the same time. The minimum age for participants is 10, and kids younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Participants must weigh between 70 lbs. and 250 lbs.

The tour is offered by reservation only at a cost of $89 per person. Private groups of eight or more qualify for a discounted rate of $79 per person. Private group tours can be booked for any day of the week with advance notice.

“We will furnish everything that they need as far as helmets and all that it takes to navigate the course,” Mills says.

He adds that the zip line tour will be open from March through November. Weather permitting, there may be some special tours offered at Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day. The current summer schedule for tours is 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. on Thursday through Sunday. On Labor Day weekend it will be open Thursday through Monday. For more information, phone 800-221-5514 or visit