Cable networks

Zip lines at Unicoi (and five others) in part seven of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
series on fun things to do in the North Georgia Mountains.

Your brain doesn’t want you to jump off a 75-foot platform into thin air.

You may be clipped onto a cable that can hold thousands of pounds, but your brain doesn’t care, so your body takes control and you throw yourself off.

Then you find yourself sliding through the North Georgia woods and across Smith Lake at 60 miles an hour, as foliage and hikers and boaters flash past.

You are well-protected on this adventure (and we’ll talk about the “continuous belay” equipment later), but your brain might not buy that. That’s why there was some screaming as we flew among the treetops at the Unicoi Aerial Adventure Park last Sunday.

Jason Beck, a zip line guide at Unicoi Aerial Adventure Park, leans back to accelerate as he crosses Smith Lake on the longest of Unicoi’s zip lines, the 2,240-foot Eagle’s Nest line. Bo Emerson/AJC

My son-in-law, Lane Pratt, accompanied me on the trip. He is a former Army captain with a Ranger tab. He wasn’t screaming. He was calmly zipping, plus taking pictures. I was the one screaming.

Along with hiking, fishing, boating, and other outdoor fun, Unicoi offers two levels of challenging treetop zip lining and canopy walking, and it boasts one of the most entertaining facilities in the state. Level 1 consists of 11 different lines, ranging up to about 750 feet in length. Level 2 includes eight different lines, the longest of which is 2,240 feet, or about a half mile.

To experience Level 2, you must go through Level 1 first, which is a test, of sorts, to make sure you’re up to the challenge. Completing both levels takes about three hours, which seems like a lot of zip lining, but the course is well-designed, never boring, and reserves some special treats for the finale.

The capper came near the end of Level 2. The Eagle’s Nest line — that half-mile ride — sends you at high velocity and high altitude through the woods and from one side of the lake to the other. You’re 100-150 feet off the ground (and/or water), and if you were on I-285, you’d be exceeding the speed limit. It’s a twin line, and your guide rides one while you ride the other, which makes for entertaining contests. (Jason Beck, despite being lighter, was faster than I was, and accelerated past me.)

Bo Emerson tries out one of the Level 1 zip lines at the Unicoi Aerial Adventure Park, near Helen. Contributed by Lane Pratt

Beck and his fellow guide Tristan Carroll offered an amusing, effective training session before the tour, demonstrating their hand signals and explaining the process of braking and accelerating. One served as the “sender” and one served as the “receiver” throughout the tour, so that each ride began and ended smoothly.

Carroll showed the “invisible chair” posture and the Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball” posture that one can assume while dangling from the zip line, depending on the circumstances. “You see my invisible chair?” he asked.

Yes, we responded.

“No, you don’t,” he said. “It’s invisible.”

The 11 lines of Level 1 and the eight of Level 2 are set up as a single continuous trip, and many of the connections between one line and the next are at treetop level. Some connections involve crossing between high platforms on wiggly slats strung on cables, or balancing on a single cable with guide wires to steady your hands.

That continuous belay — the unbroken connection to anchored protection throughout the 19-line tour — is the thing that makes this possible.

Customers don a climbing harness and clip their “red hook” onto an uninterrupted cable that runs the length of the tour (except for one or two places when their feet are on the ground and they are hiking between zip lines) so that they are never disconnected from their protection.

The “red hook” is designed with a narrow opening that allows it to slide past the flat metal plates that attach the belay cable to trees (and to other cables), but it cannot be pulled off the belay cable itself.

It is genius, and, according to our tour guides, patented.

James Garity, course manager, said the course is open 360 days a year, and closes only during lightning storms or high winds. Zip line enthusiasts must wear closed-toe shoes, and make reservations in advance.

Your zip line adventure begins at the lodge in Unicoi. Unicoi Aerial Adventure Park (also called Screaming Eagle Aerial Adventures) is at Unicoi State Park. $59 Level 1 tour; $89 Level 2 tour. 1788 Ga. 356, Helen. 706-878-4740,


Here are some other zip line tours, some of them right in the metro area:

North Georgia Canopy Tours. Between $69 and $89 per person; rent a GoPro camera for an additional $35. 5290 Harris Road, Lula. 770-869-7272,

Lake Lanier Canopy Tours at Lanier Islands. From $40 to $100 per person for a variety of tours. 7000 Lanier Islands Parkway, Buford. 770-828-7654,

Zipline Canopy Tours of Blue Ridge. $49.99-$89.99 per person; up to 13 zip lines. 891 Old Cashes Valley Road, Blue Ridge. 1-800-251-4800,

Cherokee Valley Ranch. Economical: $20 for one leg; $30 for two legs; $50 for the full tour. 909 Upper Salem Church Road, Jasper. 706-692-9277,

Treetop Quest, with locations in Dunwoody and Gwinnett County. Kid-friendly zips, from $22 to $51. 4770 N. Peachtree Road. Dunwoody,; also: 2020 Clean Water Drive, Buford,

Discover North Georgia Mountains
From outdoor activities to culinary treats, the AJC has your favorite activities covered in this special travel series of stories and videos on fun things to do in the North Georgia mountains.
Find previously published stories and videos on fly fishing, waterfall hikes, breweries, wineries and dining options at

The Gourd Girls of Sautee
Wine tours and tastings beckon tourists
Get your brews in Blue Ridge
North Georgia waterfalls offer refreshing views
Practicing the art of fly fishing in North Georgia
Blairsville preserves the legacy of Georgia poet
Dining in North Georgia