Ever since we went zip lining in Costa Rica this past Spring Break, Owen has been asking to go again. And despite feeling downright terrified as I soared between trees hundreds of feet above the rainforest floor while dangling from a wire, I also found it wildly exhilarating and wanted to go again myself.
I knew of a few places in the area that had ropes courses and zip lines, but when I checked them out several months ago, both Owen and I were disappointed to learn that kids had to be at least 7 years old to participate. But as summer break started to wind down, and I was thinking of something special the two of us could do before he returned to school, I decided to look into it again. (Okay, true confession: I was actually going to call and see if I could persuade them to make an exception for a 6-year-old who had previous experience on the ropes. Yeah, I’m that mom.)
Turned out to be somewhat of an auspicious move. By checking back, I learned that The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School in Maryland started offering a package especially for children ages 5-6. Accompanied by an adult (and it must be a one-to-one ratio), they have access to their two easiest ropes courses for 90 minutes. This all costs $34 total for kid and adult, which is quite reasonable in my opinion. Summer 2013 Update: The rate has changed; children aged 5-6 are now free with an adult ticket ($49), and it’s good for up to three hours.
So, last week Owen and I made our way out to Sandy Spring, about a 45-minute drive for us from Capitol Hill. I had called ahead to make a reservation, but was told it wasn’t necessary. When we arrived around 11am, it seemed to be fairly busy, but not too crowded. The park is five acres and there are 180 obstacles throughout the 10 courses amid the trees — plenty of room for everyone.
It took about 15 minutes total to register and get our gear, then we waited another few minutes for our intro session to start. This was a 10-minute run-down of park procedures, and more importantly, a lesson in how to use our carabiners and lock/unlock them on the lines with tweezles (just learned that term myself; it’s the thingy you use to lock and unlock the carabiners). After a quick practice session on ground-level lines, they let us loose to play in the woods. That’s right, it’s a self-guided adventure, but staff are on hand to help if and when it’s needed.
All of the courses begin at one main platform near the entrance to the park. The two that Owen and I could do together were only about 15-20 feet off the ground at their highest, but lofty and challenging enough to make it a thrilling experience. (The other courses are higher and, I imagine, harder, but we could only see them in the distance.) We crossed from platform to platform on all kinds of “bridges” made from ropes, wooden boards and slats, nets, and wires. We walked up a thick tree branch, ducked through large metal hoops, and whizzed gleefully down zip lines.
And not only was it a joy to see Owen having a blast, it was proud parent moment to see him handling it all himself. He clipped onto the lines carefully but confidently, and navigated the courses like a pro.
I think we exceeded our 90 minutes a bit, but we kind of had to in order to finish the course lest we get stuck in the trees. No one said a thing about it when we returned our gear and checked out. I should note that the staff were extremely friendly and helpful, which added to the experience.
So, it may not be Costa Rica, but for a local adventure in the trees, it was pretty darn fun. One of my favorite active pursuits in awhile, for sure, and Owen wholeheartedly agrees.
The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring is located in Sandy Spring, Md, about 15 miles past Silver Spring. It’s open daily through September 3, and general admission hours are 9am – 8pm, with the last ticket sold at 6:30pm. After that it’s open weekends through November 25 from 9am – dusk, and during September and October on Thursdays from 3pm – dusk and Fridays from 1pm – dusk. Besides the package for 5-6-year-olds, admission for a 3-hour adventure is $49/ages 12 and up, $44/ages 10-11, $39/ages 7-9.
If you plan to go:
- Read the FAQ section on the website to know exactly what you’re getting into.
- Be sure to build in time to get out there and register, etc. That all took a bit longer than I anticipated.
- Leave your belongings in the car. You can check your keys at the gear station, and get a ticket to pick them up after. (I shoved my phone in my pocket so I could take photos, but they recommend leaving that behind, too.)
- There are photographers capturing photos in the park that you can purchase after, though kind of pricey (I can’t remember exactly how much).
- There is a pavilion just outside the entrance with picnic tables and vending machines.
- Port-a-Potties are also available near the parking lot, likely strategically placed so guests can make a pit stop before committing to a long course in the treetops.