PONCA — Explorers and thrill-seekers from the Heart of the Ozarks can find their next adventure closer than they may realize.
Nestled in the Ozark Mountains overlooking the scenic Ponca Valley is the Buffalo River Canopy Tour (BRCT) from Buffalo Outdoor Center which offers a premier wilderness zipline experience.
When the zipline season typically begins in mid-March, the dogwood trees are beginning to bloom and the redbuds are adding a splash of color to the forest scene. As the trees sprout the newest leaves and develop a shade on the forest floor, the cover of the foliage creates a tunnel-like feel surrounding the zipline, thus earning the name “Canopy Tour.”
This style of “zipping” originated in Costa Rica as a way for people to experience the forest life unique to the leafy canopy of a rainforest.
Anyone looking to “fly” through the Ozark Mountains has the opportunity while led by experienced, knowledgeable and safety-conscious guides that will keep you entertained while teaching the ins and outs of ziplining.
“We take people through the Ozark hardwood forest zipping from platform to platform,” explained Jeremy Wilson, BRCT manager. “We operate every safety aspect of the course, make all of the connections and also slow you down.”
Participants need no prior knowledge of ziplining as the skillful guides handle every facet of the tour and allow the adventurists to take in the scenery, zip with ease and enjoy the experience.
“Our course is a real adrenaline rush at times,” Wilson commented. “From 60 feet off the ground and 30 miles per hour to 30 feet off the ground and 15 mph, the course has it all.”
The tour is in its 10th year at Ponca and was the first commercial Canopy Tour created in the state.
Wilson explained the inspiration behind the development and addition to the Ozarks, “Mike Mills, owner of BOC, was inspired by canopy tours in other countries and wanted people to experience that in the beauty of Buffalo River Country.”
The beauty of the area is evident from the beginning of the tour until the very end.
After all safety measures prior to gearing up for the zipline have been addressed, the adventurist begins a short trek to the first tower.
Once reaching the top of the first tower, participants are off of the ground until the end of the final zip.
At an elevation of 2,010 feet and 60 feet off the ground, the first zip is the tallest and longest zip of the tour.
Visitors will want to enjoy the picturesque scene before embarking on the journey down through the trees. Boat Mountain is viewable to the east and the perspective from the tower is known as the “40-mile view” according to Mills.
The first zip is stretched 1,000 feet over the top of the mountain and averages between 15 and 20 miles per hour to the second tower. The “wizzing” noise of the cable becomes a new familiar sound as participants glide down the wire before a loud but calming noise as the breaking system engages to slow down the riders while reaching the platform at the end of the zip.
The first and second zip of the tour also sit above the Ponca Downhill Mountainbike Trail where bikers could come into view and may even cheer on the zipsters as they move from tree to tree.
After traveling down the first and longest zip, the fastest line is next on the tour.
At 800 feet long, the second zip begins the journey down the mountain and through the canopy of forest at speeds reaching over 30 mph to a platform nestled on a large hardwood tree.
The birds and other wildlife will become more apparent as the quest continues.
“We see a good assortment of seasonal songbirds, eagles, hawks and many different types of woodpeckers, turkey, squirrel, deer and coyote,” Wilson mentioned of the wildlife that could be seen during the tour. “We even see a black bear on an annual basis.”
The adrenaline rush continues as each zipline offers a different view along with varying speeds and distances down the wire.
Halfway through the tour brings the 616 foot cannonball zip where people are encouraged to tuck their legs up and yell “cannonball” as they glide to the next tree platform at a speed of up to 20 mph.
Camaraderie and exhilaration with your fellow patrons amongst the trees will be shared along the way as each participant glides down the mountain.
The seventh zip has many noteworthy sights to digest. The Ponca Valley comes into view to the south while zipping to the platform. Once on the platform, the source of Ponca Creek is nearby as patrons can view the creek winding its way down the mountain where it eventually ends up pouring into the Buffalo National River just downstream from the Ponca launch ramp.
The final zip is 260 foot long and brings the adventurers back to the ground where the zipping ends after gliding nearly 1 mile on the line and conquering an elevation drop of 250 feet.
Despite the tour on the zipline ending, the journey through the forest continues.
A short hike through the woods takes the accomplished zipsters to the all-terrain vehicles where the guides drive patrons back up the mountain to their vehicles.
Be sure to admire the bike ramp on the black diamond route of the bike trail as well as waving to Rocky the Rockweiler before the final adventure back up the mountain.
The informative guides are always willing to answer any questions and provide any information during the excursion as well as telling stories of the area’s history.
The Canopy Tour continually upgrades their product throughout each season.
“To stay compliant with national standards from the Association for Challenge Course Technologies,” Wilson explained. “We have added landing ramps on each platform and installed emergency arrest devices. So we now operate with primary and secondary brake systems.”
The consistent improvements enhance the ziplining adventure while making a safe environment for patrons to enjoy the experience. The adventure will make guests want to come again and again.
“I hope they leave feeling elevated,” Wilson mentioned when asked what he hopes people gain from the experience on the Canopy Tour. “I hope they feel like they’ve conquered something.”
The zipline is currently suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For more information or to check availability regarding the Buffalo River Canopy Tour, call Buffalo Outdoor Center at 870-861-5514 or visit them at buffaloriver.com.