Association for Challenge Course Technology

Canopy/Zip Line Tour History


Canopy/Zip Line Tours in this hemisphere were originally an outgrowth

of techniques developed by biologists seeking to study the ecosystems

of the Tropical Rainforest. Using a variety of approaches to access

the upper reaches of the forest while minimizing their impact upon its

ecology, researchers began about 30 years ago to observe and catalog

the animals and plants that flourished there and to study their

complex interrelationships.


Observation posts and transportation routes through the canopy were

established by several means, including Tyrolean traverses and zip

lines, rope ascension devices, towers and cranes, suspension bridges,

and even hot air balloons. Each of these methods pioneered by

scientists continue to be employed in one or another of the many

commercial Canopy/Zip Line Tours that have grown up to serve and

promote eco-tourism in the Rainforest. Some operators have gone one

step further and installed aerial tramways complete with enclosed



While many tours are quite serious about their mission of promoting

awareness and appreciation of forest canopy ecology, many others now

operate primarily as vehicles for recreation and amusement: the thrill

of the ride is the principal attraction.


Such courses typically feature an interconnected series of traverses

and crossings over a route that runs down above a sloping forest

floor, valley, ravine, or canyon. Entry and exit may be achieved by

ground-level platforms or by stairways, ladders, and rappel stations.

Fall protection is provided through harnesses, lanyards, clips, and

trolleys. Riders may also be required to wear helmets. Speed control

and braking may be mechanical, guide operated, gravity induced, or may

require effort by the participant.


Guides and facilitators on these courses must master a variety of

skills, including client screening, client management, equipment

fitting and inspection, course inspection and maintenance, high angle

rescue and course evacuation, belaying, and, of course, effective

public speaking.


Recent Developments:


Though zip lines and canopy tours began as a tool for scientific

inquiry and evolved into a means of showing off the forest to the

general public, many courses now are designed first and foremost to

provide thrills and excitement. As the Fodor’s online travel

site puts it: “There are two basic types of canopy (zip line)

tours: one that gives you a chance to see treetop animals up close;

and one that lets you behave like them.”


These days Canopy Tours are often also referred to as Zip Line Tours,

especially when they are not actually built in the trees of the forest

canopy. Such courses are frequently installed on poles or towers,

usually in the middle of a scenic landscape and often as a part of a

recreation park or ski resort.


Canopy Tours and Zip Line Tours have become big business, generating

some $120 million in annual revenues in Costa Rica alone. The cruise

lines which ply the waters along the Pacific coast and around the

Caribbean provide a huge market for expansion and have helped spawn

much of the recent construction in the Temperate Rainforest regions of

the Alaskan Inland Passage. Ski Resorts increasingly install courses

to round out their recreational offerings.

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