Metro Weekly

Adventure Park: Zipping, Climbing, and Axe-Throwing

An excursion to Maryland's Adventure Park offers fun, challenge, a great workout, and the thrill of conquering courses.

Adventure Park -- Photo courtesy The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring
Adventure Park — Photo courtesy The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring

Every step of every course in the aerial forest at Adventure Park demands careful attention and footing. Climbing and ziplining through the trees, and scurrying around the leafy canopy like an Ewok requires focus if you don’t want to wind up swinging on a wire from your harness.

But besides being necessary, zoning into the challenge of each course plays a big part in the enjoyment of the aerial adventure, which on several occasions during my recent visit to the park in Sandy Spring, Maryland, had me hanging on for dear life stories above the forest floor.

It’s humbling, and definitely amusing, to be inching along a beginner’s level course, strategizing how to cross the next ropes obstacle, and hear a 7-year old girl just behind you shout, “Ohmigod, this one’s so easy!”

Known as the largest aerial adventure park in North America, the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring opened in 2010 as a means of generating non-tuition revenue for the Sandy Spring Friends School. “And the school gets a nice percentage off the top of every dollar spent at the park,” says John Hines, at the park since the beginning, and the sole owner since 2018.

Adventure Park has 15 courses of bridges, ziplines, ladders, ropes, rolling elements, and other climbing challenges, with course difficulty levels ranging from beginner to double black diamond. “There’s something there for everybody,” says Hines. “The easiest ones 5-year-olds can do. The hardest ones, very few people can do.”

Those double black diamond courses tower above the rest, at 65 feet above the ground. “So, if you’re six feet tall, your eyes are over 70 feet off the ground, which really kind of messes with people,” Hines says.

This being my first time out, I stuck closer to the ground on courses suspended 12 to 20 to 40 feet up, which didn’t mess with my head, but again, focused my concentration. Crossing twisted ladder bridges, or traipsing like a Flying Wallenda over a wire while also climbing through obstacles was a test of strength and balance that couldn’t help but be centering.

Even the clamor of courageous kids climbing everywhere didn’t distract, and, as the sun set, and strings of lights turned the trees into a forest funhouse, the golden glow added to the sense of fun and fantasy. The darkness added to the sense of peril. Ziplining blindly into the shadows is a total rush — and the entire experience felt at all times safe.

“It’s all about fun, but safety has to come first,” says Hines, touting the park’s multi-layered inspection process. “We’ve had close to three-quarters of a million people climb in that park [since it opened], and we’ve never had a serious injury. I hope I’ll always be able to say that.”

Originally designed by a Swiss adventure park designer, Adventure Park continues to evolve, with current element designs done by in-house staff. The park also holds event nights, like Glow in the Park for family-friendly, neon-colored night climbing, and Keep It Lit, the park’s night climbing party for the 18-and-over set.

“Our sales manager likes to call it the adult swim at the Adventure Park,” Hines jokes. “You know, how does the pool change when the whistle blows? It’s very different.”

Adventure Park -- Photo courtesy The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring
Adventure Park — Photo courtesy The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring

The park also just added a new adventure that surprisingly is not just for adults: axe throwing. “We have been looking for several years to add something that non-climbers can do,” says Hines. “Because we get a lot of groups that come where not everybody wants to climb. Heights aren’t for everybody.”

Axe throwing, on the other hand, as Hines has already observed, brings everybody together. “I mean, last Saturday night, we had a birthday party that had sixteen 13-year old girls celebrating one of their birthdays,” he recalls.

Adventure Park -- Photo courtesy The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring
Adventure Park — Photo courtesy The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring

“They had three of the [axe] lanes. And in the fourth lane, there was a group of seven men between the ages of 35 and 50-something who were there for one of their birthdays. And everybody was having a blast.”

On another afternoon, “there were two families that had three generations throwing, kids, parents and grandparents. What other activities can you do where you get that kind of togetherness?”

The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring is at 16701 Norwood Road, Sandy Spring, Md. Fall season runs through December 11, Fridays through Sundays. Upcoming Keep It Lit nights are planned for Oct. 15 and Nov. 5. Call 240-221-6375 or visit www.sandyspringadventurepark.org.

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