The Thrill of visiting an Adventure Park
The first thing we noticed as we approached the starting platform was that the stairs weren’t really stairs after all – they were logs, with noticeable spaces in between. There were no hand-rails, just cables. It was time to practice everything we’d just heard in the instruction area: Clip in, lock, clip in and start to move. Once up on the platform, a friendly park monitor helped us get started on “Sunflower,” a beginner’s yellow course that still provided moments of excitement. Safe excitement, but excitement all the same.
Climbing and Ziplining
The harnesses come complete with a pair of connected carabiners, one of which is always locked. When you want to move to a new cable, you move the open one first, lock it, and the other carabiner is now free to move. It takes a moment to “get it”, and kids seem to get it quickly, but the end result is that you are Always Attached with a locked unopenable carabiner, and have an unlocked but still serious carabiner on the cable as well. Once secured, you simply start stepping/holding/balancing your way across boards, beams, and barriers to a platform attached to a tree, where you switch cables and wait your turn for the next bridge.
Shall we continue? (Yes! That’s the whole part of starting the course.) Your harness also includes an equally safe and substantial “trolley” that you will hook onto the zipline (along with your two carabiners) to zip from platform to platform or, at the end of each course, back down to earth. We’ve never been to an Aerial Forest Park and never heard of a Ropes Course, so we weren’t sure if we were up to it. Frankly, the first time you hook in to glide across the zipline it is a bit scary, but it is fun too, and kids (and their drivers) gain immensely from “(spending themselves) in a worthy cause” as Teddy Roosevelt once put it. Teachable Moment for Families: a challenge course is like a new dish: you will never know, if you don’t try it…
Know What to Expect at the Adventure Park
Sandy Spring Adventure Park can be called a Ropes Course or Challenge Course or Aerial Forest Park. By any name, it means you’ll be moving from platform to platform over elements made of cables and any number of shapes of wood. The easier courses are about 15 feet off the ground (more or less gutter cleaning height) and they move higher, along with the difficulty of each element, as you progress through each level.
Height isn’t necessarily the scariest part of the experience – it becomes secondary to figuring out a “strategy” (our fifth grader’s word) for each segment, focusing on balance and coordination, and hooking in and out as you reach and then leave each platform.
Sandy Spring Adventure Park features thirteen courses with elements (bridges to cross or ziplines), spread over a 5-acre area adjacent to Sandy Spring Friends School and is billed as the “Largest Aerial Forest Adventure Park in North America.” The courses range from purple through double black diamond and are rated as appropriate for children (ages 7 and up) supervised or unsupervised according to age.
You have to start with a yellow course, and we can confirm that yellow offers challenge enough to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something. There are park monitors throughout the course who are there if you need them, but you are encouraged to figure out each element on your own — that’s part of the fun.
There’s something for everyone at this park
Sandy Spring Adventure Park was developed by specialists from Europe, where this outdoor sport is tremendously popular, particularly in Germany and Switzerland. This simple idea appeals to a very diverse set. The morning we were there the park included families, young 20s who partied the night before but were still in good form, and some graying gents channeling Tarzan on high ziplines. Scout groups and a surprise birthday party were on their way in as we left after three hours, happy, tired, and quietly elated.
The park is available for group outings, including corporate programs designed to encourage problem solving and developing (revealing) self-confidence. Kids 7 and up can use the courses, but the park may introduce some elements for younger kids as they refine a course or two in the coming year.
The Our Kids team, two adults and two children (ages 10 and 8) spent about 3 hours at Sandy Spring Adventure Park and finished tired but definitely happy that we came. Rest assured, we’ll be back for more adventures!
Hours and Admission
The Main Park is open every weekend and select holidays in the spring and fall, and 7 days a week in the summer. The Monkey Grove is open 7 days a week, spring, summer, and fall. The Park takes group reservations 7 days a week, spring, summer, and fall.
Admission is fairly simple. General Admission does not require reservations. All tickets are valid for 3 hours of climbing time from time purchased (with half an hour included for harnessing and safety briefing).
- Ages 12+: $64
- Ages 10 to 11: $54
- Tots (ages 5 & 6) admitted free with an adult ticket.
- Note: There is a strict one adult to one tot ratio for 5-6 year olds, no exceptions.
- All prices are plus 7% MD Amusement tax; $2 registration fee per person for your first climb of the 2014 season.
The park also offers group rates for all 3 parts of the park, advance reservations required. Save Money by ordering your ticket online, you can use the ticket at anytime and save $2.
Packing and Planning
You really don’t need much. No phones or cameras on the course – let someone on the ground take pictures. It might be chilly, but you’ll warm on the course, so don’t dress too warmly. Our Kids recommends that you wear sneakers and comfortable clothing (nothing too loose). Close toed shoes are required. Also be sure to bring snacks and/or pack a lunch. We brought our lunch and tailgated after our 3-hour visit at the park. The park does have water available.
Our Kids Advice
We took a peek at the FAQ and noted that the Adventure Park shares two core bits of advice with Our Kids.
- Always call ahead or at least check the website, and
- Get there early.
We ignored our advice that we generally give our readers and on our first attempt at a visit to Sandy Spring Adventure Park we arrived on a holiday weekend at 2pm. We were faced with a very long wait time (approx. 1 1/2 hours) and ending up leaving the park to try again another day. Bottom line – go early, it will be less crowded and much more fun for the kids.