Family bonding in Lake Geneva: thrilling zip line adventure, lakeside luxury and a touch of nostalgia

Family bonding in Lake Geneva: thrilling zip line adventure, lakeside luxury and a touch of nostalgia

DSCF1894My family and I recently had the opportunity to get out of our comfort zone in a 100-acre forest surrounding Lake Geneva, Wisconsin – and I mean WAY out of our comfort zone, as in racing across a 1,200-foot zip line suspended 65 feet above the ground at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour.

We spent a Sunday morning at Lake Geneva Canopy Tours, embarking on a three-hour sky-high adventure that, I will admit, was slightly terrifying at times. But it was also exhilarating and fun. And I can’t think of a better way to bond with the family than working together to make it through a near-death experience. (Don’t worry, it only feels that way; it’s actually perfectly safe.)

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Dual-racing zip line

A canopy tour utilizes a series of platforms that are built in the trees and connected by zip lines and sky bridges, providing bird’s-eye views of the forest below. Our Eco Adventure included soaring through the trees on eight different zip lines, crossing five sky bridges, climbing four spiral stairways, including one-of-a-kind “floating” stairs that wrap around a giant ash tree, and the grand finale of a 1,200-foot dual racing zip line. Before we set off, we went through a quick Ground School presentation and learned the basics of zip lining, such as breaking and self-rescue. After that, we climbed our first tree, and our feet never touched the ground again until we completed the tour. Thankfully, we started with a zip line that was short and close to the ground. We were pros by the time we got to The Beast, which, at 841 feet, is the longest zip line on the tour, other than the dual racing lines.

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Sky bridge

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Floating stairs

Now that my older boys are teens, I find that they get bored with family activities that used to entertain them. That’s why our vacations have taken a slightly more adventurous turn. We do more things like kayaking, biking and hiking —  and now we can add zip lining to the list! Any teen who has a slightly adventurous spirit will love it, especially in beautiful Lake Geneva. My 15-year-old son was so engaged that he didn’t even mind the strict “no cell phones” rule. The guides at Lake Geneva Canopy Tours are great with younger kids, too. My nine-year-old was nervous at first, but they were so encouraging, and he had an awesome time.

I, on the other hand, have a slight fear of heights, so I honestly still can’t believe that I summoned the nerve to zip line so high and so fast. When our tour was over, I gave myself a little pat on the back for overcoming my fears. That’s a great feeling, especially if you’re a chicken like I am. What got into me for those few hours? I think my temporary insanity – or clarity, depending on how you look at it – can be partly attributed to my desire to get out there with my kids. College is looming, and I feel a need to squeeze in all the togetherness we can. Our wonderful guides, Lolo and Lucas, helped me find the little bit of bravery I needed to actually make this happen. They are experienced outdoorsmen and zip liners who imparted a sense of security because they were clearly so knowledgeable and attentive to every detail. Of course, it helped that we were fastened to a cable at all times, and the guides handled the transfers. I would not have trusted myself with that important responsibility! The guides also know a lot about the area and are quick to point out anything interesting along the way, like the deer that was wandering around below us.

When it was all over, we retreated to the lakeside luxury of The Abbey Resort, which is located in Fontana, Wis., and situated on the shores of Lake Geneva. I stayed at The Abbey several times when I was growing up, and I love that I can take my own kids there today and much of it has stayed the same. Yet somehow, The Abbey does not seem old. Everything is always freshly painted and updated, giving the resort a modern feel. The rooms are bright and cheerful. On this stay, we had a view of the rolling green lawn, the harbor and the lake in the distance. The sunset wedding that was taking place in the gazebo just beyond our balcony added to our incredible view.

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My favorite thing about The Abbey is that there’s something for everyone: an indoor pool and outdoor pools, fine and casual dining, the incredible Avani Spa for adults and an arcade with good old-fashioned fun for kids — and it’s all in close proximity. But the best way to spend your time at The Abbey, in my opinion, is strolling the grounds … walk along the vast green lawn, check out the harbor and the wide array of boats, visit the beach and access Lake Geneva’s famous Lake Shore Path.

This 26-mile trail circles the entire lake. I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that property owners along this exclusive lake are required to maintain their portion of the path and make sure the public can easily access it. This means the trail varies, and you never know what you’ll find along the way. But what you do know is that if you stick with it, you’ll be able to walk all the way around the lake, never leaving the shoreline. They say it takes 8 to 10 hours to do it all in one day, but most people walk a section at a time.

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IMG_1792While staying at The Abbey, I walked the portion of the path that is near the public beach (ask for directions at the front desk). With elevation changes that offer sweeping views of the lake, plus impeccably maintained properties, this section of the path is absolutely beautiful. I walked it close to sunset, and it was such a relaxing way to end a day that started on a zip line.

We only spent about 24 hours in Lake Geneva this summer, but we loved every minute and can’t wait to go back for more. I highly recommend making the trip (less than two hours from the Chicago area) and combining a zip lining adventure with a stay at the classic yet contemporary Abbey Resort. We all generally like to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground, but I’m so glad we left our comfort zone for a few hours that day so we could soar through the trees and make memories that we won’t soon forget. Talk about family bonding! And ending the day at The Abbey, the ultimate family resort that is full of nostalgia for me, made the experience even more special.

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Sunset over The Abbey, as seen from the Lake Shore Path

When you go:

  • Guests of The Abbey can receive a discount for Lake Geneva Canopy Tours. Simply ask the resort concierge for a coupon.
  • Be sure to check out The Abbey’s creative, value-added packages. For example, Room and Board, which includes a stand up paddleboard or kayak rental; Sunday Savings, which offers deep discounts on one-night stays; and Bed and Breakfast, which comes with breakfast vouchers, spa admission and 20 percent off spa services.
  • Take advantage of the Avani Spa if at all possible! Not only are the treatments first rate, but the facility is luxurious and something to see. If you spend at least $75 in spa services, you can use the adults-only atrium pool, spa whirlpools, steam rooms and more. Call to reserve your services in advance, as the spa tends to fill up.
  • If you want to walk half of the Lake Shore Path and  you’re with a group, here’s a tip: leave a car in downtown Lake Geneva and another car at The Abbey. Start at The Abbey and end in town, then drive back to the resort. You can find other Lake Shore Path tips and information at this link.
  • Lake Geneva Canopy Tours offers much more than zip lining. There’s a high ropes course, hiking and mountain biking trails, team-building programs and more. Most of this is available year round, and our guides told us zip lining is quite popular in the winter, as is snowshoeing.
  • Canopy tours fill up fast. Reservations are not required, but it’s a good idea to make one so you don’t have to wait for guides to be available. Each tour only has about eight participants, which enables the guides to move things along and spend time making sure each person is comfortable.
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Atrium Pool at The Abbey’s Avani Spa

A portion of my Lake Geneva experience was hosted by The Abbey. But as is always the case, my opinions are my own. I would never recommend anything that I didn’t truly believe in.

Jenny Kustra-Quinn
Jenny Kustra-Quinn is a communications and public relations consultant, writer and editor based in the Chicago area. She is also vice president of communications and business development for “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly,” a National Public Television series that airs in 94 percent of the United States. Jenny loves to travel with her husband and their three boys, and she’s most fond of adventures that incorporate the outdoors and wildlife in natural habitats. Follow her on Twitter @jenkquinn.
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