If you’re swooning over the superbloom, Skull Canyon Ziplines has a two-fer deal for you — a chance to walk on private trails through lush beds of wildflowers and then speed back to the start on skyscraper-high zip lines that zig-zag over golden fields of poppies and bush sunflower.
Sure, at $90 to $160 a person — depending on the length of the ride — the experience is more expensive than parking your car and wading through flowers, but it’s also much kinder to these fragile native plants, not to mention an awesome opportunity to gloss up your social media posts with some extraordinary pics.
Just don’t plan on using your cellphone to take photos, especially on the Monster course, which rises 300 feet above the ground, says Yvette Liston, co-owner of the Corona-based company.
“Most people are usually holding on for dear life, so they don’t want to also hold on to their phones,” Liston said. “And if they drop their phones, their phones are gone. If you’re dropping your phone from 300 feet, it’s hard to know where you dropped it, and we have rattlesnakes in the fields, so we don’t like to send our guides out there looking for phones.”
A wearable camera is probably the best choice, Liston said. Skull Canyon Ziplines rents GoPros for $40, because drones and selfie-sticks are definitely forbidden. Just imagine the consequences if one of the latter got tangled in a zip line….?
Pass. Hard pass.
Reservations are absolutely required these days, because of all the intense interest in waving fields of gold. And that interest has only magnified this year, because Skull Canyon Ziplines is basically just one canyon over from Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, home of the famous superbloom in 2019 — and the infamous chaos that resulted from the mobs who came to gawk and selfie-graph themselves amid the lush blooms. The crowds were so bad that Lake Elisnore city officials closed all access to the Walker Canyon this February to keep people away.
“You ask what it was like? The flowers were beautiful, the scene was a nightmare,” Lake Elsinore Mayor Natasha Johnson said during a news conference on Feb. 7, as she recounted the problems caused by “Disneyland-sized crowds” that converged on the city in 2019 to see the wildflowers.
Starstruck poppy fans left their cars parked helter-skelter around the city, blocking streets, freeway offramps and even the emergency lanes of Interstate 15 as they thronged Walker Canyon, free climbing up the hills to pose among (and trample) the flowers, sometimes dislodging rocks that rolled onto people climbing below.
After Lake Elsinore closed access to Walker Canyon and threatened to arrest people who disobeyed, Liston said some people accused Skull Canyon Ziplines of orchestrating the closure to pump up business on their privately owned land.
“If only we had that much power,” she said, laughing. “We didn’t shut the roads down to Walker Canyon. Back in 2019, the bloom was like the Wizard of Oz; the flowers were so pretty it hurt your eyes. People were literally double parking on the freeway because they were in such awe. They [Lake Elsinore] closed it this year because it was a safety thing, but that doesn’t affect us.”
Yvette’s husband, Pete, and his brother, Mike, own 160 acres in Skull Canyon, where the family runs the zip line business along with a separate wholesale nursery that supplies its retail shop, Seven Oaks Nursery in Corona.
The family started the zip line business in 2009, when nursery sales slowed, Liston said. The brothers had installed a couple of zip lines across the canyon to entertain their children and friends, but when more people asked to ride, they decided to try it as a side business.
In those days, “We were happy if we could do a couple people a day,” Liston said. “Then it started getting busier and busier, and now we’re doing around 300 people a day.”
The turning point came in 2019, when the family realized they could promote the zip line as a way to savor the wildflowers without trampling the bloom. “We put it out on social media: ‘Fly over the poppies, don’t disturb the poppies.’”
Today, the family has multiple zip lines, rising 80 to 300 feet above the ground, in the canyon. Once people walk to the start of the ride — which takes 30 minutes to an hour — it’s about two hours to ride down because the zip lines are divided into segments. People who prefer slower rides should choose the shorter Original line, where, “if you were flying through trees, you’d be going slow enough to pick off the leaves,” she said.
The Extreme, at 200 feet above the ground, and the even-higher Monster, are much longer and faster rides, she said. And the heavier you are, the faster you’ll fly. The speeds range between 20 to 40 mph, but Liston said those numbers are variable, depending on an individual’s weight or wind conditions. “A little girl won’t go as fast as a 240-pound man,” she said. “A head wind will slow you down, while a tail wind makes you go faster.”
Speeds of 20 to 40 mph may not sound super fast, “but the first time you do it, it’s definitely a leap of faith,” Liston said. “If it’s your first time, I suggest you try to bond with your tour guide, the person who’s hooking you in to the cable. Look them in the eye and say, ‘I’m good, right?’ I’m all hooked in, right?’” She laughed.
“Actually, it’s so fun, and we’ve never had anyone fall — the insurance people wouldn’t like that. But the first ride is always the hardest, or the scariest.”
The canyon is only open to people with reservations to ride. Some people try to sneak onto the property to wander through the poppy fields, but Liston said they shoo people away by reminding them that A, they are trespassing on private property, and B, the place is crawling with rattlesnakes.
Zip liner wannabes need to know a few rules:
- Everyone is weighed before they ride. Riders can’t weigh more than 250 pounds, and they must weigh at least 60 pounds to ride on the Original line — the slowest ride, usually recommended for beginners and children — or at least 100 pounds to ride the Extreme and Monster. The weighing is discreet — only staff members see the scale, and nobody calls out the numbers, Liston said. “The lines are strong enough to hold 5,000 pounds, but our insurance company put the cap at 250.”
- Uphill walking is required to get up the top of each line. The hikes take 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the ride, along trails that wander through the poppy fields, but you won’t be allowed to wander off the trail or take home any bouquets. “It’s the state flower, so we go over the whole nature thing — ‘Don’t walk through them, and don’t pick them,’” said Liston.
- Don’t arrive without a reservation. Liston said they can only manage so many people at a time. Those without reservations will be turned away.
- Rain won’t stop zip line rides, but with 24-hour notice, you can cancel or reschedule at no cost, Liston said. The company will close the rides in the case of dangerous weather like high winds or lightning and either refund or reschedule appointments. “Zip lines were started in rain forests, so rain is not a problem, but a lot of people don’t like driving in rain to get here,” she said. “Except 12-year-old little boys — they don’t care. They want to do it rain or shine, and jump in the mud.”