I did the canopy tour at Nelson Rocks and came back the next day and did the via ferrata as well.
The canopy tour is ~12 zip lines, 3 bridges and a free rappel off the last zip line platform to the ground (vice climbing down a ladder). The 2 guides were excellent and made it very pleasant and enjoyable. There were 2 kids in the group and the guides kept them entertained the whole time. For maximum safety they handle all the clipping in/out. For first timers, general scaredy cats and kids who might not clip in correctly, this is a great idea and puts you at ease. For seasoned zipliners who don’t normally need handholding it is what it is. One unique safety feature is the zip line is actually a double line. You are simultaneously clipped into two completely separate lines (one line is 6 inches above the other), making a fully redundant system. Not that you need redundancy when using 14,000-pound test steel cables, but extra safety never hurts. It is a sign of the careful thought that went into designing the course and how they run the tour. All in all a great time, great guides and a well designed and safe course.
The via ferrata was absolutely awesome. This was my third via ferrata (the other two were Whistler Mountain and Mont Tremblant) so I have a little bit of perspective. The course is really well designed and the views are spectacular.
For newbies new to via ferratas it is essentially ‘serious rock climbing for beginners’. If you’ve done a simple top rope rock climb a few times and are comfortable being on rock you might be looking for a little more adventure. However there is a big jump from a standard day climb run by the local sporting goods store or outfitter and lead climbing on bigger walls. You don’t just jump into lead climbing without some training and there is a much higher risk and danger level when placing your own cams and you have no idea what you are doing. That creates an exponentially higher risk of you falling 100 feet off a rock face. Via ferratas allow you to experience much bigger walls and climbs with much lower risk due to the presence of a pre-installed steel cable you simply clip into. This doesn’t mean zero risk however. You are responsible for your actions and bad things can happen if you do something stupid like completely disconnect yourself from the safety cable and pick that moment to fall.
Back to Nelson Rocks, the guide gave a very informative safety lecture and tested us all a bit before letting us proceed very far into the course. The climbing equipment is all top notch. The course is ~80% ladder rungs (very steep areas) and ~20% free climbing/scrambling (not steep areas) however you remain tethered to the steel safety cable the entire time. The ladder rungs have a rough surface to provide better grip for hands and feet; another nice safety touch. You climb and then traverse one of the rock ‘fins’ and then work out to the edge, step through a crack to the other side, traverse that face, cross a 200-foot bridge to a parallel fin and then climb that to the top. A great mix of terrain, breathtaking views and a good workout. The whole thing ran about 5 hours including the approach hike so you get your money’s worth. At the end of the via ferrata when you finally unclip for good, you are high up on the ridge and we hiked up the last hundred yards to the summit for absolutely spectacular views before starting our hike down to the base.
Bottom line: A great day, great memories, great fun, a really great course and a great guide. Highly recommended and well worth going out of your way for if anywhere in the VA, western MD, southwest PA or northern WV area. I can’t recommend it highly enough. There is not another via ferrata within several hundred miles, so if you are anywhere in the area, it is definitely worth the drive. You definitely need to very comfortable and not scared of heights to do this. This is real rock climbing and you will be well over 100 above the tops of the trees staring straight down for parts of the course. You also traverse a 200 foot bridge which is way up above the trees. You also need to be in moderate physical shape as it is several hours of casual but steady physical activity and then a long (downhill) hike once you finish the course. While it is open to kids 13 and older, I think 14-15 would be better because of the height and safety considerations.
As an aside, I explored the cabins while there. They have several brand new cabins with porches, propane tank for a lantern, a new shower house and a nice picnic area. The second floor of the main building also is setup as apartments. They have clearly been investing in building the place up and making it nice and it really shows. This would be a GREAT place for a family, multi-family or girl scout/boy scout weekend.
One last note: Nelson Rocks is in Judy Gap, WV. Judy Gap is no more than an intersection. Make sure you gas up before you head there.