Zip, zip, zoom! A day at Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour with photographer Laura Simon

One of Illinois' best-kept secrets is tucked away in the Shawnee National Forest, a beautiful expanse at the southern tip of the state. Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour, open since April 2013, gives visitors a tour through 83 acres of natural wonders. But it's not your typical ground tour. With two short hikes and three aerial suspension bridges, the real icing on the cake is the series of eight zips you take over a creek and down the rolling hillsides and rock bluffs. The final and longest zip is a real belly-flipper -- more than 1,100 feet of sheer joy. A radar clocks your top speed as you go by, with some people topping more than 40 miles per hour. It's a great way to conquer your fear of heights, or at least ease those fears. A short "flight school" with your two tour guides lets you sample a zip before taking the plunge. After each short hike, your gear is checked and rechecked. Your harness is attached three different ways to each zip, and when you reach each tree platform, you are attached securely -- so you won't be going anywhere if you happen to step back too far. There is an element of danger to the tour, but that's what makes it so exciting. Marc Miles, an equine veterinarian for 37 years, is the mastermind behind the zip tour. When his children were small, Miles built a small zip line in his yard for them to enjoy. Now, he has created something even bigger for his grandchildren and other thrillseekers to enjoy. Miles spent three years researching for the right typography and the best builder in the country, and after four months of construction, Miles' idea took off -- literally. "I knew I could bring something really exciting to Southern Illinois," he says. Now, Miles is working to add a mountain bike trail throughout the 83 acres of Southern Illinois woodland. Can't you just imagine zipping over bikers on the trail? Or riding on the trail, then looking up to see a person zip over your head? The Indiegogo Crowdfunding Campaign for the future Shawnee Bluffs Mountain Bike Park kicked off on April 7, with help from the Southern Illinois University Saluki CEO Corps. If you're looking for adventure this summer, or any season, call Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour. You will not be disappointed, and Miles and his wife, Candy, are two of the nicest people you will ever meet. They know good people, and their staff are also really friendly. And you will probably get to hear a pun or two on your tour. For more information, visit or