Ultimate Outdoor Adventures

By Debi Lander | Photography courtesy of Debi Lander

In the fall, football reigns supreme with many people planning their schedules around games. But autumn also offers a perfect time to move from spectator to active participant, and we’ve found three outdoor adventures that will certainly get your adrenaline flowing.

Tank Town USA
Blue Ridge, Georgia — a small-town gem nestled in the north Georgia mountains — carries a casual feel where you’re likely to run into fly fishermen and campers, boutique shoppers and families coming off the scenic railroad trip. But anyone can be an adventurer at one of Blue Ridge’s most outlandish and unforgettable outdoor attractions.
Tank Town USA is nothing fancy, just a big field of Georgia red clay with mounds and dips and a bunch of heavy equipment. Just imagine the thrill of driving a military tank, though, with nothing in your way — except for a few cars to crush.
Owner Todd Leibross, an engineer in the Merchant Marine, turned his love of tanks and military equipment into a business. He opened Tank Town in 2013 with three tanks; his fleet has since grown to six.
“Aside from the fact that the tank is made of thick steel-armored plating, has tracks instead of wheels and weighs over 33,000 pounds, it’s just like driving a car,” Leibross said with a laugh.
It didn’t start out feeling that way to me, as I lowered myself through the FV432 tank’s hatch into the driver’s compartment. It felt like I’d been dropped into a scene from the movie “Stripes.” I controlled the tank from a standing position with my head looking over the hood. Leibross positioned himself behind me in the vehicle commander’s hatch.
Pressing down on the accelerator, I started making tank tracks — at a slow pace befitting my inexperience. Even for pros, a 9-foot wide, 17-foot long vehicle isn’t designed for drag racing.
“Pull back on the left stick to turn left or the right stick to turn right,” said Leibross. I found it odd to feel the tank turning from the center, very different from turning tires on a car. But in no time I had the hang of things, squeaking and jostling up and down banked earthen hills around a free-form course. Getting a little bolder with speed, I found controlling a massive tank a whopping power trip.
Men and women alike love pushing their “macho” meters to the max at Tank Town USA. And they leave with great stories to tell.

Louisiana Swamp Boat Rides
If red clay isn’t calling you, perhaps the heart of the sultry bayou attracts. Escape traffic and road rage, barking dogs and lawn mowers in Marrero, Louisiana, about 30 minutes from New Orleans.
Gather the family and journey by boat through the draped cypress trees of Southern Louisiana’s swamplands. In the protected Jean Lafitte National Park and Barataria Preserve, you’ll come face to face with gators lazing in the sun, watch raccoons scampering among the trees, and hear the Kee-aah Kee-aah call of the red hawk.
Choices include a super cool, but loud, airboat ride and the tamer Coast Guard certified swamp boat. The Cajun natives, serving as guides, share the legends and lore of Louisiana’s untamed wilderness.
Airboats skim over swamp grass, with a lightness that recalls a magician’s levitation trick. The boats maneuver back into the tree-studded marsh of the privately owned bayous about as far away from a stadium crowd as one can imagine. Those who choose the swamp boat can listen for the hoot of an owl, the buzz of insects, or the slap of a turtle falling off a log.

Some Louisiana boat captains allow guests to feed marshmallows to gators off a stick, supplementing their diet of crayfish, turtles and insects. (It is legal to feed alligators in Louisiana.) Visitors who hunger for close encounters of the animal kind may take the opportunity to pose for a touristy selfie while holding a baby gator. Shh…no need to tell anyone that its snout is taped shut.
Autumn in the preserve brings the bright crimson of red swamp maples and the brilliant yellow of bur-marigolds. This vibrant color makes it the ideal time to savor and photograph the wetlands plant life and critters. Jean Laffite Swamp Boat Tours and Airboat Adventures have been offering their intriguing excursions for years. Children under five are not permitted.

Hugh Kaul Beanstalk Forest
and Aerial Park
If you are looking to conquer your fear of heights, consider the aerial adventure course at Red Mountain Park in Birmingham, Alabama. The park’s 1,500 acres in central Alabama include 15 miles of trails featuring two city overlooks, three tree houses, the 6-acre off-leash Remy’s Dog Park, and the Hugh Kaul Beanstalk Forest treetop challenge course. Your journey will take you over the land where Birmingham began.
Meagan Odom, Director of Programs, said, “The Kaul Beanstalk Forest contains 20 different aerial elements — everything from a surfboard to a climbing wall to a swinging bridge. So, imagine you are basically competing on the ‘American Ninja Warrior,’ but on your own terms, in your own time, and with an encouraging guide right beside you in the trees.”
Plan on spending at least an hour working your way through obstacles that will test your dexterity and balance. Participants explore the self-guided course, choosing their own challenges. The tasks range from easy, moderate to extremely challenging for all levels. Don’t worry; special track pulley harnesses make sure you are always “clipped in” for safety, leaving you free to test your limits.
The Vulcan Materials Zip Trip takes guests over historical mining sites and the surrounding valleys. Transported 40 feet above Red Mountain, modern-day adventurers soar from one treehouse to the next dangling from a series of seven exciting zip lines, a sky bridge and cable swing. The Vulcan Materials Zip Trip can (often but not always) accommodate guests using wheelchairs or crutches if arrangements are made two weeks in advance.
Rock climbing is another hour-long experience offered at the Hugh Kaul Beanstalk Forest and Aerial Park. Even newbie sports enthusiasts can climb to the summit of the 80-foot-tall Kaul Adventure Tower. It offers a pursuit quite different from a typical climbing wall. The Beanstalk Tower includes eight lanes of traditional rock climbing with handholds and vine climbs using steps that look like leaves. And here’s one of the best-kept secrets in the city: the Kaul Tower installed solar power, giving the bold a chance to attempt the venue at night.

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.