Home of the world’s largest zip line, Historic Banning Mills is a gem hidden just outside Atlanta, GA. We stayed for a weekend and have all the details on this location ideal for adventurers.
Thank you to Historic Banning Mills for hosting us!
Banning Mill is only an hour outside of Atlanta but feels a world away. And once you get there, you don’t need to leave for anything. You can have all your meals at the lodge. You can spend your entire time going from adventure to adventure or just relaxing. It’s so close to that elusive all-inclusive experience that makes time away a true getaway because you don’t need to worry about going anywhere else or meals or entertainment – it can all be booked together ahead of time. And Banning Mills is just that: a true getaway. You get to experience nature in very unique and exciting ways and have that chance to reconnect with your partner or family.
Banning Mills is also well within easy driving distance from Greenville at just over three hours (could be a bit longer depending on Atlanta traffic).
History of Banning Mills
Banning Mills was a originally part of the Creek Indian tribe land, led by Chief William McIntosh, who was half Creek Indian. When the white settlers came in the early 1800s, Chief McIntosh fought alongside Andrew Jackson, dined with President Thomas Jefferson, and eventually became a wealthy businessman who owned a plantation very close to Banning Mills. In 1825, he signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, which infuriated the Upper Creek Native Americans, who came to his home and killed him. He is buried where he died at McIntosh Reserve, now a county park.
In the mid-1800s, a textile mill was developed along the hidden Snake Creek gorge, which operated through the Civil War. It fell into disrepair until 1878 when Arthur Hutchinson bought it and made it into a paper mill, creating the birthplace of the modern paper industry. It thrived and a town was built to accommodate all the families who worked at the mill. By 1895, Banning Mill had ten mills, including two pulp mills, a sawmill, and a grist mill – all of which were within a mile of each other. The town was also the first to produce electricity in Georgia. Historical documents state that people from Atlanta would ride down in their buggies just to see lights turn on and off!
On several trails throughout Banning Mills, you can see the ruins of the old mills and the crumbling chimney of one of the original homes of a family who worked at the mill. Many of the trails you walk on were old roads, now covered in years of dirt, leaves, dust, and roots, that connected the mills and the town. One of the trails, the Creekside Trail, was the trail used by the Creek Indian tribe to traverse Snake Creek. I learned that after my kids and I had walked on the trail and it was just a moment of reflection to think what that must have been like for the tribe. I get to see the same things they saw and I just felt connected to that history and those people, just for a moment.
When Mark and Donna Holder bought the property in 1998, they were focused on conservation and didn’t really know about the history of the place. There are several unique ecosystems within the property plus wildflowers, mushrooms, and wildlife. When they started designing and building the zip lines, they were extremely conscious of working with nature rather than against it. This is entirely obvious when you walk the hiking trails and spot the zip line platforms – they are nearly invisible, which is exactly how they were meant to be when built.
Mark’s extensive military and flight career turned out to be an excellent background for designing and building zip lines and adventure courses. Both Mark and Donna run a high adventure consulting business where they help other adventure companies design and build their zip lines. They’ve helped design adventure parks all around the world with an eye on preserving nature and surrounding ecosystems.
The Birds of Prey exhibit and nature talks are also part of their conservation and education efforts as they seek to help people understand more about these birds and their habitats. In the spring, Banning Mills offers guided hikes to explore the wildflowers and other flora and fauna native to the area.
As the business grew, Mark and Donna’s four kids got involved in running and operating it, making Banning Mills a family-run business, which is actually a nonprofit so they can focus exclusively on conservation and adventure. Banning Mills is 300 acres but it’s right in the middle of more than 1,000 protected acres of wilderness, which I think is part of the allure of the place. As a guest, I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, completely apart from the world and in my own little slice of paradise.
There are endless adventures to be had at Historic Banning Mills. You could probably spend a week here and not get to all of them. All pricing is listed on the website. And the guides will take photos of you during your adventures so you don’t need to worry about documenting all the awesomeness. They are emailed/messaged to you for free afterwards.
Crazy Squirrel Course
There are two Crazy Squirrel rope and zip line courses: tier one can be done by someone as young as four years old and tier two is a lot more advanced and kids must be nine years old for that one. These are great for both kids and adults and are a fantastic introduction to the world of aerial adventure.
Tier 1 consisted of several bridges and obstacles and a few zip lines. After gearing up and going over safety precautions, my kids and I hit the course. Our guide, Jack, was super funny and very chill. He showed us a great time on this course as we navigated the shaky bridges and giant swinging balls. It was a lot of fun and took us about 45 minutes or so to go through the whole thing.
The safety features they have are a continuous belay system which means you are never disconnected from the cable at all. It took a bit to learn how to work them and get into our gear but once we figured it out, it was easy. I was definitely proud of my kids for learning how to do it on their own and saw it as a great confidence builder for them.
Tier 2 of the Crazy Squirrel did indeed look crazy. Jack said you are pretty much guaranteed a good three hours to go through all the obstacles on that course. We saw multiple platforms on the same trees as the level 1 course and many, many more obstacles. It looked like it would be really fun.
Eco Tour Spider ATVs
I knew my kids and I were riding spider ATVs before we went but I really had no idea what we were in for. So these spider ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) were created by a paraplegic engineer. He wanted a way to experience nature and the trails so he created the Swincar – aka spider ATV – which is controlled by your hands and where each wheel is on its own suspension system. This means one wheel could be in a ditch and other on level ground but the driver remains level. Plus, these things are powerful and can go over roots, rocks, dirt, gravel, you name it. The cars are all electric as well.
I drove one car with my youngest daughter in the seat behind me and our guide took my other daughter. After he explained how the cars worked and got us our helmets and made sure our seat belts were properly secured, it was off to the test track to make sure I could safely operate this thing. The test track was a short loop, off-road trail where I could get a feel for the car.
I was awful at driving this thing, which my daughter eagerly pointed out at every turn. Because it’s electric and controlled by just my fingers by pushing a small lever, even a little pressure makes the car go fast, which meant a lot of stopping and starting and jerking. I loved it.
Once I was comfortable driving the car, which took all of five minutes and more backseat driving from my kid, we were off to the woods. Not only did we traverse most of the 300 acres of Banning Mills but we did most of it on the trails, some of which my kids and I had hiked earlier in the day. I haven’t had that much fun in a while! And we got to go over bridges in the woods, see the three lakes that reflected the gorgeous leaves changing colors, and even rode over the 760-foot-long suspension bridge on the cars – twice. I only got stuck once and figured out how reverse worked so I think it was a win overall.
The whole tour lasted about 90 minutes, which included our guide stopping at historical points along the trail to show up the old ruins of the paper mill and town plus check out where the birds of prey are located at the property. Guided tandem spider ATV tours are $199 and single ones are $139.
Some of the spider ATVs are wheelchair accessible and are a wonderful option for those with lesser mobility. You must have a valid drivers license to operate the spider ATV and be at least 16 years old for the single car and 18 years old for the tandem car.
Historic Banning Mills is known for its amazing bridges and whoa, we can confirm that these bridges are amazing. The longest one on the property – 760 feet long – spans the Snake River where the original dam at the mill was placed. It’s a swinging bridge and quite the adventure crossing it. It definitely sways and is really high but we never felt unsafe. We really enjoyed the bridges plus they make for amazing photos. There are more than 100 of them on the property although most are on the zip line courses. But the longest ones you can cross without any equipment. On the long swinging bridge closest to the Main Lodge, you can see the Flight of the Falcon zip line, which is the longest zip line. We could see where it started on the big tower way above the gorge but we couldn’t see where it ended!
There are 15 miles of hiking trails and three ponds to visit at Historic Banning Mills. You can hike all over the property as a guest and while the trails are open to the public, it is $7/person to hike them.
We especially enjoyed the Creekside Trail as it was directly next to Snake Creek. We saw some people zip-lining above and had great views of some of the bridges.
World’s Longest Zip Line & World’s Highest Climbing Wall
Banning Mills is home to the world’s longest zip line at nearly 3,400 feet long (that’s about three-quarters of a mile!). It’s called Flight of the Falcon and you are in a horizontal position and can reach speeds up to 55 mph. I so wanted to do this but my youngest was too small so now we have to go back when she grows a bit. It looks so amazing. The zip line was so long when Banning Mills was installing it that they had to use a helicopter.
One of the other zip lines is about a half mile long and is called the Screaming Eagle. Guests go crazy fast on this one, about 75 mph. Again, on my list!
Banning Mills is also home to another record-setter: the world’s highest climbing wall. It’s 140 feet high with nine climbing lanes and two rappel walls. It’s part of the Adventure Wall and where guests will start their Screaming Eagle zip as well. My fearless 8-year-old was really hoping to do this one but she didn’t make the weight requirement (60 pounds). It costs $35/hour to climb this monster.
There are four levels of zip line adventures you can do at Banning Mills and if you decide you want to add on more things, you can do that as well. Each level increases in speed and height so you may not want to the fun to end. There are multiple packages and add-ons for zipline tours, which you can read through on their website. Be sure to take note of the height, age, and weight restrictions before you go so you know what to expect. Given this kind of high adventure experience, safety is the first priority, and the staff and guides are expertly trained. All of the policies are for the safety of the guests and guides.
Other Activities at Banning Mills
Banning Mills has stables on their property where they offer horseback riding through their trails. Kids have to be at least 10 years old to do this activity.
Birds of Prey
Banning Mills hosts Birds of Prey talks throughout the year where they have a Master Falconer come and give a talk and demonstration about the falcons, eagles, and owls they have right there on site hidden amongst the trees. I was so hoping we would have been able to see this since I have a fascination with all of those animals. You can see the owls and the bald eagle, whose name is Liberty when they aren’t doing shows. Shows are $7/person and kids 4 and under are free.
Banning Mills is very close to the Chattahoochee River and runs kayak trips over the summer. The trips are great for beginners since they only have Class I and II rapids (smaller rapids).
Night Zip Lining
These tours are only available a few nights a year and they look amazing. The lodge had one of these happening on one of the nights we stayed and it was so cool to see the guides with glow sticks on their helmets and hear the people whooping on the zip lines in the dark. All we could see were lights moving and zip line towers lit up with lights. I definitely want to do this also!
Stay in a Tree House
There are several tree houses at Banning Mills all over the property. Ours was a two-story tree house with a tub, king-size bed, and bathroom on the lower floor and up the spiral staircase was a room with a bunk bed. There was a microwave, a small table, and a balcony as well. It was just beautiful and really, who doesn’t want to stay in a tree house and fulfill that childhood dream?
We loved the gas fire stove and balcony especially. The leaves were putting on quite the show so we felt like we were, well, in the trees, as close as possible to the leaves and glory of nature. It was super cool and relaxing. Our tree house also had an awesome rope bridge as an entrance. My kids thought this was the neatest thing ever. I mean, I did too.
The entire place was well-thought out to provide for that getaway and relaxation that we seek when we go on vacation plus very comfortable to provide for ample rest so you have all the energy you need for your adventures. The tree houses also have a jetted tub, which would probably feel really great after a long day of adventuring.
Banning Mills has brand new tree houses as well that are a bit more spacious than the one we stayed in but just as relaxing and comfortable. There are truly plenty of options for you to enjoy a unique experience at this place.
Cabins & The Lodge
Other accommodations at Banning Mills are lodge rooms, which are more like typical hotel rooms and are usually booked when groups come in for retreats.
There are also pine log cabins and larger family cabins available for rent. Just remember these are not luxury accommodations. It’s not the Ritz. These are modern cabins and tree houses in the woods.
Dining at Banning Mills
All rooms except the family cabins, which can fit up to nine guests, include breakfast in the morning. The breakfasts we had were awesome – bacon, eggs, biscuits, fruit, coffee, oatmeal, waffles, sausage, and orange juice. There is a beautiful terrace room at the Main Lodge that overlooks the creek with some zip lines overhead so the view is perfect. Since we went in late October, the colors of the leaves were incredible. I could have stared out those windows all day.
For lunch and dinner, guests can reserve meals at the lodge but they must do so when they check-in or before.
There is a sit-down gourmet meal served nightly by reservation, which my kids and I did one of the nights we stayed at Banning Mills. We had to make our meal choices when we got there, which included an appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert. They prepare these to be shared by two people but the kitchen can do single dishes. Kids’ meals of chicken fingers, pizza, spaghetti, and other items are also available.
If you’d rather enjoy a meal in your tree house or other accommodations at Banning Mills, you can order a souvenir backpack that you get to keep, two large sandwiches, chefs’ choice salad, cookies, crackers, and bottled water.
If you’d rather eat out, Banning Mills lists several location restaurants in their guidebook in your room that you can choose from that are 15-20 minutes away by car.
I did say in the beginning of this story that Banning Mills is so close to that elusive all-inclusive experience. And it is. You just have to be sure to add on everything you want when you book or when you arrive for your trip. Once you arrive, you don’t need to leave the property for the entirety of your trip if you choose to book all your meals and adventures there (I recommend you do because they are all amazing).
There are several adventure packages to choose from depending on what you want to do. There are a couple of getaways, adventure, and room packages which include meals, zip lining, eco-tour spider ATV tours, and lots more. Most are for two people but just call Banning Mills and they will help you to put together a package for your family or to fit your needs and desires. They are very accommodating and just a wonderful group of people who want guests to have an amazing stay
Best Ages to Experience Banning Mills
This is always something to consider when planning family getaways, right? You want something that is fantastic for everyone. My kids are 8 and 11 and my youngest could do limited activities because of her age and weight. She wanted to do the Flight of the Falcon but we’ll have to wait a few years. That said, we were able to do the Crazy Squirrel Tier 1, hiking trails, and the Eco Spider ATV Tours, which kept us quite busy. If we had gone in the summer, we would have been able to enjoy the swimming pool as well. So there were definitely enough activities to keep us active but also provide that downtime to just relax.
I think if you have teenagers and are looking for adventure, book this place. If you and your partner are always on the lookout for the next thrill, book this place. I’m already thinking of coming back when my kids are a bit older because wow, the options are endless for the super cool and unique experiences you can have together.
And the memories you could make here with your kids would just be so priceless. This is the opportunity to really connect with your kids/partner, to get away from technology for a bit, and to just be together while doing something super fun.
My Honest Mom Review
For myself, relaxation involves hiking or kayaking, or something outdoors. This was a relaxing weekend for me because I captured that elusive feeling of really getting away from my normal, everyday work, from deadlines I have coming up, and whatever else had been on my mind the previous week. Staying in a tree house, wandering around the hiking trails, learning the history of the property, and enjoying those amazing views from the swinging bridges was very special.
Connecting with my daughters, even while one was telling me how awful of a driver I was for an hour, was fantastic. Our time is short with our kids and intentionally making the most of the time we have together is of utmost importance. This is a truly amazing place to make that happen.
I also want to give a shoutout to the staff at Banning Mills. Everyone was so kind, considerate, and accommodating. I know working in hospitality can be hard but everyone we met was wonderful and friendly.
Also, be sure to check their website for current deals when planning your trip!
Historic Banning Mills
205 Horseshoe Dam Road, Whitesburg, GA