Much as we love the experience of globe-trekking – a lot of which keeps our pedometers whirling – there’s nothing that beats an escape to the skies. If you’re one for airborne adventure and love to see urban and natural vistas from high above the fray, we highly recommend you book a flight on one of these 5 hot air balloon rides. They’ll change the way you see the world.
1: Napa Valley, California
Come for the wine, stay for the hot air balloon rides. That’s Napa’s slogan, right? Not quite – but it should be. While most visitors to the valley focus on wine tasting, hot air balloon rides are reason enough to drop by and stay awhile. Indeed, the beautiful, sloping vineyards, the nearby bay, and wine estates dotting the countryside make for a magical birds-eye-view tour of this enological mecca.
While there are several hot air balloon companies in residence, we recommend Napa Valley Aloft. They’ve been around since 1978, boast FAA-certified pilots, and limit the number of passengers on each hot air balloon ride so each experience can be relished from all sides without fighting for views. Flights start at $220 for group flights (capped at 10), but pricier options can be arranged for groups of two-four people. If you really want to make the experience special, tack on a post-flight Champagne breakfast for $28/person.
Flights generally last about an hour but can go longer depending on wind speeds. Set aside three to four hours for your adventure to be sure you have enough time for travel, prep, and optional breakfast.
2: Letchworth, New York
Famed for its dramatic falls and tree-dotted landscape, Letchworth State Park is a magnificent natural feature in New York state. We highly recommend visiting on terra firma, but for a sweeping view of its acreage – especially in the fall when the leaves are a rainbow of colors – we recommend reserving a spot on a hot air balloon.
Tops for us is Balloons Over Letchworth, offering hour-long rides for $295/person. You’ll fly right over the falls (fed by the Genesee River) in the middle of the park, watching as the waters dissect the lush, oak and pine-filled park. You’ll also weave between cliffs blanketed in green and, at the right time of day, witness the sun setting in the distance. Magical.
3: Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville – and the surrounding region – offers a unique combination of glowing urban skyline, rolling mountains, and verdant expanse that changes color with the seasons. It’s no wonder that hot air balloon rides are popular here.
For the best Asheville-in-the-air experience, reserve a hot air balloon ride at Asheville Hot Air Balloons. This hour-long excursion will take you above the Blue Ridge Mountains – covered in the rusty colors of a sea of oaks – while you spy the towering skyline of Asheville in the distance. You can even see the back-and-forth on winding country roads below, putting the world in perspective. Tickets are $300 per person and rides last about an hour.
4: Orlando/Kissimmee, Florida
Cozying up to the Everglades, Kissimmee is the perfect spot to catch a flight that gives you glimpses of nearby Orlando, countless charactered lakes, and the lush parks that dot the Florida coastline. Heck, you might even spot an alligator. We have a particular love of above-water flight, and watching your reflection in the water as you take off and land is pretty incredible – not to mention the vistas stretching to the ocean beyond.
Grab a reservation at Orlando Balloon Rides for the best hot air balloon ride here. These are actually less expensive than some of the others on our list at $199 per person, though rides could have as many as 16 people on board. Flights last 45 minutes to an hour, giving you plenty of time to soak in the diverse ecology of southern Florida. Bonus: Flights take off in the morning, giving you a chance to see the sunrise.
5: Winter Park, Colorado
From its tightly packed forests to deer-dotted plains and snow-capped mountains, there’s hardly a better location for a hot air balloon ride than Colorado. Climb into a basket in Winter Park and take off to see bears, coyotes, and other wildlife from the safety of the skies – juxtaposed with the sheer enormity of the Rocky Mountains, anchoring the horizon.
We recommend booking a flight with Grand Adventure Balloon Tours; they offer flights year-round, so you can see Colorado in its crispest white, in the burnt sienna of the fall, or in the peak of green-soaked summer. Plus, flights include breakfast and a launch photo. Flights cost $275/person.
Oh, and if you’re interested in a whole hot air balloon event (with food, competitions, and more), check out the famous one in Albuquerque – it’s second to none.