Deep down, everybody has a bucket list: that roster of experiences you desperately want to do in this lifetime.
As it turns out, going on a hot-air balloon ride is among the most popular bucket list items, according to several surveys. And why not? In the clear morning air, floating peacefully in the sky, you can truly see the contours of the land.
At Inspirato, we frequently help our members experience “bucket list worthy” adventures, and the following five places are so consistently excellent for hot-air balloon flights, they are worth building an entire itinerary around the tour alone. If taking a hot air balloon ride isn’t on your bucket list, it will be once you read our list of five best places to ride a hot air balloon.
Imagine this scene: In the stillness of a Tuscan morning, you rise above the rolling hills of forest and vineyards, and just as you gain enough altitude, the ancient city of Siena appeals over a crest in the hill.
And you thought the best view in Tuscany was from atop Torre del Mangia!
Tuscany may just be the apex of ballooning: few places combine such stirring scenery with pleasant weather. While Siena is certainly a worthy air tour, the small town of Montisi has become an epicenter for launching flights due to its consistent conditions and the spectacular green scenery of Val d’Orcia that surround it.
Season: Late spring to early autumn
Popular areas: Montisi, Siena, Chianti, Cortona
Average price range: Around 250 Euros/person for a group flight. Depending on the operator, that may include breakfast. Private balloon rides generally cost between 1250 to 1750 Euros depending on the size of the party.
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2. Sonoma County
For wine connoisseurs, visiting the Russian River Valley for its Pinot Noir, or the Alexander Valley for its bold Cabernet Sauvignon is a rite of passage. But for a different perspective (and let’s be honest, a way to occupy your mornings before the tasting rooms open) few experiences will give you a better sense for Sonoma’s terroir than a hot-air balloon ride. From above, you can see how several estates take advantage of slope and sun exposure to create these world-renowned wines. And if you don’t know anything about wine, no worries: you’re still treated to some of Northern California’s most idyllic scenery.
One advantage to ballooning over Sonoma County versus the Napa Valley is that on clear days, you can see as far as San Francisco and even the Pacific Ocean.
Season: Late spring to early autumn is peak season, with occasional flights into October and November.
Popular areas: Most operators meet at the Santa Rosa Airport and travel to ideal launch spots in the valley depending on conditions.
Average price range: Around $225/person, usually includes breakfast/brunch depending on the operator.
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3. Jackson Hole
There are so many ways to experience the Tetons — on foot, via horseback, from the iconic viewpoint overlooking the Snake River. But if you want to feel the grandeur of this magnificent chain of mountains, few vantage points will stir your soul more than from a hot-air balloon. From up high, your perspective completely changes: the Tetons remain grand, but seem isolated and all-the-more random. Jackson Lake and the Snake River appear deliberately placed, and the famous herds of the National Elk Refuge take on a whole new life when seen from above.
If seeing this corner of Wyoming is high on your bucket list, then a hot-air balloon tour will surely be the highlight of your visit.
Season: June through September, with some flights in May and October
Average price range: Group flights are usually around $325–$350/person. Generally between $425–$500/person for private flights.
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4. Snowmass Village
Located just a 15-minute drive from Aspen, Snowmass Village offers quite a few delights that you can’t find at its glamorous, better-known neighbor. Take, for instance, hot-air ballooning. Here in the tranquil Brush Creek valley — a more reliable launching point than down in the Roaring Fork Valley — airborne views take in some of North America’s most striking mountains, including the distant Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak and Capitol Peak (all topping 14,000 feet) and the multi-colored Mount Daly.
In early summer, be sure to bring a pair of binoculars and scan Snowmass Mountain’s abundant aspen groves. During this time, the bike trails through these groves are off-limits due to elk calving season, but you can often see bulls, cows, and calves mingling in the clearings from high up above.
Season: June to September
Average price range: Around $300/person.
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The Phoenix/Scottsdale area has long been a popular place for hot-air ballooning, in large part because of the reliable weather patterns and striking desert scenery.
In Scottsdale, several balloon tour operators offer morning and even afternoon flights, although, from a photography standpoint, it doesn’t get much better than the clear, early-morning light over the Valley of the Sun. From high above, spy impressive rock outcrops and thousands of saguaro cacti. Pilots can even point out some of the smaller wildlife below, such as quail, jackrabbits, javelina (a wild pig endemic to the Sonoran Desert) and the occasional coyote.
Average price range: Rates range from $160 to $190/person for group rides and often includes a light breakfast or even Champagne toast at the end of the flight.
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