For the 50+ Traveler

The U.S. is home to some of the most picturesque hot air ballooning locations in the world. From the rolling Rockies to the glowing sandstones of Red Rocks, come out and watch these gentle giants take flight.

1. Letchworth State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park is thought to have some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. What better way to take it all in than from the nest of a colorful balloon as the Genesee River rumbles through the park's gorge below? Ballooning at Letchwork State Park can be as thrilling as it is tranquil. Ride with Balloons Over Letchworth, and seasoned Captain Sean Quigley will guide you gracefully over the park's three major waterfalls. Have no fear: Captain Quigley has flown two excursions over the Australian Alps at heights exceeding 13,000 ft and competed in several international ballooning competitions.

When you're done with your ride, Letchworth State Park is a playground of outdoor activities. You'll have a hard time choosing between guided nature walks, camping in the forest, or going horseback riding. With beauty galore, it's no wonder many consider Letchworth State Park to be the most romantic ballooning location in the country.

Balloon over Lechtworth National Park

2. The Rockies, Denver, Colorado

The air is clear and bright high above the Rocky Mountains outside of Denver, Colorado. The area's high elevation lends itself to ideal hot air balloon weather. Denver has the highest elevation of any of the major U.S. cities. May through November is the best time to go if you'd like to take to the skies. The Colorado landscape is especially breathtaking in the fall when the leaves are changing. That's when you want to hop in a balloon and soar high above Rocky Mountain National Park (Estes Park). You'll have a view of alpine lakes, mountains, and forests. If you get bored of the rugged mountain terrain, simply direct your gaze east over to the High Plains.

Fair Wind Hot Air Balloon Flights is one of several companies in the Denver area. Shared flights start at $259 per adult passenger. You'll find them in the town of Lafayette just north of Denver proper. Plan your flight to coincide with one the city's annual festivals: the Dragon Boat Festival takes place in July, the Moon Festival in September, and the Great American Beer Festival in late fall.

3. Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley offers gorgeous scenery of its own -- not to mention abundant wine. The best time to visit is March through May when harvest season is in full swing, but expect to pay higher prices for lodging. Hot Air Balloon Ride Napa Valley operates out of Calistoga, and offers an hour flight with a champagne breakfast and a well-seasoned captain.

Gliding above the rolling hills of Napa Valley can be a refreshing way to start your day, as hot air balloon flights in the Napa valley launch in the morning, when the winds are calmest. Ballooning is a weather-dependent activity, but if the cards are in your favor, you'll at least be treated to a serene sunrise.

Ballooning over wine country
Ballooning over wine country. Wikimedia Commons

4. Red Rocks, Sedona, Arizona

Sedona has plenty to offer to nature lovers. The scenery is some of the most unique in the country. Sedona sits at the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon and is in the most popular area of Red Rocks. The windswept canyons are shaped from deep red sandstone and shale. The way the light casts on the slivers of slender rock formations is a sight to behold, especially during sunrise and sunset.

The best hot air balloon flights at Red Rocks take place in the early morning for sunrise. Morning is when the winds are mild and ideal for ballooning. Most balloon companies offer rides at sunset as well. Allow three to four hours for the entire journey if you fly with Sedona Hot Air Balloons. You'll spend about an hour in the air. Allocate three to four hours for the whole expedition. They like to top it all off with a picnic upon landing.

5. Lake Tahoe, California

Lake Tahoe straddles the border of California and Nevada, and its cobalt blue waters attract approximately 3 million visitors a year. The surrounding peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range make Lake Tahoe a truly idyllic spot for a hot air balloon ride.

Lake Tahoe is home to one of the most unique hot air balloon experiences in the world. At the far southern tip of the lake, Lake Tahoe Balloons sends passengers up for the scenic tour of a lifetime. They're the only company in the world that launches and lands from a boat! Lake Tahoe has a wide variety of restaurants too, and tons of recreational opportunities when your air-bound adventure is complete. Wildflower season is in full swing come mid-July, and several trails wind through fields painted with purple yarrow, Columbian monkshood, horsemint, and orange agoseris. The Taylor Creek area of South Lake Tahoe is home to several easy-to-navigate hiking trails.

Hot air ballooning and nature go hand-in-hand. Any one of these locations across the U.S. is bound to leave your heart full and your eyes spoiled. The basket of a balloon is your castle in the air.