The Best Hot Air Balloon Ride To Take On Your Next Trip To Napa Valley

Napa Valley in northern California is known worldwide for its wine. That may seem obvious now, but less than 50 years ago, the wines of Napa weren't as well regarded as European wines — they weren't even known about by many in the wine world, much less the ordinary person. There was even a movie about it; the 2008 film "Bottle Shock" starring Chris Pine, Bill Pullman, and Alan Rickman, follows the story of the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, where a blind taste test between French wine and California wine was organized, per Time. To nearly everyone's surprise, nine French judges deemed the California wines the best for both red and white wines, and the event is referred to as the Judgement of Paris.

There's since been an explosion of winemaking in Napa Valley with hundreds of wineries; the top red grape planted in the Napa Valley is cabernet sauvignon — which contains some health antioxidants — and chardonnay is the leading white grape, per Visit Napa Valley. All those vineyards of the 30-mile-long Napa Valley, combined with the farmlands and forests with the Vaca Range to the east and the Mayacamas Mountains to the west, make for a picturesque landscape. And nothing beats a bird's eye view of the valley from a hot air balloon. California's Napa Valley is one of the best places in the United States for a hot air balloon ride (per Attractions of America). Here are the best options.

Napa Valley Aloft can launch from northern Napa if there's fog

Napa Valley Aloft is based out of Yountville and is one of the region's first hot air balloon companies, established in 1978. It has a number of launch sites to choose from based on the weather. The primary launch sites are in Yountville. But if Yountville is socked in with fog, they'll take you to the nearby Pope Valley in northern Napa County, where you can still get vineyard views in flight — they're the only company with that alternative. Depending on the winds and weather, along with a panoramic sunrise view of the Napa Valley area, you might even be able to see the San Francisco skyline or the Sierra mountains, per Napa Valley Aloft's FAQ.

They've also got options in terms of pricing and privacy. As of January 2023, a communal basket with 8 to 12 passengers for adults was currently $270 on a weekday and $295 on the weekend — $70 less for children ages 6-12. If you want an exclusive ride for two (perfect for an elaborate marriage proposal or special occasion), it runs $2,150 no matter the day. An exclusive ride for four is $2,400. On all the packages, you can add a post-flight champagne breakfast for $28 per person.

Combine a hot air balloon tour with a winery visit (or two) with Napa Valley Balloons

Guests will meet at Vintner's Golf Course in Yountville, just across the highway from Hotel Yountville, to start their adventure with Napa Valley Balloons. The company has a number of packages available, starting with the classic flights (as of January 2023) that are $299/person for a group tour and a $2,200 private flight for two people that ends with a champagne toast. This also includes roundtrip transportation from a number of area hotels.

Napa Valley Balloons also has several combination experiences if you want to take the guesswork out of your Napa Valley vacation. You can pair the hot air balloon ride with a Napa Valley e-bike tour and a visit to one or two wineries with Napa Valley Bike Tours from $468/person. Depending on the time of year, the bike tour will be on the same day as the hot air balloon ride. If you don't want to bike, Napa Valley Balloons has a package with Platypus Wine Tours, where you'll get picked up by a shuttle at Vintner's Golf Club, visit vineyards, and enjoy a picnic lunch at a winery. The cost of this experience is $418 per person on weekdays and $438 per person on the weekend.

If you want a private tour, go for a six-hour luxury sedan winery tour combination for $1,388 per couple or $2,110 for four guests. You can also follow a balloon ride with a customized winery tour in a high-end SUV with Beau Wine Tours.

Enjoy coffee and pastries before your Balloons Above the Valley flight

With Balloons Above the Valley, you meet at the Model Bakery at Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa where you'll start the day with complimentary coffee and pastries. The company has a photo package of you in the balloon at take-off available for purchase, and you can also add on a champagne toast after the flight for $20 per person. The overall cost for a ride starts from $269/person on weekdays and $299/person on the weekend, and, as needed, it can include pick up and drop off at your hotel or resort. The company has been operating since 1976, the same year as the Paris Wine Tasting that put Napa Valley on the map.

If there are those in your group that can't go up in the balloon, Balloons Above the Valley has an option for a chase package. Here, you can get in on the excitement of watching the balloon get filled and then take off. You can then be with the crew that comes to meet the balloon at its landing site.

Napa Valley hotels can help coordinate your balloon flight

A number of different hotels and resorts throughout Napa Valley provide hot air balloon packages and help to coordinate your flight. At the luxury resort Stanly Ranch, Auberge Resorts Collection, located southwest of the town of Napa, guests can let the hotel's Itinerary Designers plan out their flights. And if a hot air balloon ride isn't romantic enough by itself, SENZA Hotel gives guests a bottle of wine and chocolate-covered strawberries on check-in with their balloon package. The aptly named Up, Up, and Away package with Bardessno in Yountville includes accommodation, a balloon ride, and breakfast for two at Lucy Restaurant

And from Hotel Yountville, the concierge can help arrange for a flight, or you can wake up early to see the balloons take off from the hotel since it's close to the Yountville launch sites for Napa Valley Aloft and Napa Valley Balloons. If you're staying at Andaz Napa and flying with Napa Valley Aloft, you can get 10% off your stay. For those flying with Balloons Above the Valley, the company has deals with River Terrace Inn and Hilton Garden Inn Napa for complimentary photos.

Here's what you need to know before going on a hot air balloon ride

The rides will be early in the morning, like up before the sun, to get the day's calmest conditions, per Visit Napa Valley. Budget three to four hours of time for the entire experience. You won't be in the air that long, but it takes time to get to the launch site, for the balloons to be inflated, and then to get back after the ride. Things could also get canceled at the last minute depending on the weather, so if it's a can't-miss experience for your Napa vacation, make sure you don't book it for your last day. 

Also, book ahead of time, particularly if you're visiting during the popular harvest or "crush" season that runs from around August to October. Wear layers since mornings can be chilly. Opt for closed-toe and flat shoes to be able to get in and out of the basket more easily, and be prepared and able to stand for approximately an hour or so of your ride, per Aerogelic Ballooning.

You might be tempted to skip the bucket list experience of a hot air balloon ride because of a fear of heights, but you shouldn't. According to Cori with Hey Let's Go Places, even having a fear of heights didn't stop her from enjoying her balloon ride in Napa Valley. Cori said it was "one of the most gentle rides I've ever been on."