The Best US Destination For Breathtaking Hot Air Balloon Rides

Whether on a guided walking tour, camel ride, or pogo stick, there are plenty of ways to explore a new destination. But when visiting a place with a stunning landscape, hot air balloon rides can literally elevate your experience. After the initial ascent, which can be pretty loud and fiery, balloon rides provide unparalleled, panoramic bird's-eye views, and the quiet stillness of floating gently up to 3,000 feet in the air offers the space and time to absorb the event fully. As a passenger riding the wind, there's no destination; no set goals or rush — just you, the views, and the experience.

While choosing the "best" place to take a hot air balloon ride is super subjective, USA Today's 10Best Readers' Choice Awards ranked Napa Valley Aloft as the number-one best hot air balloon ride in the U.S. in 2023. And who are we to argue? Founded in 1978, Napa Valley Aloft was one of the first providers of hot air balloon rides in the region, and although Napa Valley is synonymous with America's winemaking, the area's natural splendor beckons visitors to view it from above. 

Fly over Napa Valley's scenic landscape

Located around 50 miles north of San Francisco, Napa Valley is flanked by the Vaca Mountains in the east and Mayacamas Mountains in the west, and the valley's unique topography and Mediterranean climate create the ideal conditions for grape-growing. Napa Valley grows both warm-weather and cool-weather grapes. While the 30-mile-long valley is often celebrated for its Cabernet Sauvignon production, which relies on warm weather, the region also produces cool-weather varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay — a testament to Napa Valley's diverse terrain.

But, if you're planning an upcoming trip to Napa Valley, we won't spend too much time detailing its wine production. After a few days of wine tasting and cellar tours, you'll learn enough about wine to sommelier at your favorite neighborhood restaurant. However, the same topography that produces Napa Valley's world-renowned wines also provides a picturesque landscape that creates memorable, top-ranked hot air balloon rides.

Welcome the sun in Napa Valley

The actual hot air balloon flight usually lasts around an hour, though the entire experience may take 3 to 4 hours. The process typically includes check-in, balloon inflation, flight, and transportation to and from the launch site. Many companies also provide an optional post-flight breakfast or brunch. Regardless, the early-morning activity ensures you'll still have plenty of time for afternoon and evening wine tastings. Or, you can select a package that combines a balloon ride with after-flight tastings and vineyard tours.

Most hot air balloon companies in Napa Valley accommodate between 8 to 20 passengers per flight. However, Napa Valley Aloft's baskets are comparatively smaller, creating a more personalized experience for passengers. The company also typically flies over Yountville's acclaimed landscape. Both of these facts may contribute to Napa Valley Aloft's top ranking by USA Today.

Hot air balloon rides are an awesome way to absorb a particularly beautiful setting, and Napa Valley is one of America's most breathtaking regions. But remember, hot air balloon rides in Napa Valley are completely contingent on the weather, so a backup plan is usually a good idea. In Napa, just go where the breeze takes you.