A sheep, a duck, and a rooster get into a hot air balloon. This is no joke — the first “manned” hot air balloon flight included this trio in a launch over Versailles on Sept. 19, 1783. According to historical accounts, the flight lasted eight minutes and was witnessed by King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and a crowd of some 130,000 people. Apparently, the animals fared fine on the flight, paving the way for humans. The reasoning being that if it’s safe for a sheep, a duck, and a rooster, it must be safe for us.
Actually, hot air ballooning really is quite safe. Statistically, the FAA finds it to be the safest form of all air travel, and much safer than driving in a car. And it’s a dreamy adventure, soaring with the wind, like an eagle in flight, with bird’s-eye views of New England’s deep valleys, dense forests, soaring mountains, wiggly waterways, and toy-like towns. And what better way to take in our spectacular fall foliage? Here’s where you can give it a try.
High 5 Ballooning
This well-established and highly touted company has been offering hot air balloon rides in Southern New Hampshire for more than 21 years. Owner and pilot Tony Sica and crew get rave reviews for their professionalism and smooth rides, and, of course, the views. You’ll meet in Salem, N.H., and launch at a nearby site, just before sunrise, when the winds are calmest. The flight lasts about an hour with 360-degree views of the White Mountains, Atlantic Ocean, Boston skyline, and the sinewy Merrimack River. 603-893-9643, www.high5ballooning.com, $200 per person, shared ride.
Misty River Ballooning
“Gentle winds and soft landings” is the motto of this company in Western Massachusetts. Owner and pilot Don LaFountain, who was once a member of the American team competing in the Irish Ballooning Championships, started the company 14 years ago, offering sky high views of the scenic Pioneer Valley. You have a choice of launching just after sunrise or just before sunset, floating above farms and fields with views of the Berkshires, Green Mountains of Vermont, and the vast Connecticut River as it hurries south to Long Island Sound. 413-387-5658, www.mistyriverballooning.com, $600 for two passengers.
The scenic landscape of Farmington Valley and Litchfield Hills, Conn., with farmlands, rolling hills, and small towns, is especially gorgeous when viewed from a drifting hot air balloon. Pilot and owner Robert Zirpolo has been showing off this corner of the Nutmeg State for 40 years. The one-hour or so flight will travel 5 to 15 miles, depending on the wind, but, under clear skies, you’ll have expansive views into upstate New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. They offer winter flights, too. 860-620-3754, www.berkshireballoons.com, $350 per person
Balloons of Vermont
Imagine floating in a basket tied to a balloon, hovering over Quechee Gorge, a 165-foot-deep cleft formed some 13,000 years ago, and dubbed the Grand Canyon of the East. Or, flying low, barely over the tops of the trees, waving to children below. Or perhaps a splash and dash, dipping into the flowing currents of the Ottauquechee River. Owner and pilot Darrek Daoust runs this outfit, offering sunrise and sunset balloon rides out of Quechee, Vt., with splendid views of Vermont’s Upper Valley. This is one of the few companies in New England offering rides year-round. 802-369-0213, www.balloonsofvermont.com, $275 per person
“Well-oiled machine.” “Passion for what they do.” “Breathtaking.” “Nothing short of stunning.” “Most amazing hot air balloon ride ever.” These are just some of the comments from riders who consistently give Chief Pilot Jeff Snyder and his crew five-star reviews. They operate out of Essex, Vt., flying over Vermont’s northern landscape of mountain peaks, expansive valleys and farmland, and the shimmering waters of Lake Champlain. They offer both sunrise and sunset rides, which conclude with the traditional champagne celebration, along with mimosas, sparkling cider, Vermont cheddar cheese and crackers, and Vermont-made fudge. 802-373-4007, www.balloonvermont.com, $310-$375 per person, private baskets also available.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com