Travel: Hot Air Ballooning in South Park Valley

July 2012

Take a look at most adventurers' bucket lists, and you'll probably find hot air ballooning high on the list (pun intended). I'd crossed it off mine a few years ago on a gorgeous flight over the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Recently, when one of my besties came to Colorado to celebrate his 40th birthday, we decided to give it another go. What better way to celebrate a milestone than floating high above the Rocky Mountains? 

We booked a ride with Colorado Hot Air Balloon Rides, mainly because of  the breathtaking photo on the company's website. It also has the disctinction of having the highest hot air balloon launch site in North America—more than 9,000 feet. 

Hot air ballooning depends entirely on weather conditions. Most flights take place in the early morning or a few hours before sunset, when winds are usually lighter. We chose the morning flight, which typically comes with a meet time between 5:30 and 7 a.m. We arrived just as the crew sent up a helium test balloon to check air currents.

Guests are greeted with piping hot coffee, tea, and some light snacks as the pilots inflate the balloons. First, the basket and burners are connected. Then a huge fan is used to inflate the envelope (that's the balloon). We got to play the role of "crown men" (the folks holding the rope tight so that the envelope doesn't sway or rise too fast). Once the balloon was upright, we were given a few safety instructions. Then we climbed into the wicker basket, the pilot fired up the burner and we began our ascent.

Our pilot was knowledgable, and pointed out landmarks (36 of our 54 fourteeners are visible from the launch site) and lots of wildlife (buffalo, wild turkeys, deer, and big horn sheep). Flights usually last about an hour. After landing, guests were treated to a traditional champagne toast (you get to keep the glass) and a full breakfast prepared on site. You also leave with a DVD of photos from your flight. 

Follow Davina van Buren on Twitter at @DvB_Travel.