Something about living the mountains, I find, gives people a preoccupation with the sky. By golly, they don’t call WNC the Land of Sky for nothing. I mean, just about every license plate around here has “First in Flight,” embossed on it, and although I’m told this has something to do with ”Kitty Hawk” and “The Wright Brothers,” I still can’t help but wonder.
It’s almost as if we mountaineers think to ourselves “Sure, I’m up high, but could I go higher?” Well yes, you can go higher. This miraculous power lies not in papier-mache wings or the dubious sorcery that they call “jet engines,” but in simple, quiet, peaceful hot air—in balloons. Hot air balloons. What follows is nothing less than my analysis of the three main purveyors of balloon rides in Asheville.
Before launching into the ins and outs of this entry, I’d like to take a moment to nail down a couple of commonalities shared between the three members of this list. First off, all hot air balloon rides in Asheville launch at dawn. The aesthetic reasoning behind this decision is clear.
The second commonality is that balloon rides in Asheville lie at the mercy of the wind. Cancellations and re-schedulisations come fast and fickly, so be prepared.
With that out of the way, Balloons Over Asheville gets an A-plus from me in terms of passenger participation. What do I mean by this? I mean you are encouraged (but not compelled) to help set up the balloon prior to launch. Not only does this provide a great photo-op but I embrace the spirit of the opportunity. Too frequently do I hear “Sir, don’t touch that,” in relation to air bound travel.
Once up in the air, you can expect forty-five to sixty minutes of drifting over the more agrarian parts of town. It’s an altogether relaxing experience offered for $300, which is more or less typical for balloon rides in Asheville.
From Where do We Depart, Captain? Passengers meet with their balloonist out in Candler, about twenty minutes west of from. From there they are bussed to the launch site, which is determined via advanced meteorological divination.
Now you may be thinking to yourself: “How different can two providers of hot air balloon rides be?” A balloon is a balloon, after all. Well, in truth the companies I’ve researched operate in very similar capacities. That said, there are slender differences that may matter to you when scheduling your balloon rides in Asheville. As I am nothing if not thorough, I must address those differences.
First off, Asheville Hot Air Balloons draws special attention to their sky-routes in and around Pisgah National Forest, a spectacular destination from both the air and ground.
Speaking of forests, balloon rides in Asheville happen to be an excellent way to view the region’s downright otherworldly fall foliage. Certain sources tell me that the winds are most amenable from mid-May to mid-September, which does not coincide with peak fall colors. But then again, I think I little turbulence is well worth seeing Asheville’s splendor from the sky.
Asheville Hot Air Balloon’s rides last about an hour. In fact, all balloon rides in Asheville do. That’s the secret third commonality between these entries. With the same price-per-head as Balloons Over Asheville, the choice between these two providers seems to be between that of more pastoral views or more mountainous views.
From Where do We Depart, Captain? Passengers meet at the Starbucks inside of the Enka Village Ingles supermarket, fifteen minutes from downtown. What’s special about this location is that it lies just down street from Rejavanation Café, my top-pick for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon coffee in that part of town.
At first glance, this final entry is a carbon copy of the services offered by Asheville Hot Air Balloons. One hour rides. Mountain views. Meeting down street from Rejavanation Café. And yet, Asheville Balloon Company manages to rise above the competition, earning my pick for the best balloon rides in Asheville.
How? Well its very simple. First off, if the winds allow, this company’s skilled pilots can carry you low over Biltmore Lake, low enough—I am told—to wonder whether you’re riding boat, or an aircraft. Second, comes the matter of price. For a ride in a shared basket (i.e., with strangers), you can get by with $250, a leg up on the competition. But private flights—you and one guest—go for $400.
From Where do We Depart, Captain? Starbucks in the Enka Ingles, same as Asheville Hot Air Balloons.
Balloons Over Asheville
1 Page Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Asheville Hot Air Balloons
1572 Sand Hill Rd, Candler, NC 28715
Asheville Balloon Company
1572 Sand Hill Rd, Candler, NC 28715