Spectacular Aerial Experiences of Fall Foliage in New Hampshire, Maryland, Tennessee, Michigan, South Dakota, Colorado and Oregon
Most states in the U.S. have scenic byways that take drivers and their passengers past exquisite natural features. In fall, many of these routes provide wonderful ground-level exposure to colorful foliage, as do the state’s networks of hiking trails. But there’s another way for travelers to immerse themselves in autumnal majesty and gain a whole different perspective on the season—an aerial tour in which the flight itself is as thrilling as the views. From hot air balloons and zip lines to helicopters, small planes/gliders and paragliders, aerial tours provide a truly elevated fall experience.
Here are some exhilarating tour options around the country that will boost your spirits while getting you airborne.
Baltimore & Annapolis, Maryland
Soar over Maryland’s capital and surrounding area on a Charm City Helicopters Fall Foliage Tour. On this 30-35-minute tour in a Bell 206 helicopter, you’ll look out over the stunning colors that blanket the shoreline of the glimmering blue Chesapeake Bay and also get unobstructed, panoramic views of Baltimore’s iconic scenic sites—from Key Bridge, Chesapeake Bay Bridge, various historic ships and Inner Harbor to Mount Vernon, Fort McHenry, Historic Fells Point, Magothy River, Savern River, Oriole Park and downtown Annapolis.
The pilot will talk you through the experience, providing fascinating details about area sights and history while you soak up the brilliant hues. The helicopter is heated for your comfort and floor-to-ceiling convex windows optimize viewing and picture-taking.
The price is $299 per person; the heliport location is Pier 7 in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. To book a tour, call 443-973-6296.
Southern Appalachian Mountains, Tennessee
Take a motorless glider tour with Chilhowee Gilderport in Benton, Tennessee (45 miles northeast of Chattanooga) to make the most of fall in Tennessee’s southern Appalachian Mountains. After being pulled up into the air by a towplane and released, you and your sailplane pilot will slice through the sky 2,000-5,000 feet above ground at speeds up to 100 m.p.h.
This is your chance to take in the Appalachian mountains’ awesome colorful quilt of fall forests while soaring like a hawk. Depending on the clarity of the skies, the views may extend as far as Chattanooga.
Chilowee Gliderport also stages events and their fall season highlight is Oktoberfest. Attend to see the company’s gliders, savor home-cooked foods in the Gliderport barn and get another vantage point on fall color.
A 20-minute sailplane flight costs $129; a half-hour soaring costs $179. To book a flight, contact: email@example.com; 423-338-2000; (c) 423-506-9015
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Get a bird’s-eye view of the jaw-dropping fall beauty around Mackinac Island (located between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan in Lake Huron) and the surrounding Straits of the Mackinac with a custom flight tour from Great Lakes Air, an air charter service. The kaleidoscope of yellows, oranges and reds typically peaks in early October.
From 1,000 feet above, you’ll be able to see the full majesty of the Island’s hardwood forests and experience its landmarks in miniature. Some notable ones include the Grand Hotel, the Round Island lighthouse and Fort Mackinac, which resemble toys from so far up. On a clear day, the views will extend 30 miles in every direction and encompass Les Cheneaux islands, Bois Blanc and Beaver Island.
This small charter flight company operates out of Mackinac County Airport in St. Ignace, Michigan and for fall trips, they use propeller aircraft painted like yellow taxis (they also offer an air taxi service): 2 Cherokee 6’s (single engine, up to 5 passengers) and a Britten Norman Islander (twin engine, up to 9 passengers). The company will customize your tour to cater to your specific interests and can pick you up from any airport in the region.
Prices start at $150/hr. for up to 4 passengers. To schedule a tour, call 906-643-7165 or fill out their contact form.
Black Hills, South Dakota
Drift in a hot air balloon over some of the most rugged and riveting terrain on the planet with Black Hills Balloons, based in Custer, South Dakota. In fall, the region’s ponderosa pines are awash in bright yellows and light oranges. During this one-hour sunrise trip, the landscape wields the impact of an impressionistic painting.
You’ll get unbelievable on-high views of the granite mountain peaks, valleys and lakes of the Black Hills, of the South Dakota Badlands and Wind Cave National Park, as well as the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore. The heart of the flying area is the Custer Valley and gorgeous Custer State Park. The Black Hills is the only area in the world where it’s possible to see this sort of wild landscape and its native wildlife (elk, whitetail deer, mule deer, antelope and buffalo) from the basket of a hot air balloon. You’ll be transfixed!
The ride includes champagne, light snacks and a souvenir flight certificate.
The price is $325 per adult; $270 per child, age 4-12. Book a hot air balloon flight here.
For an exceptional fall color experience, book a tandem paragliding experience with Aspen Paragliding, which flies from both Aspen Mountain and Snowmass Mountain from the day after Labor Day through October 15th. In fall, the aspen trees glow against vivid blue skies—making the mountain terrain below look as if it were spray painted in rich yellow and gold tones.
On the two-hour morning paraglide adventure, you’ll ride up to a launch area on Aspen Mountain, run a short distance down a gentle slope, then soar up to 3,000 feet up on a non-powered inflated wing—all while being in the expert hands of a pilot seated next to you in a harness that’s attached to yours. Consider how amazing it is to be able to float high above a dazzling show of color staged by aspen trees!
The price is $295 per person. Book online (for an extra $17.70 per person); email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 970-925-6975; (c) 970-379-6975.
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Avid leaf-peepers will be awestruck by the views from a luxurious Flex Air Aviation helicopter as it whirls its way over the Columbia River Gorge. Flex Air is a full-service company and you can pretty much set the parameters of your tour—the company’s agents stand ready to help you shape a plan.
On a fall foliage trip, you’ll beat an aerial path over the Multnomah Falls and other scenic waterfalls along the Gorge, the foothills of Mt. Hood and the Bull Run Watershed—at the time that they’re awash in their most breathtaking fall hues. Talk about uplifting!
The tour can be scheduled from numerous airports in and around the Gorge in Oregon.
To learn more and book, call 1-800-615-9754.
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
The tour has temporarily closed for the 2020 season but will be back in Spring 2021.
The guided zip line Canopy Tour at Mount Washington Resort is a thrilling three-hour excursion that gives passengers intimate exposure to the wilds of the White Mountains, providing expansive views of Mount Washington (at 6,288.2 ft., it’s the highest peak in the Northeastern U.S.,) and the Presidential Range (the summits are named for American presidents), not to mention brilliant colors. The adventure incorporates a network of platforms high up in ancient hemlock trees connected by nine ziplines, two sky brides and three rappels. The longest zipline is 830-ft. and 16 feet off the forest floor.
On this tour, groups of up to eight zip through Rosebrook Canyon at 30 mph in the company of two Adventure Guides who describe the local flora and fauna, impart information about the area’s natural history and share White Mountain lore. By the time you’ve descended the 1000 feet to the base of Bretton Woods, you’ll have deep familiarity with the surrounding trees.
For more information, call 603-278-4947.