The ultimate guide to hot air balloons in the Tar Heel State, from first-timer tips to annual festivals.
The skies over North Carolina are an ideal backdrop for hot air balloon rides. In fact, Asheville is listed in the 10 best places to take a hot air balloon ride in the United States.
Whether you’re floating over the vistas of the Great Smoky Mountains or landing in a field full of azaleas, embarking on this adventure should be on every North Carolinian’s bucket list. Here’s what you need to know.
Riding in a wicker basket beneath an open flame and giant nylon balloon admittedly sounds daunting, but it’s actually a very safe, serene, and relatively simple activity.
However, here are some tips to make your experience as smooth as possible.
For most people, taking a ride in a hot air balloon isn’t going to be a last-minute date or spur-of-the-moment family activity.
Considering it costs $150 to $300 per person, on average, you might need to save up for this special occasion. If you’re after the most budget-friendly experience, opt for a public instead of private tour, and go during the week in the off-season.
But if you take even a cursory glance at the TripAdvisor reviews for hot air balloon rides in North Carolina, you’ll see scores of people saying it’s worth every dime.
That said, cancellations due to weather do happen, so make sure you check the company’s refund policy.
Do your research.
The Federal Aviation Administration regulates hot air balloon travel along with every other type of aircraft, and the agency considers it the safest form of air travel.
To ensure the company you choose is up to date with all regulations—and put your worried mind at ease—carefully read reviews and ask the operator when the last inspection of the balloon and flight review for the pilot were.
One of the great things about taking a hot air balloon ride is that you don’t have to do much other than show up ready for an unforgettable time. Here’s what you do need to bring:
- Layers of clothes, as the temperatures can get lower in the air but the burner can also make things pretty warm.
- Close-toed shoes and high socks so you can exit the aircraft in a field without getting scuffed up.
- A camera (or just your phone), as one enthusiastic reviewer wrote, “I took 102 photos, entranced by every step of the process.”
Private Tour Companies
The easiest way to check off this bucket-list item is to look into tour companies near you. Here are some of the top-rated companies in the state.
Asheville Balloon Company
The Asheville Balloon Company (otherwise known as Asheville Hot Air Balloons) is one of the longest-running companies in the business, and it has scores of five-star reviews on TripAdvisor, Facebook, and Google Reviews. North Carolinians love this company, and you will too.
The prices are a bit steeper than average, with a public tour costing $300 per person and a private tour (just your party and the pilot) costing $400 per person. However, the experience includes champagne and hors d’oeuvres.
The balloons lift off just west of Asheville, giving riders an unconstrained view of the mountains of Western North Carolina.
To schedule a flight, call the company at 828-707-2992.
Above & Beyond Hot Air Balloon Company
If you want to take a hot air balloon ride in the state’s capital, Above & Beyond Hot Air Balloon Company has you covered. Tours cost between $200 and $360 per person, and the staff is known for being honest, knowledgeable, and informative, answering any and all questions you may have.
One reviewer wrote, “My experience with Above and Beyond was wonderful from the time we were picked up to the end. Tom is an expert in what he does. His crew are experts in their job. All together they made our event an amazing experience.”
Carolina High Hot Air Balloon Company
Carolina High Hot Air Balloon Company in Benson is so popular that they regularly book out months in advance. It’s operated by a local couple who have been involved in the industry since the ‘90s and are committed to the safety of all guests.
One reviewer on Facebook wrote, “If you are thinking about soaring high in a balloon, there’s only one crew and it’s Carolina High. Very nice, genuine, no bull, authentic folks. They have a good time but take their jobs very serious as far as safety.”
Generally, rides cost $200 per child, $250 per adult, or $700 per couple. If you want to join the waitlist, call 919-894-5893.
Annual Festivals and Events
These festivals don’t just offer hot air balloon rides—they also offer good food, craft beer, live music, and activities for the whole family.
Dating back to 1974, the Carolina BalloonFest in Statesville is one of the country’s premiere balloon festivals. Attractions include a wine and craft beer garden, tethered rides, funky-shaped balloons, and Eat Street featuring yummy food.
The 2023 event takes place Oct. 20-22, and tickets cost between $10-$300 (but admission for children 12 and under is free.).
Tarheel Balloon Festival
The Tarheel Balloon Festival takes place in November, allowing North Carolinians to finish out the autumn season with a bang—or a float.
Activities include hot air balloon rides, glow events in the evening, a paragliding show, a military aircraft display, and tons of vendors.
Check the festival’s Facebook page for more info.
First Fruits Farm Memorial Balloon Festival
The Memorial Balloon Festival was created “To remember our fallen military Heroes throughout the weekend in a real and deserving way via a safe and family-oriented event by creating a spirit of honor centered on Faith, Patriotism, Perseverance, Service, and Celebration.”
Each May, balloon pilots from across the state unite in Louisburg to give rides (which typically cost $325/person), and there’s also a memorial flag garden, concert stage, carnival rides, and more. Entrance costs $5 for children and $15 for adults, and it’s worth every penny.
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