A Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Napa Valley, California

A Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Napa Valley, California

A hot air balloon ride has always been on our travel bucket list.  There are some great places to fly in a hot air balloon around the world and Napa Valley, CA is one of them.  The scenery is beautiful with rolling hills, distant mountains, and rows upon rows of seemingly endless vineyards.  Conditions are also favorable for flying here in regards to typical wind conditions and temperatures.  

The company we went with was Napa Valley Balloons due to the excellent online reviews.  I read a lot about taking a hot air balloon ride as this was something I wanted to do but was also a little nervous about.  The idea of floating in the sky with just a wicker basket below my feet had me feeling just a little apprehensive.  Napa Valley Balloons lived up to their great reputation and we were well taken care of.

About the Experience

Our balloon flight departed from Vintner’s Golf Club in Yountville, about 10 minutes away from our hotel in downtown Napa.  Our morning started early as we were to meet our balloon crew at the golf course at 6:30 a.m.  We got ready, picked up a Starbuck’s order, and drove to the golf club.

Coffee and water were available beforehand and we all met our jovial pilot, Bob.  We were soon driven the short distance to the field (aka vineyard!) next to the golf course where the balloons were being prepped for take off.

To start, the balloon was inflated with a large fan.  All cords were checked, and finally propane flames were shot into the balloon to create the hot air that would keep the balloon airborne during the flight.  

The hot air balloon being filled with hot air

Next, pilot Bob told all of us where we would stand in the basket.  Mike, Ava, and I had a corner and plenty of space to shift about.  In our balloon there were a total of 12 people, including pilot Bob.  

Once we were all in it was time to take off!  We seemingly just lifted off the ground and floated up into the air!  What a crazy feeling!  We rose up just as the sun was rising in the distance, which was incredible.  The morning light over Napa made the scene so magical.

Bob soon informed us that we would be the “guinea pigs” of the day by floating higher than the other balloons to test the wind speed higher up.  Our balloon climbed to 3000 feet!  What I found remarkable is that I could not tell when we were very high vs. at a lower altitude.  Yes, you’re floating over the mountains but perspective is a funny thing.  It felt as though we could reach out and touch them so the height never quite felt “high”.  We floated over vineyards we had previously visited in the days prior, heard cows mooing which looked like the size of ants below, and could see a foggy San Francisco Bay in the distance.  

This balloon was at about 2000 feet; our balloon reached 3000 feet

After about an hour of floating along in the sky, it was time to land.  Now hot air balloons don’t have steering wheels as the balloons are at the mercy of the wind.  This means you never know exactly where you’ll land until your basket touches ground.  Bob was in contact via walkie talkies with his ground crew and fellow balloon pilots also flying about.  Thankfully, as we approached a reservoir, the wind pushed us in the other direction and we soon came down just past a pond.  We were taught the proper landing position:  a semi-squat with backs against the basket and knees bent.  We bounced up about a foot and then came down again.  The ground crew had followed us and they were hanging on the outside of the basket for additional weight.  We all climbed out and the balloon flight was complete!

We were driven back to the golf course and enjoyed champagne and mimosas to celebrate our balloon flight.  Our time in Napa Valley was done and we finished it better than we could have ever imagined!

Overall Thoughts

A hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley is a quintessential experience.  I was happy to have done it and felt very comfortable for the majority of the ride.  I don’t have a fear of heights but actually am a nervous flyer.  Because of how slow and peaceful the ride was, I was at ease most of the time.  When pilot Bob announced we were at 3000 feet I felt a little nervous at the thought of climbing so high but again, the scenery is spectacular and I was pretty distracted with my camera.  And it really is a wonderful experience!

Mike does have a fear of heights however he had no trouble at all during the flight.  The basket edge is high and the ride so smooth that he had no apprehension.  Our pilot said people with motion sickness also do not get motion sick during the ride due to the slow speed, usually between 10-15 mph.  Pretty much anyone who can climb in and out of the basket will be able to go on a hot air balloon ride.

Below I’ll share my favorite photos – a fabulous souvenir from this amazing experience!

Read more!

Our three day Napa itinerary features all the wineries we visited, dinner spots, and where we stayed.  Check it out at, Sipping Our Way Through Napa Valley:  Three Day Itinerary.

Our trip to Napa Valley was part of a larger central California trip.  For a fabulous one week itinerary check out, The Ultimate One Week Central California Itinerary.

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