Want to see Wisconsin by land? Head out on a road trip. By water? The state has thousands of lakes. But what if you want to see the Badger State by air? Consider the humble hot air balloon.
There are several companies throughout the state that operate hot air balloon rides and there are even festivals celebrating the massive balloons, giving the term “flyover state” a whole new meaning.
When you’re planning a hot air balloon ride, it’s important to know ahead of time just what kind of experience you’re interested in. Companies offer passenger rides, in which you’re charged per person and flown by a trained pilot; or private rides, in which you can book a hot air balloon just for you and your chosen guests. For those afraid of heights, you can also try a tethered ballooning experience, in which the balloon is connected to the ground but still able to fly up to a certain height for a bird’s eye view of the surroundings.
Here are some of the best hot air ballooning experiences in Wisconsin, and where to find them.
Calm Sky Adventures
Situated near Lake Winnebago in the Oshkosh/Omro area, Calm Sky Adventures offers beautiful views of the surrounding Fox Valley. Each ride on the company’s hot air balloon, Strataphoria, is piloted by owner Mike Beck, with flights lasting up to an hour. A private flight for two costs $800, or you can reserve a balloon to offer tethered flights at your own event, a service that starts at $2,250. The company is currently not accepting any more reservations for the 2023 season as they work to clear a backlog of customers that were rescheduled last year, but it’s never too early to start planning a ride for next year.
WindDancer Balloon Promotions
For WindDancer Balloon Promotions, hot air ballooning is a family affair. Owners and married couple Ken and Kay Walter have been balloonists for multiple decades, and most of the company’s flights are crewed by their three sons. The company offers rides, which can last between 45 and 75 minutes, in Waukesha and the surrounding area for up to four riders with a price range between $400-$1,395.
Gift certificates are available, and might even make good presents for people who have a fear of heights, as one review of the company stated, “I am terribly afraid of heights and they made it so pleasant I would do it again.”
Lake Geneva Balloon Company
Plenty of people travel to Lake Geneva to view the city’s namesake lake by boat, bike and foot, but if you’re not seeing the lake from above, you’re missing out on a great view. Conveniently, Lake Geneva Balloon Company gives customers that exact view on its hot air balloon rides, which pass right over the lake and surrounding area. The company, which launched in 2002, offers shared flights that typically contain between four and 10 passengers and cost $320 per person, as well as private flights for two, which cost $950 per couple.
A ride on the company’s balloon was described as a “first class adventure in the sky” by one reviewer who also praised the company’s emphasis on safety.
Taste ‘N Glow Balloon Fest
There are few better places in Wisconsin to admire hot air balloons than Wausau’s Taste ‘N Glow Balloon Fest. The annual festival, which takes place every July, showcases dozens of elaborately designed balloons. But the festival isn’t just about admiring the balloons. Attendees also have the opportunity to ride a tethered balloon for $15. While tethered balloons don’t move around much, they do allow riders the chance to experience what it’s like to take off and float in one of the hot air balloons.
Lesmeister Balloon Company
You can learn a lot about hot air ballooning by visiting Lesmeister Balloon Company— which offers rides out of Pepin—not only by going on a hot air balloon ride but by visiting the Soaring Eagle Hot Air Balloon Museum, dedicated fully to hot air ballooning. Owner and pilot Mike Lesmeister originally began operating flights out of Rochester, Minnesota, but branched out to the small Wisconsin village bordering Lake Michigan in 2020.
Waterford Balloon Fest
It only makes sense that at a festival dedicated to hot air ballooning, there’s some opportunities to take a ride in one, and that’s definitely the case at Waterford Balloon Fest. The festival, which takes place annually in July, offers tethered balloon rides that cost $20 for adults and $15 for kids under the age of 12. Although it’s one of the highlights, the balloons aren’t the only focus of the festival, which also features a craft fair, music from a DJ, drone races, and food trucks. While the festival is free to enter, onsite parking is $10.
Flying in Harmony LLC
There are a few ways to make a party stand out. You could have an unforgettable playlist, serve great food, or you could give your guests an opportunity to fly in a hot air balloon. Nick White, owner of New Berlin-based Flying in Harmony LLC, offers tethered rides in his company’s hot air balloon for private or business events. While the company has offered passenger rides in the past, it is currently only running tethered rides. A review on the company’s Facebook page said White is “an extremely skilled pilot” and that flying in his company’s balloon was a “special and magical experience.”
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