10 of the Most Incredible Views from a Hot Air Balloon in the U.S.!

In France, September 1783, a rooster, duck and a sheep were passengers aboard the very first hot air balloon. The balloon stayed aloft for 15 minutes before crashing back to earth (we can only hope the critters were wearing bubble wrap). Ten years later, George Washington was present at the first (and more successful) launch of a manned balloon in North America.

Since those days, hot air ballooning has become more reliable - and more daring. In 1987, Sir Richard Branson was part of a team that travelled 2,900 miles across the Atlantic; in 1999, another duo flew around the world in almost 20 days.

Even if you're not up for a 20-day flight, a ride in a hot-air balloon is on many a "bucket list." The notion of soaring far above terra firma is just too irresistible, and the landscape of America offers some amazing things to see. Here are ten unforgettable balloon ride destinations.

1. QUECHEE, VT

The Quechee Gorge in central Vermont is super-scenic, and a balloon ride gives a great view of the picturesque white water creek below. Lake Pinneo is also nearby, along with rolling hills dotted with evergreens.

2. LETCHWORTH STATE PARK, NY

This gorgeous park is known as "the Grand Canyon of the East." Balloon tours give you an amazing view of natural rock formations, bridges and gorges that reach as high as 600 feet. There are also 20 beautiful waterfalls.

3. ASHEVILLE, NC

Take off from the western part of the Tarheel state and soar over the Great Smoky Mountains. The sight of beautiful farms, soaring birds and the haze clearing from the mountainside make for one spectacular ride.

4. BLACK HILLS, SD

Its most famous feature is Mount Rushmore - and seeing it via hot air balloon is the way to go. You can get a close-up of the 500-foot sculpture, maybe even close enough to pinch George's nose? (OK, kidding about that last bit).

5. WINTER PARK, CO

This launch point takes you two miles above the snow-covered Rocky Mountains. You also get a fantastic view of huge evergreen forests and wildlife below, as they forage along the Fraser River.

6. ALBUQUERQUE, NM

Every year, hundreds of hot air balloons take off as part of the famous International Balloon Fiesta. And why not? Views of the painted desert and Rio Grande snaking below are endlessly fascinating.

7. SEDONA, AZ

The distinctive red rock formations are pretty amazing at ground level - but they'll knock your socks off from the basket of a balloon. Try to arrange a ride around sunrise or sunset- the colors really "pop" at that time.

8. GRAND CANYON, AZ

A no-brainer, right? One of the most amazing of natural wonders (277 miles long and over a mile deep) becomes even more amazing when you soar above it in a hot air balloon. Some tours take you as high up as 18,000 feet.

9. NAPA VALLEY, CA

Get a completely different view of "wine country" as you soar over symmetrical vineyards, big and small. Green rolling hills and views of the Sierra Mountains are worth raising a glass to!

10. LAKE TAHOE, CA

Tahoe is the largest Alpine lake in North America, and floating above it provides an amazing view of its crystal waters. On clear days, you're also likely to see the Yosemite peaks off in the distance.

Go on a Hot Air Balloon Ride Near You