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Float on: Letchworth by hot air balloon

Letchworth State Park—dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the East”—has stunning views, beautiful waterfalls and even long-standing double rainbows visible in the sunlight because of the mist. But hiking and camping aren’t the only way to immerse yourself in these lauded landscapes. You can also take in this unbelievable scenery from the sky in a hot air balloon ride over the park.

Lift off

Captain Sean Quigley became a balloon pilot back in 1987, and now runs Balloons Over Letchworth, the only company that launches from inside the park flying over trees and waters of Letchworth. The balloons take off right near the Glen Iris Inn, where you’ll get an amazing view of the upper and middle falls almost instantly. (It’s also a great location for a romantic overnight getaway or for a bite to eat at their in-house restaurant.)

Once you arrive at your take-off point, your flight will get ready to launch for its 45 to 60-minute ride at heights of 2,000 feet (or higher!) depending on the weather.

The ride

The entire experience lasts around three hours from start to finish—because once the balloon leaves the ground, there’s no saying where it will necessarily land. There’s no way for the captain to actually steer the balloon; it can simply go up or down. You don’t have to worry about motion sickness, though, because you don’t feel any of that movement while on the balloon.

Full circle

If you’re wondering how you make it back to your cars after the flight, they have a “chase crew” there to follow the balloon from the ground and take you back to your original spot. The tradition of ending the balloon ride with a glass of champagne, which started back in the 1700s, lives on at Balloon Over Letchworth—so you’ll be able to toast to the spectacular bird’s eye views of the gorge.

Clear skies

The winds must be 10 mph or less, or you’ll stay grounded. This hard rule ensures a safe flight, something extremely important to Captain Quigley and his passengers despite the occasional canceled flights with Buffalo’s unpredictable weather.

You can schedule flights online for $285 per person ($270 each for a group of five), seven days of the week starting in May and running through the middle of October. During October, they add an additional $10 to the cost. Many locals look to schedule their rides in autumn to soak in the foliage from the sky, but the added cost is to discourage signups at that time. Although the park is gorgeous in the fall, the weather becomes so unpredictable it often leads to cancellations.

If your flight is cancelled due to weather, your $100 deposit is refundable minus the $10 booking fee and they’ll do their best to rebook you. The Pilot’s famous saying when passengers are upset about cancellations is, “It is better to be on the ground, wishing you were in the air, than to be in the air, wishing you were on the ground!”

More ways to float

If you’re looking for different views or other options, check out these other hot air balloon rides:

Aurora Balloon Company
6861 Olean Rd, South Wales

Although they launch outside the park (at 6591 East Koy Rd. Portageville), Aurora also floats over Letchworth, getting that unique view of the gorge and trees from high in the sky.

Liberty Balloon Co.
6730 Barber Hill Rd, Groveland

This family business flies their hot air balloons over the stunning Finger Lakes Wine Region, Letchworth Park and over other areas of Western New York.

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