A hot air balloon above Boulder. Courtesy photo

9 Unique Ways to Experience Boulder From the Sky


Experience the popular attractions in Boulder from all angles, even from above: from the cozy basket of a hot air balloon, on a diving glider, while plunging from an airplane. Take an aerial tour of the region, or get some bird’s-eye shots with a drone.

There are so many different ways to do Boulder, bird style. Here are just nine of our favorite ways to explore Boulder’s blue skies.

A Fair Winds hot air balloon. Courtesy photo

1. Enjoy Breakfast and a Hot Air Balloon Ride

There are two main hot air balloon outfitters in the Boulder area: Life Cycle Balloon Adventures and Fair Winds Hot Air Balloon Flights.

Drifting above Boulder County and witnessing the Flatirons from above will give you a whole new perspective of the region. Make it even more novel with a special hot air balloon package.

Life Cycle serves hot chocolate, coffee and tea before lift-off. For something extra, book a deluxe brunch flight or celebrate with a champagne flight. Their balloons are ideal for a romantic excursion because these smaller balloons only take two to five people at a time. An intimate, personalized flight is Life Cycle’s specialty. Watch the sun peak over the horizon in a sunrise flight.

Fair Winds, which launches out of Boulder, also can arrange private flights. It offers daily flights but the best time to fly, due to weather, is May through November. Even so, the balloons only fly if weather is nice for safety reasons, as well as for the view.

Flights depart once a day, after sunrise. Before lift-off, eat a deluxe continental breakfast; afterward, get a parting gift bag with champagne or sparkling cider or juice, a shirt, pin, flight certificate, photo of you in the balloon and more.

Balloons reach as high as 5,000 feet above the ground, although most flights are between 1,000 and 3,000 feet. The flight distance averages 10 to 12 miles, but from up there, the view stretches about 100 miles. You can see all the way south to Pikes Peak, north to the Wyoming border and west across the snowcapped Rockies.

Local tip: Check the website for current specials. You can also book private flights, which include in-flight champagne.

Mile-Hi Skydiving in Longmont. Courtesy photo

2. Go Skydiving With the Best

Longmont-based Mile-Hi Skydiving is widely considered one of Colorado’s top skydiving companies. It claims to be the state’s top-ranked and biggest skydiving business, with more than 35,000 plane jumps every year. It also boasts the state’s largest full-time, twin-engine, jet-prop aircraft.

Bottom line (er, top line?): If you have the jitters over your first plunge from the clouds, Mile-Hi Skydiving is a reputable option that’s also conveniently close to Boulder.

Mile High Gliding. Courtesy photo

3. Learn to Fly a Glider (or Take a Fun, Scenic Flight)

Mile High Gliding offers the expected peaceful, scenic flights over the mountains and alpine lakes, but what many people don’t realize if you can actually learn to fly one of these gliders for yourself. Take an intro to flying class or, for a more comprehensive education, an immersive five-day, 30-flight course.

One of the most popular flights is the Mountain Flight, where you’ll cruise above the Boulder-area mountains and canyons, then coast back to town and over the University of Colorado campus. Want more city views? There’s a flight for that, too. It’ll take you right above downtown. Talk about Instagram-worthy pics.

4. Visit the Boulder Airport

It’s no DIA (there’s no commercial service), but Boulder boasts its own municipal airport for private, business, recreational and emergency aircraft. If you or your little ones love to watch planes take off and land, this is a fun, free hangout for the day. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get to chat with a pilot.

One highlight at the Boulder Municipal Airport, 3335 Airport Road, is its Airport Day, a fun, free, family-friendly event held every other year on Father’s Day weekend. Take photos with World War II airplanes and other antique aircraft, military aircraft, gliders and aerobatic planes, plus fire trucks, kids’ activities and food vendors. (In the past, kids have been able to build model rockets and balsa wood airplanes and try a flight simulator.)

If you’re lucky, you might get to take a ride in a helicopter or be able to buy a ride in a glider. You can even climb inside most of the aircraft on display.

The airport is also home to Journeys Aviation, Inc., the airport’s main flight school.

WWII Era Ball
The WWII Ball. Courtesy photo

The Boulder airport is also home to the annual 1940s World War II Ball, where the whole airport takes a step back in time, with live swing bands and dancing, a Sinatra impersonator, aircraft on display, costume contests and more.

5. Attend the Rocky Mountain Air and Ground Festival

Broomfield has its own airport, too, the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport. One of the best ways to enjoy it (assuming you don’t have your own plane and pilot license) is at the Rocky Mountain Air and Ground Festival. This family-friendly festival is packed with exhibitions, performances and events centered around air transportation. OK, there are some fun exhibits about ground transportation, as well (ahem, car shows). But today we’re all about the winged things. The thrilling aerial acrobatics and formation flying up, up, up in the sky is always the climax.

The event, held at the airport, 11755 Airport Way, is free and open to the public. It draws about 15,000 people every year.

6. Enjoy Air Shows at the Longmont Air Expo

Longmont’s Vance Brand Airport is home to the exciting Longmont Air Expo, featuring fly-overs and performances in the sky, plus fun displays about all things aviation, from history to military and jets to helicopters. In between gawking at the planes and meeting the pilots who fly them, fill up with food and drinks from the local vendors. This event is free and open to the public.

Boulder Air Tours. Courtesy photo

7. See Boulder Via an Air Tour

If you think you know Boulder, try meeting it from this angle. Boulder Air Tours offers some of the most interesting guided tours in town, including tours that you can customize to meet your own interests. Or book a pre-set flight plan of your choice, including a real-estate tour (to hunt for dream properties), a backcountry tour (find the best places to go hiking or climbing) or a Boulder city tour. See the Pearl Street Mall, Boulder Canyon, CU campus and more points of interest in Boulder, all from a bird’s-eye view.

The minimum length for a flight is a half hour but can be extended if you want to see even more. The most popular flight (about 90 percent of all flights) is the Indian Peaks Tour, which is done as a 45- or 60-minute flight.

You can also book aerial tours of the area through Bluebird Aviation and Canon City-based Colorado Vertical, which offers helicopter tours a bit farther away (in the Pikes Peak and Royal Gorge regions).

8. Fly Model Planes

If you like to be the pilot while keeping your feet on the ground, check out the Boulder Aeromodelling Society. This club runs a remote-control plane field at Boulder Reservoir. You’ll find two paved runways, a special area for sailplanes, a shelter and more. But to use this area, you need to be a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

Some of the members even compete in international contests, although most are just casual flyers who like to build and fly mini planes.

If drones are more your speed, first make sure you know the city’s drone regulations – you can’t just fly them anywhere. In fact, city regulations (and the FAA regulations they reference) apply to all unmanned aircraft, not just those known as drones.

You doesn’t have to be an RC pilot to come to the field.

“In fact, we like having spectators around,” says Aidan Sesnic, president of the Boulder Aeromodelling Society.

The field opens at 10 a.m. In general, the best chance of finding people flying would be weekends after around 11 a.m.

CU has its own club, the CU Drone Racing Club, a group of students who like to build and fly “aerial robots” and help each other get better at it. The ultimate goal: Put together a team of skilled drone racers to compete against other groups. Check out the club’s events on its Facebook.

CU also has a lab called IRISS that uses the field professionally. A lot of what the lab does is centered around storm chasing with unmanned aircraft; they use the Boulder Aeromodelling Society field for testing and pilot training.

A unique view at an exhibit in the Spirit of Flight Center, when it was located in Erie. Courtesy photo

9. Browse the Spirit of Flight Center

Head to the nearby Spirit of Flight Center for an educational walk through aviation history. The Spirit of Flight Center, formerly located in Erie, now has its museum on the road. In addition to the mobile air museum, it will offer tours of a history gallery in Westminster, beginning June 2019.

The center is working on building a new, permanent museum at the Rocky Mountain Metro Airport; the estimated completion date is around 2021. This facility will include flying aircraft to promote living history through ride experiences.

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