There aren’t very many good reasons to be up and about before the first ray of sunlight has even broken through darkness. Unless, of course, you’ve rolled out of bed to experience Napa Valley from its best angle. In that case, you’ve found more than just a good reason–you’ve found a great one!
Nestled in the heart of Yountville you’ll find the launch site of Napa Valley Aloft, a family-owned commercial ballooning company that has taken their love and knowledge of hot air balloons and created a uniquely memorable experience for tourists and natives alike.
I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “But why would you have to wake up THAT early?” Truth is, just after dawn is the perfect time to launch, as the winds are at their calmest and the temperature is at its coolest. Combine that with every possible color you could imagine in the sky, add the spirit of nature that can be felt only before the rest of the world is awake, and you’ve got yourself ideal flying conditions!
What I loved most about Napa Valley Aloft is that they allow you to witness every step of the process, as the balloons are not just blown up and waiting for you. When you arrive, your balloon is lying flat on the ground (which was the first time I recognized just how massive these things are). As you’re standing only feet away, the crew uses a giant fan to push cool air into the balloon, inflating it; then they use the burner to spit fire into the balloon, which allows it to rise. Only then are you are ushered into the basket!
The breathtaking views come as soon as you begin to rise above the valley floor. In a matter of minutes you are exposed to endless panoramic views of vineyards and majestic views of Mount Saint Helena to the north, and the Mayacamas Mountain Range to the west. There is nothing more magical than seeing the sun rise above mountains while you’re suspended 2,500 feet above the ground.
A well-planned outfit will make this experience even better, and that outfit has only three components. One, wear comfortable, casual clothing, as you will have to climb in and out of the basket–which is much deeper than it looks. I definitely recommend jeans, year round. Two, wear flat comfortable shoes (I chose Toms), as you will probably end up landing in a vacant field and won’t want to have to think twice about where you step. And three, wear layers, as the valley tends to be very chilly in the early morning and then warms up precipitously. I wore a jean jacket with a thin blouse underneath; that way I was able to adjust to the temperatures as the morning progressed.
Sure, gazing out the window of the wine train and walking around the grounds of your favorite vineyards is one way to view wine country, but you haven’t seen Napa until you’ve seen it from up above.