Travel Picks: Top 10 autumn balloon ride destinations

Fri Nov 11, 2011 6:28am EST
 
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(Reuters) - Nature's beauty reaches a peak in autumn as the leaves take on rich and vibrant colors. This year, instead of hopping in the car and going for a drive, consider taking your autumn foliage tour to a soaring new level. Check out the Cheapflights.com (www.cheapflights.com) top 10 list of hot air balloon destinations to get a new perspective on autumn. Reuters has not endorsed this list: 1. Hokkaido, Japan

A large island in the northernmost region of Japan, Hokkaido is a great place to witness the change of seasons known by the Japanese as momiji. During the foliage season, soft yellows of beech trees, bright reds from birch trees and occasional deep purples of okagami Japanese maples are the stars of the show. Once you're back on the ground, and depending on where you stay, be sure to check out Hokkaido's numerous national parks, including the tourist favorite of Shikotsu-Toya, which comprises of several volcanic hot springs. Finding a hot air balloon company should be no problem as there is a growing demand for viewing the beautiful Hokkaido landscape from the sky. 2. Catskill Mountains, New York, United States

North of the hustle and bustle of New York City, in the central part of the state, stretches the Catskill Mountains. The beauty of the Catskills has inspired art movements, serving as the backdrop for many films and works of literature. Waterfalls, rivers, lakes and valleys create breathtaking landscapes when viewed from above or below. It should then be no surprise that its striking fall foliage makes our list. When searching for the perfect hot air balloon tour, there are plenty of options in the Hudson Valley region. 3. Coconino National Forest, Arizona, United States

We know what you're thinking: foliage in Arizona? Believe it or not, the Coconino National Forest puts on a great show during the autumn months around the Flagstaff area, thanks to its slightly higher elevation and leafy forests. Most of the Coconino's trees are towering white birches that turn to a deep golden yellow beginning in September. The rest of the national forest is made up of volcanic peaks, plateaus and ponderosa pines - plenty for you to explore when you're not busy leaf-peeping. Hot air balloon companies are not lacking in Arizona, but you'll want to find one around the Flagstaff area for the full foliage experience. 4. Prince Edward Island, Canada

Anne's gables aren't so green once autumn rolls around. Instead, Prince Edward Island is bursting with fall color and, because of its unique location and relatively mild temperatures, the foliage season is one of the longest compared to its neighboring provinces. Thanks to Prince Edward Island's beautiful landscape of coastal lighthouses, sandstone cliffs, lush farm lands, and blazing red maple forests, it's no wonder hot air ballooning is becoming so popular. Most balloon companies are out of Charlottetown and Summerside, which are great towns to spend the day or weekend exploring. 5. Green Mountains, Vermont, United States

The part of the Appalachian Mountains that stretch through Vermont, known as the Green Mountains, is a must-see during fall foliage. The lush countryside that takes over most of the state turns into a spectacle of color during the autumn months. Reds, yellows, oranges, browns, purples and greens speckle the rolling hills as if it were an impressionist painting. Hot air balloon companies are scattered throughout the area, but we suggest checking out Quechee for its fantastic gorge and its valiant effort to reopen for tourists after Hurricane Irene's unexpected impact in August. 6. Loire Valley, France

While Loire Valley, just a few hours outside of Paris, is a popular destination for tasting, touring and learning about popular French wines, its impeccable landscape makes our list for places to be viewed from above, especially during fall foliage. Several hot air balloon companies take visitors on two-and three-hour tours above meandering vineyards, historical chateaus and the winding Loire River. Best of all, the foliage season coincides with the exciting grape harvesting season, so when you're not floating above the tree tops, you'll sip Vouvray while savoring rich and decadent cheeses. 7. Vilnius, Lithuania

Lithuania's capital city is full of stirring history and exquisite architecture, and just outside the city limits is a stunning landscape that is perfect to gaze from above. Vilnius is actually one of the few capitals to allow hot air balloon flights directly above the city, giving a unique perspective to both the bustling metropolis center and its colorful, fall backdrop. If you're looking for something more along the countryside, a few companies offer flights over Trakai and its medieval castle, rolling hills and gentle lakes. And for foliage sites when you're not soaring the skies, check out Grutas Park and its Soviet-era sculpture gardens just south. 8. North Shore Region, Minnesota, United States

Resting on the edge of Lake Superior, Minnesota's north shore is a dream for hot air balloon enthusiasts, especially during the fall months. A landscape made up of rocky cliffs, boreal forests and the pristine beauty of a Great Lake mixed with the effervescent color of changing leaves sets the stage for an unforgettable sight. When you're looking for a bit of ground-level adventure, there are great hiking trails that weave through the multicolored forests. We recommend booking your hot air balloon trip in and around Duluth for the best rates. It's also a great port city to explore when your head isn't in the clouds. 9. Lapland Region, Finland   Continued...