10Best: Scenic Flights in the United States

  • Flying from Seattle to the San Juan Islands

    Take the "Skyways" on a Scenic Flight

    If long lines and baggage fees leave you feeling jaded about flying, consider hopping aboard a scenic flight to remember what flying is all about. Some of the most beautiful destinations in the U.S. look even more stunning from the air, and also provide an excellent way to get a “lay of the land” when you first arrive on vacation. Many “flightseeing” tours include in-depth narratives, making them a unique alternative to typical sightseeing. From flights in traditional high-wing airplanes and helicopters to vintage aircraft and hot air balloons, there are some unbelievable experiences to be had in the air from coast to coast.

    Photo courtesy of Kenmore Air

  • The Heavenly Waters Surrounding Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park

    The Dry Tortugas

    The Dry Tortugas may be the National Park System’s best kept secret. Located 70 miles from Key West in the stunning tropical Atlantic waters, these beautiful islands are only accessible by ferry, private boat or seaplane. Key West Seaplane Charters flies over shallow areas, making it easy to spot sharks, stingrays and other marine life, before landing in the waters surrounding Garden Key and Fort Jefferson.

    Photo courtesy of Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau

  • Sedona's contrasting scenery

    Sedona, Arizona

    Sedona is known as a spiritual retreat for those seeking healing and meditation, and in the air the region takes on a peaceful energy of its own. See the vibrant red rocks from the cockpit of an open-air biplane with Sedona Air Tours and feel like you’re in a flying convertible. Passengers also have an opportunity to fly the aircraft themselves (with help from the pilot).

    Photo courtesy of Larry Geiger, Lincoln Nebraska

  • A hot air balloon floats near one of the cascading waterfalls in Letchworth State Park

    Western New York

    A hidden jewel in Western New York is Letchworth State Park, often considered the “Grand Canyon of the East.” The park features gorges cut by the Genesee River as deep as 600 feet, as well as 66 miles of hiking trails and stunning waterfalls. Balloons Over Letchworth offers rides in hot air balloons that float peacefully through the scenic gorge, which is especially brilliant during the fall.

    Photo courtesy of Sean Quigley/Balloons Over Letchworth

  • Seaplane Tours Over Mackinac Island

    Northern Michigan and Mackinac Island

    Still flying under the radar, Northern Michigan offers some gorgeous landscapes, islands and peaceful hideaways. Hop aboard Mackinac Seaplane Tours for one of the best ways to see several lighthouses up close, as well as a chance to land and take off from the water. Passengers can enjoy views of the International Bridge connecting Michigan to Ontario, the Soo Locks of Lake Superior, St. Marys River and Mackinac Island – a car-free destination that’s a step back in time.

    Photo courtesy of Mackinac Island Tourism

  • Get up close to Hawaii's beautiful scenery

    Hawaiian Islands

    Each island in Hawaii offers visitors something different, and Blue Hawaiian Helicopter tours has combination trips of Maui and the Big Island for a chance to see spectacular coast lines, rainforests, waterfalls and villages. Other tours include close-ups of black-sand beaches and active volcanoes on the Big Island, as well as valleys of the Kohala Mountains.

    Photo courtesy of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters

  • Maine's coastline is truly beautiful in the fall

    Maine's Coast and Acadia National Park

    Cruise over coastal Maine at 1,200 feet with Maine Coastal Flights and spot lighthouses, shorelines, cliff bluffs and islands from a bird's-eye view. Cruisers can spot their vessel from the air as the aircraft passes over Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park and the perimeter of Mount Desert Island.

    Photo courtesy of Colleen Miniuk-Sperry/www.cms-photo.com

  • Glacier Landings in Alaska

    Flying anywhere in Alaska is an experience unlike any other; it is a way of life in the Final Frontier, and the landscape is majestic, powerful, a little bit intimidating and strikingly beautiful – all at once. Talkeetna Air Taxi specializes in ski plane landings on several different glaciers that will grant visitors close-up views of rock walls and heavenly blue glacier pools, before having time to soak it all in and make snow angels on the glacier.

    Photo courtesy of Talkeetna Air Taxi

  • Canyonlands rock formations are impressive from the air

    Canyonlands National Park, Utah

    Pilots who fly over Canyonlands National Park their entire lives say they can never grow tired of it. There are few things that compare to seeing the sheer size and shapes that nature carved into the Earth. Redtail Aviation suggests flying in the fall when the air tends to be smoothest, but flying 2,000 feet over the park is awe-inspiring any time of year.

    Photo courtesy of Redtail Aviation

  • The serene view of the San Juans at sunset

    North of the San Juan Islands at Sunset

    Less than 100 miles from Seattle are the San Juan Islands, a collection of 172 named islands that feel worlds away from the city bustle. Quiet villages offer the perfect weekend retreat, and flights in the area – particularly at sunset – are a peaceful way to take it all in. Westwind Aviation operates charters and scenic flights of the island chain, Mount Baker and the Olympic Peninsula.

    Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan

  • A close up of the Crazy Horse Monument

    Black Hills, North Dakota

    It’s difficult to get a sense of the size of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments from the ground, but Black Hills Aerial Adventures gives visitors a closer look at these American icons on helicopter tours. Other flights over the Black Hills include Harney Peak (the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains), Sylvan Lake and Custer State Park.

    Photo courtesy of Black Hills Aerial Advenutures

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