The sun breaks over the Edmonton skyline. It’s 5:50 a.m. And a fine morning for a hot air balloon ride. Our pilot fastens a frame and propane burner to the basket. A powerful fan fills the envelope with air. As flame jets from the propane burner, it heats the air inside the balloon – and we lift off into the dawn.
Soon we are high above the city and gazing down at the ribbon of green that frames the winding North Saskatchewan River. It’s fun to watch the city coming to life. Early risers are jogging and cycling. There’s even a lone paddler in a bright red canoe.
The bustling streets and tall buildings shrink to toy sized and the noises of the morning rush fade away. Despite the thrill of floating so high, this is a tranquil experience. All too soon, it seems, we return with a graceful landing. What a perfect way to start the day.
Here are some more of my favourites.
Biplanes and Bush Pilots
As I step inside the open-air cockpit of a vintage 1939 WACO biplane, I’m reminded of a bygone era of bush pilots flying planes into the Canadian North. On this clear summer morning, I’ve booked passage via the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, which offers 10, 20 and 50 minute sightseeing flights out of the Wetaskiwin Airport, from late May to early September.
The engine roars to life and the propeller drones as we prepare for take-off. The warm wind presses harder against my cheeks as we pick up speed and lift off. From this height, Alberta appears an endless ocean of patchwork fields and deep blue sky. I could stay up here forever, wind in my hair and a great big grin on my face.
Soar While Hang-Gliding
For the very adventurous traveller, the euphoric rush of riding a thermal wind while hang-gliding is a must-do experience. This happens to be one of my personal favourites, but you’ll want to take some instruction first. On the bluffs above Cochrane – a 30-minute drive west of Calgary – a wind socket blows straight out. After careful preparation, I lift silently into flight. Below me lie ranch lands and foothills that give way to the vanguard of pine-skirted Canadian Rocky Mountains on the western horizon. The feeling of freedom is beyond compare. Maybe I was a bird in a past life.
Rocky Mountain Heli High
The rotors of the Raven R44 II helicopter are already spinning when my wife and I arrived. The pilot engages the controls, lifting us effortlessly into the sky. We took in the peaks of the Three Sisters, the silver ribbons of Spray Lakes, and the shimmering edge of Mount Assiniboine’s glacier. The views are beyond imagining, and a great way to put the mountains into perspective before you dive into your adventures on the ground.
Aerial escapades abound in this province. And no matter how you achieve your bird’s eye view, one simple truth remains: Alberta from the air will take your breath away.