Photograph by Chris Bickford, National Geographic Travel
In famously flat Florida, the sky is the summit. Get airborne to see spectacularly scenic panoramas, including shimmering emerald waters, glistening powder-white beaches, vast mangrove forests and salt marshes, and open prairies and pastures. Various aerial options are offered, and the location and mode of transportation you choose will determine your views.
Overseas Aero Tours, Marathon
From your perch in an open cockpit biplane 500 feet in the air, it’s readily apparent that the Keys are more water than land. “The aerial advantage allows views impossible to match from the ground or water,” says Overseas Aero Tours pilot and co-owner Brad Neat. “Just after takeoff, usually you can see the mainland 25 miles to the north and the deep-blue waters of the Gulf Stream just 6 miles to the south. We see sharks and rays every day, manatees and turtles most days, and dolphins and bald eagles regularly.”
Bob’s Balloon Charters, Orlando
Orlando native Bob Wilamoski enjoys showing visitors the “real Florida, not the man-made one” from the basket of his soaring hot-air balloon. “In flight, I've seen Florida panthers, foxes, deer, gators, otters, coyotes, and turkeys,” says Wilamoski. “The theme parks are a small part of Florida, yet are why most people visit. You'll enjoy more and pay less by floating with the wind at sunrise.”
Tandem Discovery Flights, Wallaby Ranch, Davenport
Even first-time fliers can coast 2,000 feet over virgin Florida flat woods and wetlands thanks to Wallaby Ranch’s innovative, aero-tow approach to hang gliding. A plane carries the instructor-guest tandem team and glider up to flight height, then releases the glider. From there, it’s a gentle glide down to a soft, safe landing. “We share the sky with common Florida soaring birds,” says owner Malcolm Jones. “Down below you can see deer, turkeys, armadillos, gators, and even panthers.”
Orlando Balloon Rides, Orlando
Known as “Florida’s liquid heart,” the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve is 560,000 acres of wetlands, flatlands, and low ridges. “The swamp has been left untouched for thousands of years,” says Orlando Balloon Rides general manager Damien Mahony. “There’s a peace and tranquility that comes over you when you gently float over the wilderness, and with no engine noise to startle the wildlife below, you’re more likely to see deer, wild boar, alligators, ospreys, red-tailed hawks, and, especially, bald eagles.”
Practical Tip: Balloons usually fly at sunrise to make the most of calm wind conditions.
Fun Fact: On an Overseas Aero Tours flight you can spot rarely seen traces of the Over-Sea Railroad to Key West, built from 1905 to 1912 by industrialist Henry Flagler and destroyed by a Labor Day hurricane in 1935.
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