Up, up and away: 7 ways to explore Tahoe from the sky

There is no better way to truly comprehend the expansiveness of Lake Tahoe than by experiencing it from high above in the sky. Fly along the 72 miles of shoreline, cruise above iconic areas like Emerald Bay and Sand Harbor, and get a new perspective on the backcountry acreage filled with hundreds of alpine lakes. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely sightseeing tour or something a little more exciting, there’s a way to experience Tahoe by air for everyone.

By Balloon

Shortly after sunrise, hop aboard a Catamaran-style aircraft carrier vessel, cruise to the middle of Lake Tahoe and watch as the 100-foot yellow hot air balloon is inflated. Lake Tahoe Balloons has been running balloon tours over Big Blue since 1992, and it’s an incredible way to take in the majesty of the lake and the Sierra Nevada. Their largest basket can take up to 12 passengers as the pilot guides the balloon high above the lake and back down again to skim the water’s surface. Take in views of Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake, Fallen Leaf and Desolation Wilderness, and on a clear day, you may even catch a glimpse of Yosemite’s peaks.

From champagne on the boat to gorgeous views from the basket of a hot air balloon, Lake Tahoe Balloons has perfected the ideal Tahoe morning. Photo: Lake Tahoe Balloons

By Stunt Plane

In stark contrast to the relaxing trip aboard a hot air balloon is a ride in Sky Combat Ace’s stunt plane. Instead, take in views of Lake Tahoe while barrel rolling at adrenaline-pumping speeds across the sky. With a variety of packages, each passenger can decide what level of intensity they want. Not feeling extreme? Try the Spectator flight. Not afraid to go a little crazy? Go for the Top Gun experience, which allows you to fly the plane through an aerobatic routine (under the guidance of an experienced pilot, of course).

By Paragliding

With the help of a certified paragliding instructor, soar over Lake Tahoe for an hour with nothing but the flow of air keeping you afloat as you explore the shorelines from above. Lake Tahoe Paragliding also offers courses to help you get certified to fly solo.

By Powered Hang Glider

Fly high above Big Blue in an N66PH Evolution Revo trike for an experience that pilot Paul Hamilton likens to a motorcycle ride in the sky. With tandem seating and an open cockpit, the engine-powered hang glider flies quietly through the air as you explore Lake Tahoe from above on a tour that can range from one to three hours. Hang Gliding Tahoe also offers interactive flight lessons and cameras mounted on the wings to capture the experience in breathtaking videos and photos.

A two-person powered hang glider is undoubtedly a thrilling way to view Tahoe from above. Photo: Paul Hamilton

By Parasailing

From the water to the sky, parasailing on Lake Tahoe gives you the best of both worlds. Strapped into harnesses attached to a parachute, you’ll float anywhere from 400 to 1,200 feet above the water as the boat tows you around the lake. It’s an exhilarating way to take in the beauty of Big Blue from above. There are companies around the lake offering parasailing tours, including Action Water Sports in South Lake Tahoe and Zephyr Cove, Tahoe Sports in South Lake Tahoe, Zephyr Cove Resort, and North Shore Parasail in Kings Beach.

By Helicopter

Deftly maneuver over Tahoe in one of Tahoe Helicopters’s choppers for a unique year round experience. Choose from rides over Emerald Bay, Sand Harbor, Zephyr Cove, a sunset tour of the whole lake or a flight that highlights backcountry lakes and waterfalls. Departing from the Lake Tahoe Airport in South Lake Tahoe, the pilots are also available to teach primary and advanced flight training.

Get a bird’s eye view of Big Blue from the cockpit of a helicopter. Photo: Tahoe Helicopters

By Seaplane

Alighting on the lake in a seaplane after soaring above the mountains is an experience you shouldn’t miss. Seaplanes have been used on Tahoe since 1945 for transportation, and though their numbers have dwindled greatly, South Lake Seaplanes is carrying on the tradition with flights focusing on the North Shore or South Shore, circumnavigating the lake and even one that’s all about splashing on the lake.

Glide from the water to the air in a seaplane over Lake Tahoe. Photo: Claire McArthur
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