There’s no better time to be a pilot than during the autumn season, when the fall foliage starts to change colors. Flying over beautiful landscapes, full of bright hues of orange, red and yellow is a breathtaking site that will impress even the most veteran aviators.
So if you’re feeling festive, here are 10 autumn flights that private pilots are bound to enjoy. Let’s get started!
1) Northern Minnesota
While we may be a little bit biased, based on our location, we think you’ll be impressed with a fall flight through Northern Minnesota. Duluth International Airport and Ely Airport both provide easy access to the northern part of the state, which are lush with national parks, expansive forests and many lakes. Additionally, for those that are bird lovers, there’s almost no better place to fly to. This time of year offers some of the best bird watching in the U.S. From hawks and eagles to cranes and geese, there are more than a few outstanding places to view congregating flocks and vibrant habitats.
2) Asheville, North Carolina
Located in western North Carolina just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail, Asheville’s location means the views of fall foliage are unmatched by many other places in the U.S. Between the months of October and early November is the best time to see the most vibrant colors on the surrounding mountains. As you head to your destination, Asheville Regional Airport, make sure to bring your camera while flying over the scenery, because there will be more than enough perfect photo ops for you to capture.
3) Anchorage, Alaska
During October and November in Anchorage, there’s a special feeling in the air – one of nostalgia, isolation and beauty. And flying around the capital of Alaska provides the ideal setting for a fall flight. Not only do the spectacular autumn colors provide gorgeous contrast with the snow-capped mountains, it’s also a great time to view the Northern Lights. In fact, you’ll find more clear days during fall than in spring and summertime. Plus, the scenery is visible throughout most of the day, from when the sun rises at approximately 7:30 AM. until it sets around 8:00 PM. And don’t worry about snow; while you’ll notice some snow in mountains surrounding Anchorage, it doesn’t usually hit the city until the end of October or beginning of November.
4) Northern California
With nine national forests north of Sacramento, you can circle around the top of the state and see some of the best fall colors on the west coast. Taking off from Sacramento Executive Airport (SAC), head northeast to fly over Tahoe, Lassen and Modoc National Forests turn west to view Modoc, Shasta-Trinity, Klamath and Six Rivers national forests and then on your return south to your destination, fly over the Mendocino National Forest. You can even take a very slight detour further west and take a look at the grand Redwoods scattered across the coast.
5) Granby, Colorado
Historically, it doesn’t snow in Granby until the middle of December. That means you can take a breathtaking flight over the spectacular Rocky Mountains, land at Granby/Grand County Airport (GNB), and be on the golf course, mountain biking or just relaxing on your cabin porch. The crisp weather is perfect for outdoor activity and seeing gorgeous scenery—sounds like an ideal fall flight to us!
6) Northern Massachusetts
For those that have always dreamed about seeing the autumn colors of the Northeast, Northern Massachusetts is sure to amaze. Flying over this area (and even crossing into New Hampshire, Connecticut or New York) will take you over some heavily forested areas. If you plan it on the right day and you will see foliage that is both beautiful and plentiful. You will also have numerous small and friendly general aviation fields at your disposal.
7) Mackinac Island, Michigan
Known by Michiganders as “the Jewel of the Great Lakes”, Mackinac Island is a gorgeous destination for a fall flight. And, flying-in by airplane is one of the only ways to get there, beyond taking a ferry. Not only will you see the splendor of Lake Michigan and lush forests of Northern Michigan in the fall as you fly over, the island offers plenty of shopping, dining and entertainment options for when you land.
8) Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon makes for the perfect trip year-round, however, there are much fewer tourists and the weather is cooler during autumn, making it a great time to fly there. The conditions are perfect for hiking and nearby hotel deals are much easier to come by. Fly into Grand Canyon Airport, which is open to general aviation aircraft only, near Tusayan at the entrance to the South Rim and you’re only a 15-minute drive from the Grand Canyon and South Rim.
9) Yellowstone, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho
There may be nothing quite as spectacular than flying over the wilderness of Yellowstone in autumn and witnessing the beautiful, multi-colored trees amongst imposing gorges, rivers, mountains and valleys. At 2,219,790.71 acres, Yellowstone is the largest national park outside of Alaska and California, so you’re bound to see plenty of gorgeous autumn scenery. Additionally, there are four airports (Yellowstone Airport, Jackson Hole Airport, Yellowstone Regional Airport and Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport) that provide easy access to the park, so you have many options depending on where you’re flying into from.
10) Key West
For some, especially our friends in the northern states, you may be thinking that an ideal autumn trip is focused less on leaf-peeping and foliage color, and more focused on going some place warm. If you’re in the latter group, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Key West during the fall months, right before peak tourist season hits (December) in Florida. On your way down to the southern tip of the continental U.S., you’re bound to fly over some places that will also give you a good view of fall foliage – without the hassle of landing and dealing with the cold!
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