The Black Hills are one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America.
The rich history, never-ending miles of trails to hike, the Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore memorials, and wildlife are just some of the alluring attractions that make it one of South Dakota’s most popular tourist destinations throughout the year.
The world-renowned Custer State Park is comprised of 71,000 acres, making it one of the nation’s largest state parks. Of course, driving the scenic byways or hiking through the Ponderosa Pines are just some ways to view the state’s natural beauty, but imagine getting to see the area from a different perspective.
Black Hills Balloons provides hot air balloon tours over the southern hills of Custer Valley. Locals and Black Hills visitors are offered daily flights in the Custer area and local events. This tour experience all happens in the largest, most modern balloons in the five-state area.
Damien Mahony, Keely Wade, and Steve Bauer make up the team of pilots who have a combined 30+ years of ballooning and touring experience.
I think our favorite part of the day is just getting to know our passengers. I just love the simplicity of watching people share the experience and open up.” — Keely Wade
The company was founded by Steve Bauer in 1984, and quickly became one of the most well-established attractions in the Hills. His commitment to the area and the local tourism allowed Black Hills Balloons to thrive for many years.
In 2015, Keely and Damien quit their day jobs in Florida, and jumped at the chance to take over the reins and move to the Custer area. Running the long-admired Black Hills Balloons was their ticket to the simpler, more adventurous life they longed for.
For most, flying in a hot air balloon is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list adventure.
However, flying through the Black Hills of South Dakota is more than that.
Touring the area in a hot air balloon allows guests to view completely untouched parts of the hills, without anyone knowing you were there. Sometimes balloons can be just inches from the treetops, without noise or making any movement.
Each flight begins at sunrise at a central meeting location in Custer. The balloon takes 20 minutes to prepare for flight, and once ready, the pilot and passengers begin their one-hour journey. The length of the flight is determined by weather and available landing locations.
Because hot air balloons literally go with the wind, no two flights are ever the same. Launch and landing locations vary daily, because pilots fly at various altitudes to navigate to a landing location.
“Our balloons vary in size from four passengers to 12, giving us the opportunity to fly the balloon(s) best suited for the number of passengers booked each day. So whether you are a couple celebrating a birthday, or a family reunion of 10, you’ll have the opportunity to fly together.” —Keely Wade.
The mountains, valleys, lakes, and prairies of the Black Hills are home to elk, antelope, whitetail and mule deer, and buffalo. Sometimes passengers even see mountain lions from the secure gondolas.
“When you fly with Black Hills Balloons, know that you’re flying with people who’ve made every sacrifice to be here; to share this day and moment with you. Our hope, however high, is that you’ll be inspired to do the same; to enjoy the simple things and take time to smell the mountain air,” said Wade.
Upon landing, the ground crew will pack up the balloon while passengers and pilot celebrate the flight with a complimentary champagne toast, light snacks, and a quick story about the origin of hot air ballooning.
There’s nowhere else in the world where you can witness the same views from a hot air balloon and fly over such a historic and beautiful landscape.
For more information, visit blackhillsballoons.com.
THE BLACK HILLS BALLOON BASICS
All hot air balloons and pilots are certified through the Federal Aviation Administration. Just like any other aircraft, there are strict guidelines and inspections regularly.
Safety is always the highest priority, and if the pilot feels as though the weather isn’t suitable for flight, rescheduling or refunding will be arranged accordingly.
The balloons vary in size from four to 12 passengers, giving the ability to host large groups for birthdays and other special occasions.
Black Hills Balloons has earned a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for the last two years.
FULL OF HOT AIR HISTORY
It’s rarely known, but South Dakota is the home of the modern hot air balloon. The balloon system used worldwide was created in Sioux Falls by Raven Industries. South Dakota is also the home to the Stratobowl, which is a historic site for balloon aviation and space exploration. Custer himself was known to fly in a hot air balloon every now and again to warn of enemy movement. The state is literally full of hot air history.
Offered daily, May through October.
Children 4-12, $245.
Winter flights can be reserved over the phone by a special appointment.