Take a Flying Leap at These Hang Gliding Schools
The next time somebody tells you to take a flying leap, don’t take offense—at least, not if you're talking to an instructor at one of these hang gliding schools across the country. Of course, you don't have to literally jump off a hill, mountaintop or slope to soar. Hang gliders can be towed and launched from vehicles, ultralight or microlight aircraft, winches and boats.
Do your research before choosing a flight school; this article is not an endorsement of the schools listed. Verify the instructors' experience, the school's safety record, certification, and any other concerns. Contact past or current students, and read testimonials.
When you're ready to try your wings, check out one of these flight parks.
Kitty Hawk Kites, NC, FL and Virginia Beach, VA
What better place to earn your wings than a school named for the birthplace of flight? Beginners can foot-launch from the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. For more experienced fliers, state-of-the-art towing is available. Kids as young as 4 can fly, if they're able to follow basic instructions. This is the oldest hang gliding flight school on the East Coast, and it offers many other kinds of airborne adventures, including kiteboarding, parasailing, and flights in a reproduction 1902 Wright Brothers glider.
Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding, Rising Fawn, GA
Even if you don’t fly like the eagles at this hang gliding park, it’s a rush just to watch experienced pilots put on their harnesses and take a running leap off the side of Lookout Mountain. But if you're game, let the instructors teach you how to ride the thermals and fly with the passing birds; then descend and land in a beautiful valley below the launch site. Beginners can use the park’s grassy “bunny hills” for their initial flights.
Nice Sky Adventures, locations around Utah
Weather permitting, flights at Nice Sky Adventures run from sunrise to sunset, 7 days a week, from various high-altitude spots around the state. Both tandem hang gliding and paragliding are offered, so you can experience different kinds of non-powered flight while you enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Utah mountains. (Paragliders sail under a parachute-like canopy, while hang gliders use a lightweight frame with wings.) If you don't have a mountain handy, this school also sells a package that includes powered paragliding, or Paramotor, equipment and lessons. Nice Sky offers an optional photo and video package, if you want high-res photos and HD video clips to take home with you.
Morningside Flight Park, Charlestown, NH
See New England from the skies when you visit Morningside, a Kitty Hawk Kites Flight Park in New Hampshire. Sign up for a package of six 4-hour lessons covering the basics, and you’ll earn your H1 certification, which allows you to fly within the park without direct supervision. If you decide hang gliders aren’t for you, there are other sky-high choices here. Try a parachute ride, soar along a powered or non-powered zip line, or take a trip in an ultralight aircraft.
Mission Soaring Center, Tres Pinos, CA
The instructors at Mission Soaring Center, which has operated in Northern California for about 40 years, have a combined 200+ hours of flying and teaching hang gliding. Owner Pat Denevan helped develop the teaching standards for the USHPA (U.S. Hang Gliding and Paraglidng Association). Students train on gentle practice hills at Tres Pino, near Hollister, where the winds are reliable.
Wallaby Ranch, Orlando, FL
Malcolm Jones, the owner of Wallaby, has made over 30,000 incident-free tandem flights since founding this first and largest aero-tow hang gliding flight park in the world. Open every day of the year, the Ranch keeps a chef on staff to whip up gourmet breakfasts and lunches. Students from ages 4 to 90 have taken their first flights here, soaring in tandem 2,000 feet above the earth with an experienced instructor for about 15 minutes. Opt for lessons if your goal is flying solo.