Where are the best hang gliding destinations in the US?
Where's the best place for a novice to learn? How do I select an outfitter?
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
Think you’re ready to be a flyboy—or girl? Here are a few top destinations for hang gliding and paragliding:
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
The site of the Wright brothers’ experiments with the Flyer, this Outer Bank spot is synonymous with the history of flight. “It’s an amazing thing to be able to walk up the dunes as the brothers did and leap off, exploring flight as a pioneer,” says Nick Greece, U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association Magazine editor and U.S. team pilot.
Lookout Mountain, Tennessee
Mild weather conditions and the opportunity for both tow-assist take offs (where pilots are pulled into the air) and mountain launches prime this town for the sport. Located between Chattanooga and the Georgia border, the area also boasts a thriving local pilot community and the 44-acre Lookout Mountain Flight Park.
La Jolla, California
Golfers don’t have a corner on the recreational market in La Jolla, which is a top spot for coastal soaring just north of San Diego. Tandem or solo flights from Torrey Pines Gliderport offer picturesque views of Black’s Beach cliffs.
Salt Lake City, Utah
This town is considered the free-flight Mecca of the Mountain West with a quorum of top flying schools and adventure flight outfitters, including Birdman Academy Hang Gliding and Nice Sky Adventures to name two.
Tips on Choosing an Outfitter
Before your Icarus tendencies fly away with you, ensure your selected outfitter or school is in good standing with the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. Schools should have a solid number of students each year, be a professional rather than hobby operation, and have relatively new equipment. If the USHPA has signed off, you’re sure to know they have proper gear and training.
If you’re trying the sports for the first time, you’re likely to fly in tandem. Before you plan to spend hours in the harness with a relative stranger, albeit likely a friendly one, keep this in mind. “Less is often more, in all honesty, when it comes to a first flight,” Greece says. If soaring on thermal updrafts or gliding cross-country has you angling for a pilot’s license, Greece recommends Santa Barbara, California, which has some of the best training facilities in the world.