Fall, from above

Take to the skies to experience autumn, with an adrenaline rush

Northern Illinois is full of stunning views. Whether it’s rolling prairies, sandy beaches or fall foliage, there’s no shortage of stunning sights. The best way to enjoy all those gorgeous views? From above. There’s a plethora of ways that you can take to the sky and experience the region from a whole new perspective. Here are a few ways to check out Northern Illinois from way up above.

Jumping out of a plane is a bucket list item that few people ever get to check off. Ready to take the plunge? Skydive Chicago in Ottawa offers experiences for new and experienced skydivers. Rookies can do a tandem jump with an experienced instructor. It’s not for the faint of heart -- the jump includes a 60 second freefall from 13,000 feet, hitting speeds of up to 120 miles per hour.

It’s a heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping experience, but don’t worry: After you release the parachute, you’ll have plenty of time to take in the views as you spend five to seven minutes drifting toward the ground. Tandem jumps start at $209 a person with reservations and requires a $50 non-refundable down payment. If you’re feeling extra brave (or want more time to enjoy the scenery), you can opt for a 20,000 foot jump, the highest in the Midwest.

• Skydive Chicago
3215 E 1969th Rd.
Ottawa, IL
(815) 433-0000

If you’re looking for a unique high-flying experience, look no further than paragliding. The competitive and recreational sport involves soaring through the air while attached to a lightweight fabric wing, similar to a parachute.Think parasailing minus the boat. The result is an exhilarating flight through the air, pulled along by the wind.

Chicago Paragliding provides both tandem rides and lessons for those that want to train to become a paragliding pilot. The company has given more than 400 tandem flights. These flights are steered by a trained pilot and last about 30 minutes for $150 per person. Longer flights cost an extra $50 and pictures and videos are available for $50.

• Chicago Paragliding
34001 E 2000 North Rd.
Cullom, IL

Hot Air Balloon
A hot air balloon is an unforgettable experience for a birthday, proposal or just for fun. Take a ride with Nostalgia Ballooning in Hampshire for breathtaking views of the rural and urban terrain. The company is located 25 miles west of Schaumburg and offers both private and shared flights. Private flights can accommodate up to five people.

The ride lasts for about an hour and reaches heights of around 2,000 feet. Flights take off at sunrise and sunset, so you can soak in the stunning effects of the changing light on the landscape. Upon landing, guests will enjoy a glass of champagne to cap off the ride. Flights go up seven days a week. Weekday shared flights start at $195 and and an any day voucher for a shared flight is $249. Private rides are $499 per person.

• Nostalgia Ballooning
12020 US Highway 20
Hampshire, IL
(773) 766-6773

You’ve probably seen some nice views of the Chicago skyline. But it’s a completely different perspective from high up in the air. One unique way to do this is with a helicopter ride. Chicago Helicopter Experience offers both private and group helicopter tours with unparalleled views of the city.

"Chicago Helicopter Experience is the best way to get some alone time with one of the most beautiful skylines in the world,” says CEO Trevor Heffernan. “In a city of millions, there is something breathtaking about being above it all and seeing a side of the Chicago unavailable anywhere else.”

Tours fly out over Lake Michigan, head north to Wrigley Field, and soar south past the Willis Tower, Millennium Park, Navy Pier and more. Guests can choose from a variety of tours, including daytime, nighttime, sunset, and fireworks. Private tours start at $250 a person, and group tours range from $148 to $178 per person. The company also offers charters to locations as close to O’Hare and as far as Milwaukee.

• Chicago Helicopter Experience
2420 S Halsted St.
Chicago, IL
(312) 967-8687

For those looking for a sky-high thrill, but want to stay a little closer to earth, ziplining offers the best of both worlds. Go Ape operates a zipline course in Western Springs where visitors can soar through the forest canopy for an exciting treetop adventure. The course covers seven acres through Bemis Woods, a quiet and scenic forest preserve.

Your experience lasts two to three hours as you zip across five different lines, navigate 39 crossings, tackle suspended obstacles and soar on a Tarzan-style swing. The highest platform is 42 feet high, but the entire system offers stunning views of the surrounding natural area. There’s also a shorter junior course for young zipliners. Tickets for the full course are $38 for children and $58 for ages 16 and up.

• Go Ape
1100 Ogden Ave.
Western Springs, IL
(800) 971-8271

Get a feel for flight at iFLY
The idea of jumping out of a plane can elicit a range of emotions: fear, excitement, anxiety and more. But now there's a way to experience the thrill of skydiving without facing the fall.

iFLY is an indoor skydiving facility with multiple locations in the Chicago area. Indoor skydiving simulates a freefall, similar to actual skydiving without the plane or parachute. It’s a thrilling experience that allows participants to get a taste of skydiving without the fear factor.

“It’s something that's completely unique but definitely comparable to skydiving,” says Stephanie Twardak Operations Manager at iFLY Chicago-Naperville “You don’t have to jump off anything, so if you have a fear of heights this is something you can do. The whole family can do it together and everybody can enjoy it.”

Participants enter a vertical wind tunnel that allows them to experience the sensations of flying through the air. The wind tunnel uses fans to speed up and compress air to create a flight chamber. The result is a smooth column of air that allows participants to float. Even first-time flyer can do tricks such as turns and flips if they feel comfortable. Each flight lasts about 60 seconds.

All first-time flyers must take a training class with a certified flight instructor, where they learn proper body positions and hand signals for flying. Next, participants don a flight suit, helmet and goggles. Once you step inside the chamber, an instructor will be there with you to help you get into the right position to fly.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s easy your first time,” says Twardak. “It’s not particularly challenging, but it’s definitely a physical activity. Your body’s working against 100 miles per hour wind speeds. But you’re having so much fun when you’re in there it doesn’t feel like a workout.”

One of the major appeals of indoor skydiving is that it’s appropriate for all age and ability levels. People as young as three and as old as 103 have all entered the wind tunnel at iFLY. They also host an “all abilities” night where instructors cater the experience to participants with a wide range of physical and cognitive disabilities.

Indoor skydiving can also be an effective way for amateur skydivers to hone their skills. These wind tunnels give rookies a consistent and safe way to practice. iFLY instructors can teach new techniques and present in-flight challenges to complete. Coaching sessions come with a post-flight debrief to review progress and get constructive feedback.

There are three Chicago iFLY locations: Naperville, Rosemont and Lincoln Park. A basic first-time flyer package starts at $59.95. There are also family packages for up to five people and party packages available for up to 12 people. For more information, visit iflyworld.com