Robb Recommends: The eight best summer vacation spots for private pilots

Got a pilot’s license and wanderlust? These eight fly-ins show the diversity of vacations for private aviators. Oh, your plane will be well-looked after, too

Pilots have the ultimate hall pass: They can roam freely around the country, with access to thousands of destinations—including 5,000 small airfields—that might otherwise be complex exercises in travel by car or commercial airline.

All too many, however, use their airplanes to fly for “the hundred-dollar hamburger,” with no particular mission other than to grab a bite at some random airport’s restaurant a few hundred miles away. These quick-hit visits have their charms, but the aircraft’s passengers may wonder what vistas lay beyond the tarmac.

These days, destination flying has become de rigueur (especially post-pandemic), supported by the growth of rental properties and hotel concepts that cater specifically to aviators. The luxury fly-in destination marries aircraft ownership to curated properties designed for pilots, their passengers. and, just as importantly, their planes. Modern barnstorming is now much more unencumbered.

The choices range from lodges near gravel runways in the backcountry to the elevated amenities of golf and spa resorts that offer accommodations for the airplane. There’s even an Airbnb-style service that matches pilots with homes on or near runways.

Here are eight pilot-friendly destinations that will make great summer visits.

Vintner’s Resort tops the list of vineyard estates situated among the wizened redwoods and elegant gardens. Photo by Getty Images

Fly into Charles M. Schultz Airport (yes, the creator of Charlie Brown’s “Peanuts”) and stay in any number of accommodation types. Vintner’s Resort certainly tops the list of vineyard estates situated among the wizened redwoods and elegant gardens. Farm-to-table restaurant John Ash & Co. serves regional cuisine with painterly views of the landscape. Eat, drink, and be merry, but don’t miss indulging in the spa or a game of bocce. Pets are welcome, too, and can explore the grapevines and flora on the acres of walking trails.

The Russian River Valley is synonymous for fine wines, so visiting local vintners is a must. Tastings can be scheduled with the resort, or if you choose to venture on your own, five sub-regions produce wines with unique attributes only found in that section of the valley. Recognised for Pinot Noir, the region is also rich with varietals and single-designate vineyards.

Travel by a horse-drawn carriage after arriving at the airport. Photo by Getty Images

Travel back in time to this island in Northern Michigan that requires a ferry, boat, or plane to access. No motor vehicles are allowed. Upon arrival at the airport, traveling by horse-drawn carriage is a favoured means of transport, with a chance to take in the lush, unspoiled surroundings. Mackinac Island State Park encompasses more than 80 per cent of the island, featuring massive rock formations, botanical trails, and historic sites. The Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse has stood since 1889.

For accommodations, the Grand Hotel is not only aptly named but offers exceptional hospitality and some of the best island views. A grande dame of tastefully preserved architecture, this National Historic Landmark (1887) is steeped in charming traditions such as Afternoon Tea in the Parlor. The massive Victorian structure is richly styled, with multiple options for rooms, cottages, and suites. The hotel’s ongoing, eclectic traditions range from a live orchestra to the world’s longest porch with a view of the Mackinac Straits.

The approach into Heaven’s Landing will showcase the surrounding mountain serenity set around Lake Burton, Lake Rabun, the Chattooga and Tallulah rivers. Photo by Getty Images

Though technically an airport community with a 1,585-metre-long paved runway and full service FBO, flyers can land here to access nearby Rabun County. The approach into Heaven’s Landing will showcase the surrounding mountain serenity set around Lake Burton, Lake Rabun, the Chattooga and Tallulah rivers. Fishing, rafting, paddleboarding, and other water sports are abound, and there is access to two public golf courses. The largest forests have trails (running from easy to advanced) that can be accessed by foot or on horseback. The accommodations are mostly cozy lodges and wood-hewn cottages apropos of the mountain serenity. Rentals can be arranged through the Heaven’s Landing site while the airplane is accommodated at the FBO.

Lajitas Golf Resort, the top course in Texas

Golfers and pilots alike can rejoice: Lajitas is ranked as the top course in Texas by Golfweek and best public course by the Dallas Morning News. Located in the Big Bend national park area of Texas on the Rio Grande, Lajitas is the ultimate fly-in resort.

The resort’s 1,981-metre runway is in the center of the sage-hued, 10,926-hectare property. If you aren’t a golfer, no problem. You can ride into the desert by horseback from the equestrian center, or do some shooting at the range—which includes a cowboy action shoot. There’s even a zipline across Quiet Canyon. The Agave Spa will refresh the senses, and the options for on-property dining include the famed Thirsty Goat Saloon.

The variety of accommodations include Western-chic rooms, suites and larger cottages in the grounds. Your airplane will be equally well-treated by the full-service FBO, which offers shade hangars and tiedowns, as well as transportation to the main hotel.

Hilton Head Island Airport and the best of South Carolina. Photo by Getty Images

Hilton Head evokes the best of South Carolina hospitality and the bliss of salt-tinged ocean air. The area’s airport provides services for your airplane within proximity to several resorts. The Westin Hilton Head Resort and Spa offers direct access to the Atlantic. The accommodations have open floor plans with balconies and, being pet-friendly, cozy beds for your canine co-traveller can be arranged.

Tsuniah Lake Lodge, a remote and magical retreat. Photo by Getty Images

Two hundred miles from Vancouver city, deep in the Canadian wilderness, is a magical retreat. Tsuniah Lake Lodge is so remote, in fact, that visitors by private plane will be forced to go without phone or television—a small price to pay for the natural tranquility in the open country. Ten cabins sit among the pine forests, adjacent to the eponymous lake and in the shadow of mountains. Hailed as a “fly-fisherman’s paradise”, there’s no shortage of water-based activities, mountain biking or hiking. The lodge even has horses for trail-riding.

The lodge has a 1,219-metre turf runway or you can tie up your floatplane at the docks. Either way, if you really, truly want to get away from civilisation, this remote destination is worth the backcountry flight.

Hangar Hotel adopts an adult-only and pet-free policy. Photo by Getty Images

Set between Austin and San Antonio, this 1940’s boutique property in Fredericksburg was designed for those seduced by the vintage era of aviation. From the exterior, one appears to be entering a WWII-era airplane hangar. The classic theme sweeps guests even farther back to the early renaissance of aviation, when flying the airlines was a niche way to travel. Adopting an adults-only and pet-free policy, the hotel has 50 rooms, which feature custom furnishings, art, and memorabilia that advance the vintage aviator vibe. The property is adjacent to the runway and features an observation deck to check out the assortment of airplanes at this nostalgic gem. The onsite bar, appropriately called the Officer’s Club, will cool your jets after your arrival, setting the stage to relax and step back in time (albeit temporarily) to the original cool-kid era of flying. If you want to explore the area, check out the hiking trails in nearby Rock State Park (upper left image) or the wildflowers in Lyndon B. Johnson State Park (upper right).

Fly-Inn.com allows private-property owners to list runway-accessible homes for short-term rentals

Carollyne B. Carmichel, a pilot’s wife with wanderlust, had grown weary of the burger runs that typically involved an hour-long flight, lunch at a small airport and then returning home without seeing anything. So, she and Kenya Hodson created Fly-Inn.com, which lets private-property owners list their runway-accessible homes for short-term rentals. Think Airbnb for pilots.

The list is growing, with the requirements that all properties offer proximity to a runway and a means to secure the aircraft, as well as ground transportation for the stay. Given the diversity of the offerings, this website could make a good way to plan destinations that are not fly-ins. Homes range from a tropical retreat in the Florida Keys to cabins in the Alaska backcountry.

This story was first published on Robb Report USA