There are few sights as awe-inspiring and confounding as thousands of baskets being lifted hundreds of feet into the air by fire and colossal, brightly colored balloons. This vision is so enthralling that millions of spectators flock to hot air balloon festivals across the United States each year to marvel at this man made wonder.
For those that are up for rising before the sun, otherworldly “glow shows” can be enjoyed, which consist of pilots filling their balloons with the heat and light of massive burners before dawn. And, if you’re brave enough to say yes to the full magic of a hot air balloon, many festivals provide opportunities to go for a ride. If you’re ready to go on a journey that will awaken a giddy sense of fascination, check out one or more of these top-notch hot air balloon festivals.
A vibrant tapestry of balloons highlights the astonishing natural beauty of New Mexico’s high-desert landscape during the internationally renowned Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. As one of the largest balloon celebrations in the world, this gathering features over 500 balloons, laser shows, live music, endless activities for children, and of course, millions of visitors.
Because there’s so much to do at this ten-day event, it’s recommended that you make a full vacation out of it and attend the festival over the span of a few days. Be sure to mix in other sightseeing excursions in and around Albuquerque, such as Petroglyph National Monument or La Luz Trail, as fall is believed by many to be the most visually stunning season in New Mexico.
A huge perk of the colorful and spirited Great Reno Balloon Race is that it’s completely free. Throughout the three day event, festival-goers at the San Rafael Regional Park can enjoy the sight up to 100 balloons levitating above the Reno skyline, take their best guess as to which balloons will win the several competitions that make up the “race,” witness the majesty of a 5 a.m. glow show, get a taste of the thrills with a tethered ride, and watch over 2,000 tissue-paper balloon models float into the clouds. If you’re willing to set that alarm clock for an unreasonably early hour, you can check out the dawn patrol ascent, which consists of the world’s best pilots setting off in the dark, a feat that is exceptionally difficult and only doable by a very small number of experts.
After the balloons have disappeared into the horizon, visitors can enjoy the family-friendly activities, farm to table restaurants, and a riverside stroll in Reno’s newly gentrified downtown district. Two musts include the popular children’s museum, The Discovery, and Liberty Food & Wine Exchange.
There is no better way to celebrate Independence Day than in the picturesque setting of Teton Valley, replete with a vast blue sky speckled with balloons featuring every color of the rainbow. During the four-day Teton Valley Balloon Rally, guests can attend a classic down-home parade, dance along to the tunes of a fiddling contest, and take in the jagged peaks, glistening green fields, and glassy waters of the area while floating above it all during a balloon ride. For those wanting to immerse themselves in a pioneer-esque, all-American experience, this festival is for you.
An intimate festival that allows you to beat the heat that runs rampant this time of year, the Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off is a unique way to celebrate this holiday weekend. With the towering backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, over seventy balloons make an early morning ascent into the clear skies above Prospect Lake, creating a masterpiece of reflections across the water’s surface.
After you’ve bid farewell to the floating armada, turn your attention to the wakeboarding and paddle boarding opportunities in the lake’s refreshing water. If you would like to commune with nature through the entirety of this weekend, post up in one of the nearby campgrounds.
The full-on Havasu Balloon Festival and Fair makes the most out of its surroundings, and provides enough action to entertain visitors from dawn till dusk. The first ascension, which many enjoy while floating on the lake’s gentle surface, takes place in the early morning, and is immediately followed by a full day of carnival rides, music, and all the mouth-watering foods you would expect at such a celebration. When you’re ready to wind down, meditate on the luminous sight of the night glow as the balloons take off to mingle with the stars.
A festival that has been around for almost half a century, the National Balloon Classic stretches over nine days, while painting the blank canvas of the Iowa sky with an eclectic and massive fleet of balloons. And, the jaw-dropping sights don’t end after the balloons drift away, as skydiving shows, pilot competitions, and night glows follow the ascent. The mix of spectacles in the sky, live music and entertaining vendors is the perfect recipe for a non-stop party.
Shake up your Memorial Day weekend by traveling to South Carolina to check out four day’s worth of competitions between hundreds of balloons, amusement rides, corn dogs and funnel cakes galore, a popular Kidzone, and a vintage car show. Live music is also a big draw of Freedom Weekend Aloft, with past performances by Trace Adkins, David Lee Roth, and The Doobie Brothers. In addition, you can check out the Frisbee Dog contest, before seeing an extravagance of fireworks fill the sky. To top off the goodness, this event raises money for local and regional charities.