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Have you ever been to a hot air balloon festival? I’ve got a thing for these magical aircrafts, which is kind of funny because not many people are more afraid of heights than I am. I try to visit at least one hot air balloon festival every summer, and this year I’m hoping to check out more than one. Because there are hundreds of hot air balloon festivals that I haven’t been to, this post is a collaboration between several bloggers coming together to share the best hot air balloon festivals in America.
Hot air balloon festivals make awesome destinations for families. If you’re an early bird (like me), you can wake at the crack of dawn for a sunrise launch. If you’re a night owl, check out the glowing balloons set up under the lights of a million stars. My favorite part about hot air balloon festivals is the way that each event highlights the unique natural environment where it’s held. No two hot air balloon festivals are alike, but they all feature beautiful, flying works of art, passionate pilots, and lovers of history, culture, and the outdoors.
Want to get in on the action? The following hot air balloon festivals are some of the coolest events in the United States.
America’s Best Hot Air Balloon Festivals
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Albuquerque, New Mexico: Early October
As far as hot air balloon festivals in the USA go, this is the big one. It’s a pilgrimage for balloon lovers from all over the world, who make the trip each October to experience one of the most amazing sites on earth. Hundreds of balloons, millions of people, and one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. What could be better? This is the largest international event in the United States and takes place over ten days. The field launch at Balloon Fiesta Park is 78 acres, and the events include morning laser shows and mass ascensions, fireworks, car shows, live music, and kids’ activities. If I only get to one hot air balloon festival in my lifetime, this is the one I hope to visit.
As Nina of the blog, Wheelingit, writes – “It’s a bucket list item folks, and it’s one EVERYONE should do at least once.” Read Nina’s first impressions of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, and you will simply not be able to resist heading out to New Mexico this fall. I’ve already started looking for cheap flights to Albuquerque. For specific event information, visit the official Balloon Fiesta website.
Teton Valley Balloon Rally
Driggs, Idaho: Early July
I can’t think of many places I’d rather be in July than the Tetons. This unique four-day balloon festival features hot air balloons, of course, but also a fiddling contest, an Independence Day parade, and public balloon rides. The jagged peaks of the Tetons make quite a backdrop for this spectacular festival. Lynna, of Art Meets Adventure, wrote about her ballooning adventures in the Tetons, back when the festival was known as the Teton Valley Summer Festival. The event has grown since then, but it’s still quite a magical experience.
Want to learn more? Check out the Teton Valley Balloon Rally website. Ready to make a plan? Find the best hotels in Driggs, Idaho on TripAdvisor.
Quick Chek Festival of Ballooning
Readington, New Jersey: Late July
Designated as one of the top 100 festivals in North America, the Quick Chek Festival of Ballooning has been taking to the skies for the past 35 years. This is the biggest event of the year in New Jersey, with more than 100 balloons, big-name entertainment, craft and food vendors, fireworks, and more. Quick Chek attracts more than 165,000 visitors annually, so if you think this might be the hot air balloon festival for you, be sure to get your tickets early.
The Jersey Momma covers everything you need to know about Quick Chek in an awesome write-up, including where to park, what to see, where to eat, and how to maneuver through the throngs of cars and people. The Quick Chek festival would definitely be my top choice for an east coast balloon festival.
National Balloon Classic
Indianola, Iowa: Late July or Early August
The National Balloon Classic has been around over 40 years and takes place over nine spectacular days. This is one of the largest and longest-running hot air balloon festivals in the Midwest. More than 100 balloons paint the sky with their vibrant shapes and colors, and the National Balloon Classic also features pilot competitions, an off-road 5K, skydiving demonstrations, dawn patrols, and night glow extravaganzas. Live music and incredible vendors keep things lively, and the nearby Warren County Fair takes place during the same time period.
For a great overview of the National Balloon Classic along with some stunning photographs, check out Lighter than Air on Misc.eleni.ous.
Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off
Colorado Springs, Colorado: Late August – Early September
Need another excuse to celebrate Labor Day? Head to Colorado Springs for the Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Compared to some of the other festivals on this list, the Colorado hot air balloon festival is on the small side, but it is one of the longest-running festivals in the area. The unique draw here is the scenery — the rugged Rocky Mountains are a fabulous backdrop for the 70+ balloons, plus you can beat the heat in gorgeous Prospect Lake, where you’ll find wakeboarding exhibitions and paddleboarding.
Want to wake up early for the beautiful mass ascension in the mountains? Read Anna’s post on Come Join My Journey, and be sure to explore the city while you’re in the area. Find the best Colorado Springs hotel deals, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.
The Great Reno Balloon Race
Reno, Nevada: Early September
This entirely free hot air ballooning event is the largest free hot air balloon festival in the United States. More than 100 balloons compete each year, and each Great Reno Balloon Race attracts more than 140,000 visitors. Highlights include the Balloon Blackjack competition, 5 a.m. glow shows, tethered rides, and a launch of more than 2,000 tissue-paper balloon models. The Balloon Race has won several awards over the years including ‘Best Special Event in Reno’ and ‘Best Special Event in Northern Nevada.’
Rita’s World has a great write-up about the Great Reno Balloon Race, plus some amazing photos of the balloons brightening up a day in the desert.
Havasu Balloon Festival and Fair
Lake Havasu City, AZ: Mid January
I may be biased because Lake Havasu is my dad’s home base, but the Havasu Balloon Festival and Fair is one of my favorites. It takes place in January, which is just when I’m feeling done with winter in the Northeast, and you can’t beat the backdrop of the rugged Arizona peaks reflecting on gorgeous Lake Havasu.
The festival takes place over the weekend, and there are two mass ascensions each day. The early morning ascension is my favorite, and many people take their kayaks or boats out to watch the balloons from the lake. One the balloons are up for the day, the fair begins, with live music, carnival rides, vendors, and performers. There is a night glow each evening when all the balloons light up the sky. You can read more about visiting Lake Havasu City here. For more about this year’s hot air balloon festival, check out the official Havasu Balloon Festival website.
These may be the best hot air balloon festivals across America, but there are hundreds more. If you want to beat the crowds and check out some smaller events, you can find more on HotAirBalloon.com.
Have you ever been to a hot air balloon festival? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments. In the meantime, check out these inspiring books (click on the photo for more info):