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Have you ever been to a hot air balloon festival? There are hundreds of them across the United States, and no matter where you live, there’s a good chance that there’s a hot air balloon festival near you. The main attraction, of course, are the giant colorful balloons rising into the sky, but hot air balloon festivals usually feature their own eclectic mix of local highlights, from live music and carnival-style booths, to arts and crafts and food trucks.
I’ve got a thing for hot air balloon festivals, which is kind of funny because not many people are more afraid of heights than I am. I become mesmerized by the site of hundreds of balloons across a magical landscape, but I have never actually been up in a hot air balloon. Please don’t hold that against me – 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: The Largest Hot Air Balloon Festival in America
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?
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 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.
Where to Stay for the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque: If you’re looking for a unique Albuquerque property while in town for the Balloon Fiesta, check out Nativo Lodge. Not only is it conveniently located near Balloon Fiesta Park and other Albuquerque attractions, it was also named the “Artsiest Hotel in the USA for 2018.” The rooms feature art from local Native American artists and there is an indoor outdoor pool for families to enjoy.
Teton Valley Balloon Rally: A Four-Day Balloon Festival Against a Stunning Backdrop
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.
Where to Stay for the Teton Valley Balloon Rally: There aren’t a lot of choices for lodging in Driggs, but we recommend Teton Valley Cabins. They are dog friendly, include outdoor hot tubs, and are close to hiking, fishing and other outdoor adventures.
Quick Chek Festival of Ballooning: New Jersey’s Largest Festival
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.
Where to Stay for Quick : If you are traveling to the Quick Chek Festival with your family, check out the new Towneplace Suites Bridgewater Branchburg, which is run by Marriott and just a few miles from Quick Chek. Every room is suite-style so you’ve got space to spread out. There’s a full kitchen or a kitchenette in each room, plus the hotel offers free breakfast in the lobby.
National Balloon Classic: A Midwestern Icon for More than 40 Years
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.
Where to Stay for the National Balloon Classic: Country Inn & Suites is located right in Indianola and just 18 miles from Des Moines. Be sure to visit the National Balloon Museum while you’re in town!
Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off: 70+ Balloons in the Rocky Mountains
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.
Where to Stay for Labor Day Lift Off in Colorado Springs: Traveling with kiddos? Head to Great Wolfe Lodge in Colorado Springs, with its indoor water park, mini golf, game room, and family-friendly restaurant. It’s sure to make your balloon festival weekend a huge success.
The Great Reno Balloon Race: A Free Hot Air Balloon Festival in the Southwest
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.’
Lita’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.
Where to Stay for the Great Reno Balloon Race: The Great Reno Balloon Race is on the outskirts of town at San Rafael Regional Park. Staying downtown will put you about 10 minutes from the park by car. There are numerous lodging opportunities, but Circus Circus is a family-friendly hotel and casino with live entertainment and a tasty restaurant, and the prices are incredibly affordable.
Havasu Balloon Festival and Fair: The Best Hot Air Balloon Festival in Arizona
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.
Where to Stay for the Havasu Balloon Festival: You can’t beat the views at the Nautical Beachfront Resort on Lake Havasu, which features a pool, kitchenettes in each room, a golf course, and activities for kids.
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):
Planning a fabulous hot air baloon festival road trip? Here are some posts for staying sane and having fun while on the road!
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