Want to take a ride in a hot air balloon? If this is an adventure on your bucket list, make 2018 the year you fly sky high. Here’s a roundup of some of the best U.S. hot air balloon festivals. Plus essential tips for attending to make the most of your flight through the clouds.
Hot Air Balloons: A Love Story
If you’re like me, you fell in love with the idea of taking a hot air balloon ride after watching The Wizard of Oz. I spent many childhood hours dreaming about ascending into the sky, passing through some kind of time/space doorway and arriving in a technicolor fantasy land where lions talk and wizards grant wishes.
And the desire to attend a hot air balloon festival grew stronger as I got older, thanks to Pinterest. If you haven’t done it already, search “hot air balloons” on the site. Scroll through pin after pin of colorful balloons drifting over dreamy landscapes. Imagine yourself sipping a mimosa at sunrise as you sail with your family, hundreds of feet above the world.
The images of the balloons in Cappadocia, Turkey are particularly drool-worthy.
What’s the Best Hot Air Balloon Festival?
It’s highly unlikely that my money or time budgets will accommodate my Turkish balloon fantasy.
However, there are a number of hot air balloon festivals in the U.S., including the large and famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico. Big isn’t necessarily best, though. There are a number of small and wonderful hot air balloon festivals in the U.S., held in the spring, fall and summer. Here’s info about 6 of the most amazing ones.
Great U.S. Hot Air Balloon Festivals for Families
- Great Texas Balloon Race – End of July, Longview, Texas
- Stoweflake Balloon Festival – Beginning of July, Stoweflake, VT
- Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival – Labor Day Weekend, Callaway Gardens, GA
- Owl-O-Ween – Late October, Kennesaw, GA
- Battle Creek Field of Flight – 4th of July, Battle Creek, MI
- Snowmass Balloon Festival – Early September, Snowmass, CO
Gathering information from the pros is important because attending a hot air balloon festival can be expensive and requires advance planning for a successful dream come true. So, in addition to festival information, I’ve included tips to help you make the most of this bucket list adventure. And make sure you come ready to snap. A balloon festival is a wonderful place to practice your photography!
Great Texas Balloon Race
Celebrating its 41st anniversary in 2018, the Great Texas Balloon Race is an annual tradition in East Texas, according to Bonding TravelingMom Breeze Leonard: “My hometown has a hot air balloon race every year. For a few days you can see hot air balloons in the sky all over town. On Friday night they do a balloon glow. All the hot air balloons are set up after dark and glow while on the ground. It’s awesome and the kids love it. One year I helped as part of a crew and was able to go up in one!”
One of my concerns about attending a hot air balloon festival is the age/height restriction for flying. Families traveling to one with small children may not be able to fly in a balloon, but experiences like the balloon glow can make the event fun for everyone.
Stoweflake Balloon Festival
Many of the U.S. balloon festivals are large, carnival-like events. For example, the Albuquerque fiesta draws over 750,000 visitors! If you’d like one that’s more intimate, check out the Stoweflake Balloon Festival, where the emphasis is on the balloons.
According to a rep for the event, the appeal of Stoweflake is its size and location. There are 2 sunrise and 2 sunset launches and plenty of time in between to explore the small New England town of Stowe, Vermont, including a farmer’s market, hiking and the Stowe 8-Miler Race. This serene atmosphere may appeal more to families with young children or multi-generational groups. I know my parents and adult kids would love to chase their balloon ride with a brewery tour.
Atlanta Area Balloon Festivals: Callaway Gardens vs. Owl-o-Ween
Going for the day or overnighting? That’s an important consideration for families planning to attend a hot air balloon festival. If you go for more than one day, weather might be less of a factor. However, the trip will be more expensive and require a longer lead time.
For example, Atlanta has two popular area balloon festivals, attended by Long Weekend TravelingMom Kendra Pierson.
She warned that the Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival is at Callaway Gardens, which is a small town with few, if any, lodging options besides the host resort. Getting to early morning launches will involve a 30+ minute drive.
In contrast, Kendra thinks that metro Atlanta’s Owl-O-Ween is a great and easy balloon fest for families. “It’s a very family friendly event where you can walk up close to see the balloons all day with music, a kids play area and food onsite. Tickets are affordable ($19 for adults).”
The tethered balloon rides featured at Owl-O-Ween are perfect for acrophobics and children, but may be disappointing for people expecting a full sky ride.
Battle Creek Field of Flight
Deb Steenhagen, TravelingMom with Daughters, recommends the Battle Creek Field of Flight. It’s one of the larger, country-fair style gatherings with tons of scheduled activities, including the Great Lakes Timber Show, a motorcycle stunt team, car racing and live music. She has fond memories of watching the balloon flights with her friends and would love a return visit with her kids.
Held during the 4th of July holiday, the event also features 2 fireworks shows, preceded by Balloon Illume, a popular feature of the event. Colorful hot air balloons are inflated and illuminated. I can only imagine how much fun it must be for kids to watch the balloons come alive!
And speaking of kids, I always find carnivals and fairs to become very expensive once you start digging into your pocket for game and treat money. The organizers of Battle Creek understand and include a free admission day with discounted parking and free games too.
Snowmass Balloon Festival
Ski resorts are wonderful destinations in winter, but they’re super in summer too. One of my favorites is Snowmass, Colorado. Why? They offer a wide range of activities for families to enjoy during warm weather months, including a rodeo, free concerts and the annual Snowmass Balloon Festival.
Held in early September, the Snowmass Balloon Festival is a popular regional event. Families gather in the pre-dawn, huddle under blankets and watch as the balloons come to life on the field. You can wander around and chat with the crew to find out what it’s like to be a hot air balloon pilot. It’s amazing to watch the scheduled balloon races – see how many balloons you can snap in one photo with the Colorado mountains in the background! The highlight of the festival is the Saturday night Glow Show featuring illuminated balloons and live music. The night glow of the balloons is an unforgettable sight.
What if it Rains during a Hot Air Balloon Festival?
When making plans to attend a hot air balloon festival, the one thing you can’t control is the weather. And, unfortunately, that can make or break the event. Exploring Experiences TravelingMom Jennifer Auer had a very disappointing experience at a balloon festival when the balloons were grounded because of weather. Admission fees for her family were non-refundable and ancillary activities like pony rides charged additional fees. She described it as “attending a health fair in the rain.”
Rain, fog and wind are all factors that may impact your hot air balloon festival experience. I asked the Stoweflake rep how their resort copes. The event has a designated Balloonmeister and weather and safety officers who monitor conditions. Even in bad weather, pockets of sunshine may open up, permitting launches.
It’s important to manage your expectations, in case weather grounds balloon flights. And, before committing to an event, make sure there are plenty of other activities to keep your family entertained.
The Cost of a Balloon Experience – Priceless?
Taking a hot air balloon ride is not cheap. Morning launches during my local festival, the Hudson Valley Hot-Air Balloon Festival, cost $250 per person!
Is it worth it?
A resounding “YES!” said TravelingMom Editor-in-Chief Cindy Richards. Riding in a a hot air balloon “…is beyond compare. Floating along with no noise (until they fire up the flames to heat the air in the balloon) really was magical.”
To justify the expense, Cindy told me about her in-laws who attended the Albuquerque festival 12 years ago. Her father-in-law, who grew up during the Depression, refused to pay the high price for a balloon ride. He talked about passing up the chance to fly until he died last year. “Not spending the money was one of his big regrets in life,” according to Cindy. Her advice? “If you’re going to a festival, budget the money to ride in one of the balloons. It’s worth the cost. Really.”
If you’re still swooning thinking about the price, I’ve got a secret for you…it’s possible to get a hot air balloon ride for FREE! Here’s how to score a free ride at the Snowmass Balloon Festival.
Miscellaneous Tips for Attending a Hot Air Balloon Festival
I asked Nancy Lutz, the Dutchess County Tourism Communications Director, for some general tips for attending the Hudson Valley Hot-Air Balloon Festival and I think they’re important general guidelines.
- Leave the flip flops at home and wear closed toe, comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking and, in the balloons, it’s one of the standard safety rules.
- Before loading Fido into the car, check to see if dogs are permitted at the event. Most festivals restrict admission to service animals only.
- Bring cash. Although debit cards are convenient, many festival tethered balloon rides are cash only.
All in the Family at a Hot Air Balloon Festival
I’m a huge fan of multigenerational trips and it’s a growing travel trend. Attending a balloon festival would be an experience both my kids and parents would enjoy. The rep for Stoweflake agrees. The Stoweflake resort itself is family operated for 54 years so the owners love to see their guests create a lasting tradition of returning to the event year after year. She says, “Hot air balloons leave a huge impression on younger children as the field gets lit up with bold colors and float to the sky. We’re certainly in awe of it every year and we’re going onto our 31st annual event. If our guests can leave with photos and smiles, we’re happy.”
Photos and smiles. That’s what a family vacation is all about.
Do you want to ride in a hot air balloon? Why or why not?