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11 Magical Balloon Festivals in the United States

It’s time for loftier vacation goals.

There’s nothing like a hot air balloon festival to infuse everyday life with a touch of magic. Cobalt skies frame brightly hued balloons rising high above enthusiastic crowds watching daytime mass ascensions. At night, the fire underneath hot air balloons illuminates the landscape and dance like giant fireflies. Under ideal conditions, weather and pilot discretion may shape what activities actually take place in a given year, but balloon festivals also offer plenty of food options and entertainment for all ages. Whether you attend a free or ticketed festival, stay on the ground or spring for a balloon ride, each of these events has delighted visitors and provided great memories for more than 30 years.

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PHOTO: Eric Ward(CC BY-SA 2.0)/Flickr
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Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

WHERE: Albuquerque, New Mexico

At 47 years old, Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the nation’s (and the world’s) largest hot air balloon event. The nine-day celebration draws more than 500 hot air balloons manned by 600+ pilots from across the globe, with nearly a million onlookers. It’s the perfect way to celebrate this ‘Balloon Capital of the World.’ For the ultimate sunrise experience, walk amid multi-colored rippling balloons as they are filled before the first daily flight, or check out a mesmerizing balloon glow. During mass ascensions, balloons rise in a kaleidoscope of patchwork, patriotic, animal-shaped, and saguaro-balloon designs. After attending Fiesta, visitors can learn about the history of hot air ballooning at the adjacent Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum.

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PHOTO: Erin Reid Coker
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Adirondack Balloon Festival

WHERE: Queensbury, New York

The Adirondack Balloon Festival also launched 47 years ago. Deep green foliage and dusky mountain peaks provide the backdrop for this four-day event, which takes place each September. In addition to daily launches (near sunrise or sunset), a ‘Lighting Up the Night’ moon glow event transforms one weekend evening. The multifaceted festival includes daily musical performances, a car show, a fundraising craft fair, and ‘Big Balloon Breakfasts’ that are open to the public. You can also schedule a balloon ride of your own by directly contacting pilots listed on the festival web site too. Come for the magic but leave your dog, drone and smokes at home.

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PHOTO: David F. Clark, Jr.(CC BY-SA 2.0)/WikimediaCommons
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The Great Forest Park Balloon Race

WHERE: St. Louis, Missouri

The 46-year-old Great Forest Park Balloon Race is billed as the world’s oldest and best-attended free hot air balloon festival. Only concessions, souvenirs, and special activities have a price tag. Attendees may also bring their own food and beverages (no glass or barbecuing). Leashed pets are welcome too. Held every September since 1973, this two-day event also showcases musical talent and expert skydivers. Kids will love the children’s area too. Check out the Friday night balloon glow and then return for the signature race, on Saturday afternoon, to fully appreciate this balloon-focused weekend.

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PHOTO: arthurgphotography/Shutterstock
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All Ohio Balloon Fest

WHERE: Marysville, Ohio

More than 30,000 visitors attended the 44th All Ohio Balloon Fest, LLC at Union County Airport this year’s August event. Mass ascensions and balloon glows are daily highlights of this three-day event, and you can even float away during 6 a.m. launches, amid a wide variety of traditional and special-shaped balloons. More high-flying adventures await when you ride in a bi-plane helicopter. Nearly 20 food vendors serving everything from pizza and crepes to gyros and BBQ. In addition, recent concerts have featured 38 Special, Aaron Lewis, ZZ Top, and Clint Black. Lawn chairs are welcome but skip your cooler, cigarettes or pooch (except service dogs).

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PHOTO: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeff Walston
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Great Texas Balloon Race

WHERE: Longview, Texas

Beautiful and elegant, the three-day Great Texas Balloon Race (GTBR) has filled the sky with color each July, for 42 years. One two-year hiatus and several moves later, this iconic race is a Balloon Federation of America (BFA) event. In 2012-2015, GTBR hosted three additional days of competition flights during BFA’s United States National Championship competition too. Perhaps the most difficult and competitive balloon race is the “Ring Toss,” during which pilots must “steer” their balloons towards a 12-inch ring that sits atop a 20-foot pole. Kids may especially enjoy seeing balloons with special shapes, inflated early on the first morning. You can also kick back to live music in the evening.

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PHOTO: Kevin Stephenson(CC BY 2.0)/WikimediaCommons
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Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic

WHERE: Decatur, Alabama

The oldest hot air balloon race in the mid-South, the Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic has entertained balloon enthusiasts since 1978. Its continuous popularity even prompted the Alabama Legislature to christen Decatur the “Ballooning Capital of Alabama.” Held on Memorial Day weekend, the event draws dozens of pilots from 20 states who compete in their diversely decorated balloons, across two days. Terrific local, regional, and ‘feature’ musical performances, as well as comedy acts are also on the docket. Auto and arts and crafts shows provide additional entertainment; and no trip to this festival would be complete without the annual balloon glow and Fireworks Spectacular.

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PHOTO: Cathy Andersen
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Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off

WHERE: Colorado Springs, Colorado

A local classic, the Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off began in 1979. Today, the festival spans Labor Day weekend. From sunrise walks amid slowly inflating balloons, and daily 7 a.m. liftoffs, to spell-binding otherworldly balloon glows, this festival features more than 70 hot air balloons. Feeling adventurous? Ride in a balloon (additional fee) thanks to Rainbow Ryders Hot Air Balloon Ride Co. Each 45-60 minute balloon ride provides breathtaking views. A flight certificate and a celebratory toast cap off every ride. Coolers, lawn chairs, and blankets are welcome throughout this free event.

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PHOTO: Lane Griffin Valiente
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Teton Valley Balloon Rally

WHERE: Driggs, Idaho

In 2020 the Teton Valley Balloon Rally will celebrate four decades since its inaugural event on July 4th weekend. Held at the Teton County Fairgrounds, the four-day festival combines early morning balloon launches with gorgeous views of nearby mountain peaks. You can check out an inflated hot air balloon and ‘tether rides’ each day, once rally balloons have launched. For the ultimate Rally experience, book balloon flights on the event web site, beginning in February. The nonprofit Teton Valley Balloon Rally organization hosts this event. It also provides programming for elementary schools, plus an annual middle school or high school scholarship to a Balloon Federation of America Junior Balloonist Summer Camp.

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PHOTO: Bill Noe
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Red Rock Balloon Rally

WHERE: Gallup, New Mexico

Featuring 200 hot air balloons, the invitation-only Red Rock Balloon Rally is one of the nation’s largest. Visitors have flocked to this early winter spectacle for nearly 39 years. Scheduled each December, its daily mass ascensions fill brilliant blue skies with a man-made kaleidoscope of color, creating gorgeous views. Fox Run Golf Course and Red Rock Park are two balloon launch sites. You can also take in a Balloominaria balloon glow event at Rio West Mall. Exercise enthusiasts will enjoy the Pyramid Rock Run. You should also check out the bright lights and charm of the Christmas parade in downtown Gallup; both take place during the Rally.

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PHOTO: Cactus.man/WikimediaCommons
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Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival

WHERE: Winchester, California

The Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival has taken place in late May since 1983. Launches occur on weekend mornings when tethered balloon rides are also available. With advance reservations, you can take a sunrise hot air balloon flight too, amid the mass ascension of 40-50 other balloons. Or enjoy a balloon tether experience—where a hot air balloon anchored to the ground with ropes rises 50 to 75 feet, hovers briefly, then descends. Stunning balloon glows take place on Friday and Saturday evenings too. Sample delicious Southern California food and wines and reserve your spot for a Wine Tasting or a Wine and Food Pairing seminar.

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PHOTO: Stoweflake Balloon Festival
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Stoweflake Balloon Festival

WHERE: Woodstock, Vermont (Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa)

For 33 years, Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa has hosted the Stoweflake Balloon Festival in July, amid lush vegetation and gorgeous mountain peaks. Admission is free for Stoweflake guests. With breathtaking balloon launches as the centerpiece of this three-day event, you can also enjoy live entertainment while quaffing a beer or sipping wine alongside delicious food (no pets or coolers allowed). Kids love the children’s corner too. Become part of the balloon action when you step into a passenger basket for a tethered ride or reserve your space for a high-flying adventure as you soar above the resort in a hot air balloon.