Hot air balloons may not be a viable means of transportation these days but it doesn’t mean they are not still enjoyed by their owners and spectators alike. Watching dozens of balloons fill the sky with their bright colors is a spectacle to behold, and there are festivals held right here in the U.S. where they can be observed in all their magnificent glory.
Attaching oneself to balloons to escape the mundane earth has a long history. On November 21, 1783, in Paris, France, Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent d’Alandes became the first people to ever defy gravity. In a structure built by the Montgolfier brothers, the pilots slowly lifted off as the huge bag above them filled with heat from the fire below. It was the first manned balloon ride in history and was considered a major technological breakthrough.
The first U.S. balloon flight wasn’t until 10 years later by French aeronaut, Jean Pierre Blanchard. Soon after came the invention of thermal airships, and this is what hot air balloon enthusiasts fly today. They are lightweight and navigable.
Hot air balloon festivals attract thousands of enthusiasts who turn out to watch these gravity-defying works of art, listen to live music, partake of delicious foods, and have the times of their lives. Want to go to one? Here are a few of the best in America.
Freedom Weekend Aloft – Anderson, South Carolina
This festival takes place over Memorial Day weekend and is rated as one of the top 20 hot air balloon festivals in the country. Hundreds of balloon enthusiasts lift off in their brightly colored crafts to consume what appears to be the entire sky. The event raises money for local and regional charities.
Top-name entertainers such as Trace Adkins, the Doobie Brothers, David Lee Roth, Uncle Kracker, and Lighthouse fill the stages as spectators dance and sing along to their favorite songs. There are amusement rides, games, displays, skydivers, bbq pits, and children’s activities. To add to the excitement the US Disc Dog Freedom Weekend Nationals are simultaneously held, which is a serious but fun dog frisbee competition.
The event began in 1982 with the intent of promoting family fun, patriotism, and tourism in the upstate area of South Carolina. It has grown through the years and now draws thousands upon thousands of visitors from near and far.
Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic – Decatur, Alabama
Also held over Memorial Day weekend, this is a spectacular event involving balloon competitions. Each morning a “rabbit” balloon is sent out ahead of the others. When the signal is given, the other balloonists inflate their airbags and take off in pursuit. Wherever the rabbit balloon lands, an X will be placed on the ground. Whichever pilot lands their craft the closest to the X wins the contest. Between 50 and 100 balloons compete each day.
At night balloon rides give spectators a bird’s eye view of the festival, Decatur, and the beautiful Tennessee River which runs through it. Glow Night is when all of the balloons are adorned with lights leaving spectators in awe.
There is entertainment of all sorts including a karaoke contest, ice-skaters, bands, puppeteers, and dancers. A huge car show is on display as well as tractors of all types. At the end of the event, visitors are treated to a fireworks display that is beyond comparison.
Teton Valley Summer Festival – Driggs, Idaho
This is four full days of fun for everyone. The highlights of the festival are the balloon rides for visitors and the 30 balloon races where navigators see who can reach the destination point first and which one can land closest to the marked spot. Hundreds of colorful balloons compete for the coveted title of champion.
Prior to the races, an annual parade rolls through town to mark the festivals official start. All sorts of sporting competitions also take place to include golf, a wild and woolly rodeo, and bike races. Fiddlers take the stage one by one to show off their skills and hopefully take home the trophy for being the best in the land.
Craft and antique displays are everywhere, food cooks on grills, cold beer is on tap, and live music creates a party-like atmosphere for an all stops pulled blow-out of a good time.
Stowflake Hot Air Balloon Festival – Woodstock, Vermont
Hot air balloons launch at twilight, in the afternoon, and at dusk. In other words, they’re always in the sky for spectators to enjoy. This is rated as one of the greatest annual events in Vermont and is in its 32nd year.
Visitors can take tethered rides where the balloons can go no further than the ropes they are attached to, or they can opt to fly in one with no ropes attached. There is a children’s corner with countless activities to keep the young ones completely entertained for hours while their parents sip on Bloody Mary’s, beer and wine. Bring an appetite with you for this one. You’re guaranteed to not go hungry.
Live music begins in the evening and continues into the wee hours and if anyone needs a good refreshing pick-me-up they can visit the spa tent for a relaxing chair massage.
The only activity going on in the morning is the balloon dawn launch, but it’s a perfect way to kick-start the day with a hot cup of coffee while enjoying the peacefulness of the Vermont surroundings. As the day goes on things get much busier as the late sleepers begin to arrive. Being an early bird is well worth wiping the sleep from your eyes.
QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning – Readington, New Jersey
If you can only go to only one balloon festival, go to this one. It’s the largest hot air balloon and music festival in North America and New Jersey claims it is their largest and best annual shindig. Over 100 balloon of all sizes and shapes, from all around the world, take off in flight twice a day.
Entertainment includes Grammy award-winning musicians and even includes special concerts for the kiddos. Other entertainment includes acts like human cannonballs, ventriloquists, jugglers, dancers, and much more. There are tons of amusement rides and games, food of every variety, and beer and wine flow like a river.
Of course, no event would be complete without a fireworks show, and the good people of New Jersey don’t skimp on this one.
If any of these sounds like a good time, now you know where they are. There are plenty of other annual hot air festivals and you won’t have to look very far to find one near you.