These Hot-Air Balloon Festivals Are Brightening Up the Skies Nationwide
After almost a year of social distancing, we all know a thing or two about horizontal distance—but have you considered getting some vertical distance lately? At many of the country's most dazzling hot-air balloon festivals, you can hop in one of the massive, colorful orbs, and float up, up, and away from all the folks on foot below. And of course, besides air space, you'll gain a spectacular bird's-eye view of the surrounding scenery and the heart-racing adrenaline rush of soaring tens of feet in the air.
For those who'd prefer to keep themselves firmly planted on the ground, the festivals are still a sight to behold: You can watch as professional fliers hover effortlessly above mountaintops—or stick around until dusk to see tethered balloons light up the night. And because these airborne vehicles require ample space to take off, the launch zones tend to be wide-open fields, allowing you to easily keep your distance even while you remain on land.
At these spring and early-summer balloon fests, the sky is truly the limit.
Homestead-Miami Balloon Festival
Park yourself at the Homestead, Florida, speedway in the early evening during this popular fest to see about two dozen anchored, lit-from-within balloons glow in the night sky. Pre-book a tethered ride when you purchase your ticket—or, to elevate the experience even further, reserve a private float for you and a special someone. While you're on the ground, peruse the local food vendors, and enjoy a picnic dinner with a safe view of all the balloon action from afar. Standard tickets, which include parking, are $25 per carload of people, while upgrades and ride add-ons range from an additional $25 to $99 per person. The event runs from March 26 to 28, 5 to 9 p.m. each day.
Winthrop Balloon Roundup
Early risers will flip for this fabulous and free spectacle. In the morning from March 7 to 9 (7 to 9 a.m each day) and from almost anywhere in the tiny mountain town of Winthrop, Washington—restored to 1850s glory, with classic western storefronts and boardwalks—you can watch as professional fliers drift by the snow-capped peaks of the North Cascades. Then, take advantage of the full day ahead by embracing the area's penchant for outdoor recreation: A massive network of groomed cross-country ski trails and fat-biking trails await.
Tunes & Balloons Festival Finale
If you thought Washington, D.C., was the cherry-blossom capital of the world, you'd be mistaken: It is, in fact, the town of Macon, Georgia, where a monthlong series of events celebrates the cotton-candy beauty of the more than 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees that blossom each March. A hot-air balloon event on the lawn at Middle Georgia State University marks the final day of the festival (March 28, 4 to 8 p.m.), with tethered rides available alongside bounce houses for kids, live music from the Macon Pops, and a fireworks display come nightfall. Admission is free, and rides cost $10 per person.
Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival
More than 50 uniquely colorful and cartoon-character-shaped balloons descend upon—and ascend above—OWA (a dining and entertainment district) in Foley, Alabama, for this fest, now in its 17th year. A balloon glow on the evening of May 6 kicks off a weekend of festivities, featuring music from local bands like Molly Thomas & The Rare Birds and the Tobacco Street Band. While general admission is free, you can purchase a tethered ride ($20 per adult and $15 per child under 12), during which you'll glide up to 50 cloud-scraping feet above the festivities. The dates are as follows: May 6 from 5 to 8 p.m., May 7 from 2 to 10 p.m., May 8 from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and May 9 from 12 to 7:30 p.m.
Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival
Pair wine-tasting with balloon-riding at this weekend-long event at Lake Skinner Regional Park in Winchester, California. With the purchase of a tasting glass and beverage tickets (starting at $20), you can sip vinos from local vineyards and stroll through the commercial court—home to more than 200 retail arts-and-crafts vendors—before heading to the Wine Stage in the evening for a vibrant balloon glow set to music. But for the true balloon enthusiasts, the main event happens each morning, at 5:30 a.m.: Join the mass ascension of dozens of balloons with an hour-long untethered ride soaring up to 3,000 feet above Lake Skinner with a glass of champagne in hand (tickets cost $225 per person). Looking for less of a commitment? Regular tethered rides happen each morning, too, at 7:30 a.m. ($10 per person). General admission, which includes access to all concerts throughout the day, starts at $35 per day for adults (children under 12 are free). The festivities take place on May 21 from 3 to 10 p.m., May 22 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and May 23 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.