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Celebrating the Marvel of Hot Air Ballooning

A gout of flame ignites as a hot air balloon is being filled.
Balloon festival takeoff. Photo © Carl & Peggy Backes.

Yesterday, the streets of New Orleans were filled with Mardi Gras Day revelers. True, the French Quarter didn’t seem nearly as crowded as it has in times past – which some residents attributed to bad weather reports, others to the multiple-victim shooting that occurred on Saturday night (not far from where my hubby, Dan, and I were watching the Krewe of Endymion), and still others to the weeklong interruption of the Carnival season by the 47th Super Bowl (a chaotic event that inspired extremely mixed reactions in the community). But, nevertheless, there were plenty of colorful costumes on display – and in general, people seemed to be having a grand old time, including me and Dan.

Luckily, though, Mardi Gras hasn’t cornered the market on colorful displays – or outdoor celebrations. Throughout the year and around the world, spectators can watch vibrant hot air balloons take flight at a wide assortment of annual festivals and events – all of which will, for some, seem more appropriate for a family vacation than the clothing-optional antics of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. So, if you’re a fan of outdoor activities like hot air ballooning (whether as a spectator or as a rider), here are just a few of the upcoming opportunities to marvel at these wondrous inventions:

Winthrop Balloon Roundup – March 1-3 – Winthrop, Washington – Now in its 16th year, this three-day event is not only a photographer’s dream, but also an excellent opportunity to enjoy an array of wintertime activities. As kaleidoscopic hot air balloons soar over the old Western town of Winthrop, which lies against the snow-capped mountains of the North Cascades, recreationists can embrace everything from skiing and snowshoeing to ice skating and snowmobiling.

New Smyrna Beach Balloon & Sky Fest – April 5-7 – New Smyrna Beach, Florida – In addition to featuring roughly 20 hot air balloons, this fifth annual event will host carnival rides, live entertainment, and nighttime air shows, including the crowd-pleasing Balloon Glow. Attendees can also take afternoon rides on airplanes, helicopters, tethered balloons, and, amazingly enough, a B-25 bomber.

Red, White & Blue Balloon Rally – May 24-27 – Castile, New York – Celebrating its 12th year, this thrilling event takes place above the 17-mile-long Letchworth State Park, nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the East” and known for its numerous waterfalls and incredible gorge scenery. In total, there will be at least 30 hot air balloons on display, launching from the Archery Field Overlook during six scheduled flights. As with other hot air balloon festivals, attendees can participate as balloon passengers by reserving their spots in advance.

Great Galena Balloon Race – June 14-16 – Galena, Illinois – Now in its 11th year, this annual three-day spectacular showcases more than 20 vibrant hot air balloons and also features two balloon races, two night glows, tethered rides, live entertainment, a car show, and other family-friendly activities. Benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), this worthy event will take place on the North Course Practice Range at the Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa.

Of course, that’s just a small fragment of the hot air balloon festivals, rallies, and events on offer throughout America and the rest of the world, from Belgium to the Philippines. For more information about such celebrations, consult HotAirBalloon.com, “an international compendium of hot air balloon festivals and events” around the globe. Just remember that, as with any third-party source, some information on this website might be outdated, so be sure to do your homework before packing up the family and heading to a particular gathering. Bear in mind, too, that such events are dependent on the weather, as high winds and other extreme weather conditions can make flying hot air balloons rather dangerous – for riders and spectators alike.

So, have you ever attended a festival dedicated to hot air balloons – or better yet, ridden in one of these fantastic creations?