Hot air ballooning is one of the purest forms of air travel. The activity is a literal interpretation of the traveler’s creed “go where the wind takes you.” While the pilots can control the altitude of the balloon, the air currents decide where you’ll end up and how fast you’ll get there.
Perhaps one of its draws is its simplicity. You inject some hot air into the nylon material and away you go. No need to mess with complicated jet engines and spinning rotor blades. It’s certainly the oldest form of air travel; the first manned balloon flight took place in 1783 in France.
Below are 10 balloon festivals around the world launching in the next few months. Whether you’re a passenger, a spectator, or if you want to get your hands dirty helping get one off the ground, these events all have something for you.
1. 15th Velikie Luki International Balloon Meet
When: June 6-13
Where: Velikie Luki, Russia
Don’t miss your chance to witness the crowning of the 2009 Russian champion at the Velikie Luki International Balloon Meet. Event organizers and officials are putting together social events for guests to acquaint themselves with Velikie Luki and the Pskov region.
The city is situated about 450 km west of Moscow, 600 from St. Petersburg, and 100 from the country’s western border. It can be reached easily by car or train from Moscow, St. Pete, Riga, Pskov, and Minsk.
2. Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic
When: June 13-14
Where: Windsor, California
If you’ve always wanted to try ballooning but are scared to go all out, or hesitant to cough up the dough, the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic is offering up tethered balloon rides to the public.
To view the main launch of colourful and unique balloons you’ll need to get up at the crack of dawn, but what a sight to behold.
3. 2009 Panguitch Valley Balloon Rally
When: June 26-28
Where: Panguitch City, Utah
The Panguitch Valley Balloon Rally is touted as southern Utah’s premier hot air balloon event. The National History District of Panguich not only plays host, but also claims to offer the highest concentration of scenic natural wonders in America. Visitors to the balloon rally are invited to the launch field every morning to help the pilots lift off.
It’s a true family event that includes a Poker Walk, parade, karaoke contest, dunking booth, and children’s crafts and activites.
4. Great Texas Balloon Race
When: July 10-12
Where: Longview, Texas (East Texas Regional Airport)
This world-class event is considered by many competing pilots to be the best-run event on the circuit.
Watch close up how the balloons are inflated and how they work.
Lots of entertainment is on hand as local and regional bands play during the day, making way in the evening for the headliners. Arts and crafts will also be on display and Kids Land offers a safe place for the kiddies to play.
5. Montgolfiades de Dole
When: July 11-13
Where: Dole, France
Along with the night glow of the balloons, you can feast your eyes and ears on a spectacular choreographed fireworks display for the finale of this festival. The event is also tied to a benefit for children with serious illnesses.
6. Magic City Hot Air Balloon Rally
When: July 23-26
Where: Billings, Montana
This free event is put on by the nonprofit organization Magic City Hot Air Balloon Rally to keep interest in this unique activity alive in the area. For $175 per person you can purchase a morning balloon ride; but be quick, these are limited.
7. Saxony International Balloon Fiesta
When: July 30-Aug 2
Where: Leipzig, Germany
And you thought all Germany had to offer was beer. Now, that’s not to say there won’t be beer there, but the Saxony International Balloon Fiesta is about so much more. Watch as up to 70 balloons take to the sky and light up the night.
A parade, concerts, circus, and VIP lounge are also on offer at this event.
8. Balloon Classic Invitational
When: July 31-Aug 2
Where: North Canton, Ohio
The Balloon Classic Invitational, which began in 1985, merged with the Jackson-Belden Food Fest & Fireworks in 1995 to create a balloon/food/fireworks extravaganza.
With over 70 balloons now participating in great events like team racing, target drops, and pole grabs — where the pilot tries to navigate close to a pole to grab a flag — there’s no shortage of entertainment.
As if that weren’t enough, specially shaped balloons like “Piggles” (a piggy bank), “Touchdown” (a flying American football), and “The American Rocketship” are sure to inspire the imagination.
9. Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
When: Aug 6-9
Where: Bristol, UK
The daddy of the balloon festivals in this list, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is Europe’s largest, attracting over 100 balloons and half a million spectators. The Special Shapes Rodeo promises popular returning balloons like Scottish Piper, Churchill Dog, and Swindon House in addition to new surprises.
The RAF Red Arrows — Britain’s famous aerobatic display team — will also be there dazzling visitors with loops, rolls, bends, and twists, and the EXIT parachute team will be jumping out of a plane and performing maneuvers and formations that are sure to be heart-stopping.
10. Colorado Balloon Classic
When: Sept 5-7
Where: Colorado Springs, Colorado
At 33 years old, the Colorado Balloon Classic is the longest continuous hot air balloon festival in the Rocky Mountain region. In 2008 it was even voted into the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association.
This organization has also been selected to coordinate BalloonaPalooza IV, held in the city of North Las Vegas from Sept 18-20. No more info on the event just yet, but stay tuned here.
For more family fun, Trips’ recent photo essay has some gorgeous shots of family vacation destinations.
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Carlo is a Managing Editor at Matador and co-founder of Confronting Love. He blogs about travel, life, and creativity at Vagabonderz.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.