If you haven’t attended a hot air balloon festival, put this charming event on your summer to-do list. The fests are often accompanied by the usual entertainments -- music, food, kids’ activities – but the balloons are the eye-popping star of the day (and night).
The balloons fill with air and rise from the field with slow grace, giant drops of color rising nearly silently from the Earth. Because of wind patterns, balloons are launched most often in the very early morning and around sunset, so plan your visit accordingly. Festival websites may offer weather alerts and liftoff times.
If you have a chance to take a balloon ride – do it. Tethered rides and free rides are offered at many festivals. The fascinating images from the field of Balloons filling and rising is magnified a hundredfold when you are rising with them, some drifting off high above you; some coasting along at your side or still rising far below.
Some festivals present a balloon glow: balloons are set up at sunset in the launch area and are inflated as if they are going to take off. When they remain on the ground, held by a ground crew, and the propane burners are turned on and off periodically, creating the spectacle of giant light bulbs or Chinese lanterns.
Take your children, but prepare them by counseling patience; the timetable of ballooning can be slow because of wind conditions and the simple mechanics of opening, unrolling, filling and directing giant creatures driven by wind, fire, heat, rope, and muscle.
In keeping with the festival theme, most hot air balloon fests have plenty of ancillary fun: craft shows, music, barbecue, carnival rides. Plan a whole ballooning weekend in:
New Hampshire, July 6-9 at the Hillsborough Balloon Fest, Hillsborough, July 6-9
Rhode Island, July 21-23 at the South County Hot Air Balloon Festival in Kingston
Vermont, July 7-9 at the Stoweflake Hot Air Balloon Festival at Stowe
Maine, August 18-20 at the Great Falls Balloon Festival in Lewiston
Maine, August 24-27 at the Crown of Maine Balloon Festival in Presque Isle
Connecticut, August 25-27 at the Plainville Hot Air Balloon Festival in Plainville