Reno Balloon Festival Will Lift Your Spirits

And it’s free!

By kncitom on September 3, 2019
Tom’s son Sam and wife Vickie during last year’s Reno Balloon Races, an annual event for him and his family

One of my all-time favorite events is happening this weekend and if you’ve never been, you should try it at least once. It might become one of your all-time favorite events, too.

The Reno Balloon Races (this is the 38th annual) is a giant, colorful, three day photo-op/sensory overload happening this Friday through Sunday (Sept 6-8) at San Rafael Regional Park. It’s all free…but it’s also all over each day by about 9am, so you gotta get up early.

It’s worth it though. My family and I have gone nearly every year since our kids were small. We like to get there for what they call “Dawn Patrol” or “Glow Show”, a stunning visual display starting at 5am when several balloons ascend into the early morning sky, lit up by their fires from their burners like gigantic Japanese lanterns 

Then, once the sun is up, it isn’t long before dozens more balloons start to be inflated and the cool thing is, you can walk around among them and their teams. It’s a little like walking along a grassy street as six and seven story buildings rise before your eyes.

And as the sun gets a little higher in the sky, the balloons start lifting off until they polka-dot the sky. 

By 8:30 or 9, the balloons are drifting off in whatever direction the wind is blowing and there’s time to browse the dozens of food trucks and souvenir stands set up inside the park on what’s called “Balloon Boulevard”.  Or do like we do and wander over to the giant pancake breakfast to stuff yourself.

The gates to the park open each morning at 3:30 and if you’re arriving at 5 you’re already running behind. While there is official event parking, you could end up doing some walking, but don’t worry: that’s part of the magic–you’re streaming into this huge event with thousands of other folks wrapped up in blankets, pushing strollers and toting toddlers with serious bed head in the God-awful wee hours of the morning. If it’s your first time, you could easily be wondering if you’ve made a good decision. Don’t worry, you have.

And maybe the best part? Because it’s an early morning event, you’re done and back to your car by 10 or so, with a full day of Reno or Sierra Nevada fun ahead. Last year my son and I took the afternoon and fly-fished the Truckee River. This year, he’s off to school and our other two kids are grown and busy with other things so it’ll just be Vickie and me. But every year we go, it reminds me of all the times we’ve been before, and the wonder in our kids’ faces as the balloons would lift off from right before their eyes. Heck, I’m smiling right now thinking about it.

Find out more about the Balloon Races here and maybe we’ll see you there this weekend. Up, up and away!

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