Albuquerque Balloon Festival 2020 – What You Need to Know Before You Go

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The Albuquerque Balloon Festival or Fiesta is the largest hot air balloon festival in the world, bringing in over 500 hot air balloons to fill the skies of Albuquerque. It has been on our bucket list for years, and it was a dream to finally witness it for ourselves last year.

If you find hot air balloons to be as dreamy as we do, we highly recommend this event as well as in Cappadocia Turkey.

Albuquerque Balloon Festival - What You Need to Know Before You Go

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Last Updated: September 5, 2020

Albuquerque Balloon Festival 2020 - What You Need to Know Before You Go

General Information About the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta happens every year in October. The festival runs for 9 days with all types of events happening throughout the week.

The 2021 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta dates have been set for October 2, 2021, to October 10, 2021. Not only will there be excitement since the 2020 festival was canceled, but they will also be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the fiesta.

Note: The 2020 Balloon Fiesta scheduled for October 3-11, 2020 has officially been postponed. If you purchased tickets for 2020, you can change your reservation to 2021 or request a full refund.

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2021 Countdown

Days
Hours
Minutes
Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

Tickets

Tickets for the Balloon Fiesta is $10 per person per session (or you can purchase a five-pack for $45). Most days have a morning and evening session. If you leave the park in between, you will have to purchase another ticket. Some things include tickets like the Park & Ride and particular RV spots. Buy your tickets online here.

The Music Fiesta is additional as well ranging from $10 for general admission tickets to $499 for the ultimate experience.

If you’re looking for a more exclusive experience, there are a few upgraded options:

Chasers’ Club ($60 per session): Access to a special viewing area with guaranteed seating, buffet, private bathrooms, and a cash bar. Gondola Club ($125 per session): Everything the Chasers’ Club gets plus a parking pass, open bar, shuttle service, souvenir gift, and more. Concierge Program ($350 per session for 1-2 people): General admission ticket, premium parking pass, and a private golf cart and driver during your session. You also get a Balloon Fiesta gift.

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Schedule of Events + The Main Events You Can't Miss

Main Events You Can't Miss

Over 9 days of the festival, there are multiple events that highlight different types of balloons, disciplines, and more. It can be a bit daunting to figure out what is worth going to. We have the entire schedule listed below, but before getting to that, let’s talk about the main events to help you decide what you want to see.

Dawn Patrol (daily) – Each morning, one or several balloons take off before the sun rises to check the weather conditions to ensure it’s safe for the rest of the balloons to fly. This is the least impressive to watch, and because it’s dark, photography is challenging. Balloon Glows (various) – Balloons will burn their propane in sync with each other before when it’s still dark while still tethered to the ground. They have a Morning Glow, Twilight Twinkle Glow, and Night Magic Glow. Mass Ascension (weekends) – Hundreds of balloons will launch in two waves, filling the skies with hot air balloons. These differ from the daily balloon launches just because of the sheer number of balloons going up. Competitions (various) – Throughout the week, pilots fly their balloons and compete in various challenges testing their skills. One of the most popular is America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race. This annual long-distance race starts at the Balloon Fiesta Parks and tests to see how far they can go without coming down. Often times they are in the sky for multiple days. Special Shape Rodeo (various) – One of the coolest things to see is all the crazy balloon shapes that they have. During these events, they focus on only these unique balloons, whether it’s flying or glows. Flight of the Nations (Wed) – During the Wednesday launch, they honor all the countries that are represented in the Balloon Fiesta.

Beyond the balloon events, the festival also has multiple music performances, chainsaw carvings, car shows, carnival games, and food and artisan stalls to check out.

Pro Tip: If you’re into photography, check out the Canon booth. You can take souvenir photos, get free cleanings on your Canon DSLR, mirrorless cameras, and lenses. They even rent out cameras to try them out during the balloon festival.

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Schedule of Events

Here is the 2021 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Schedule of Events. It’s always best to check their site for the most up-to-date information.

Saturday, October 2nd

6:00 AM – Dawn Patrol
6:30 AM – Morning Glow
6:45 AM – Opening Ceremonies
7:00 AM – Mass Ascension
8:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition
11:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Auction
2:00 PM – America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Inflation
3:00 PM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition
5:00 PM – Skydiving Exhibition
6:00 PM – America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Launch
6:00 PM – Twilight Twinkle Glow
7:30 PM – Skydiving Exhibition
8:00 PM – AfterGlow Fireworks Show

Sunday, October 3rd

6:00 AM – Dawn Patrol
6:30 AM – Morning Glow
7:00 AM – Mass Ascension
8:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition
9:00 AM – Fiesta of Wheels Car Show
11:00 AM – Balloon Fiesta Pin Trading 
11:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Auction
3:00 PM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition
5:00 PM – Skydiving Exhibition
6:00 PM – Balloon Glow
7:30 PM – Skydiving Exhibition
8:00 PM – AfterGlow Fireworks Show

Monday, October 4th

6:00 AM – Dawn Patrol
7:00 AM – Double Ascension
8:00 AM – Competition Balloon Flying Begins
8:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition

Tuesday, October 5th

6:00 AM – Dawn Patrol
7:00 AM – Double Ascension
8:00 AM – Competition Balloon Flying Begins
8:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition

Wednesday, October 6th

6:00 AM – Dawn Patrol
6:30 AM – Morning Glow
7:00 AM – Flight of the Nations Mass Ascension
8:00 AM – Competition Flying Begins
8:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition

Thursday, October 7th

6:00 AM – Dawn Patrol
7:00 AM – Special Shape Rodeo
8:00 AM – Competition Balloon Flying
8:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition
11:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Auction
3:00 PM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition
5:00 PM – Skydiving Exhibition
6:00 PM – Special Shape Glowdeo
7:30 PM – Skydiving Exhibition
8:00 PM – AfterGlow Fireworks Show

Friday, October 8th

6:00 AM – Dawn Patrol
7:00 AM – Special Shape Rodeo
8:00 AM – Competition Balloon Flying
8:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition
11:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Auction
3:00 PM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition
5:00 PM – Skydiving Exhibition
6:00 PM – Special Shape Glowdeo
7:30 PM – Skydiving Exhibition
8:00 PM – AfterGlow Fireworks Show

Saturday, October 9th

6:00 AM – Dawn Patrol
6:30 AM – Morning Glow
7:00 AM – Mass Ascension
8:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition
11:00 AM – Balloon Fiesta Pin Trading
11:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Auction
1:00 PM – Music Fiesta
3:00 PM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition
5:00 PM – Skydiving Exhibition
6:00 PM – Night Magic Glow
7:30 PM – Skydiving Exhibition
8:00 PM – AfterGlow Fireworks Show

Sunday, October 10th

6:00 AM – Dawn Patrol
6:30 AM – Morning Glow
7:00 AM – Farewell Mass Ascension
8:00 AM – Chainsaw Carving Exhibition

Note: Days are broken up into two balloon sessions. The morning session runs from 5:30 AM to 10 AM, and the evening sessions goes from 5 PM to 9 PM.

Canon Fireworks Albuquerque Balloon Festival
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Events 2020

Getting To and Around the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival

The Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque is home to the festival each year. Located on the north side of town, the official address is: 4401 Alameda Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113 (map). Come event days, you may head to a different area since they have parking spread out but we’ll go over those details a little further down.

Getting to Albuquerque: The Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) airport is right in town. Once you arrive, we recommend renting a car.

Getting to the Balloon Fiesta

Once you’re in Albuquerque, there are a few different options to get to the Balloon Fiesta. Having your own car is definitely the most convenient.

Parking at the Balloon Fiesta – There are large, designated parking lots around Balloon Fiesta Park. When you drive towards the park, there will be tons of signs and attendants pointing you the closest available lot. The parking is $20 per sessions (cash only) and they do fill quickly so arrive early. You can purchase an all-sessions parking pass from the Balloon Fiesta Gift Shop as well. Park & Ride Shuttle Bus – Another option is the Park & Ride system which has a few different stops in the city. The advantage is that these buses will bypass heavy traffic. The tickets include round-trip transportation and admission to the Balloon Fiesta. Tickets need to be purchased in advance here. Tickets are $22 for adults and $10 for children, and they do sell out. The four park & ride locations are: Cottonwood Mall: 10000 Coors Bypass NW Intel: 1600 Rio Rancho Blvd SE Coronado Center: 6600 Menaul Blvd NE Hoffmantown Church: 8888 Harper Road NE Ride Share (Taxi, Uber, or Lyft): If you prefer not to rent a car, you could always try Uber or Lyft, but you’ll be stuck in the same traffic. Plus there will be surge pricing. They’ve tried to negotiate using the shuttle lanes so check back to see if they’ve made any changes. Biking or Walking: If you’re staying close enough to Balloon Fiesta Park, walking is a great way to avoid traffic. You can also bike and they have a complimentary bike valet.

Keep in mind that although they do their best to keep traffic moving and flowing, traffic does get really backed up. We’ve read that some people needed up stuck in traffic for 1.5-2 hrs and missed the mass ascensions. We always arrived extra early just to ensure we didn’t have to worry about that.

Note: If you require special disabled parking or assistance, contact the Balloon Fiesta staff in advance and they will be able to help you out.

Best Places to Stay During the Albuquerque Balloon Fest

There are multiple options for accommodations during the Balloon Fest. Since we had our own car and a parking pass, we ended up booking a hotel nearby so that the morning commute to beat traffic wouldn’t be long. If you plan on doing the Park & Ride, you can look for hotels near those locations.

Since people come from all over the world, be sure to book your accommodations early as they do sell out quickly. There are also options for RVs and Glamping right next the festival grounds.

Hotel Options

RVing, Camping, and Glamping

RVers flock to the Balloon Fiesta every year. There is an area near the launch field entirely dedicated to RVs. The prices range from $40 a night to $250 a night at the most coveted spots at President’s Compound. Spots open up a week after the previous Balloon Fiesta and spaces sell out really fast.

Standard: $40/night dry camping in South RV Lot Box View: $50/night dry camping in the South RV Lot Premium: $95/night 30amp and water connection in South RV Lot VIP West/East: $100/night dry camping adjacent to the Launch Field (includes 2 GA tickets) VIP North: $100/night dry camping adjacent to the Launch Field (includes 2 GA tickets) President’s Compound: $250/night on a bluff overlooking the Launch Field with water and electric hook-ups (includes 4 GA tickets)

Glamping sites are relatively new to the Balloon Fiesta. The tents are set up all together within walking distance to the Launch Field. Each site includes a safari tent, beds (1 queen or 2 singles), linens, heater, fridge, electric blanket, lamps, and premium parking. There are trailers set up with restrooms and showers. It costs $1500 for 3 nights for 1-2 people.

Hot Air Balloon Rides Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Watching the balloons from the ground is amazing on its own, but riding a hot air balloon during the festival takes it to the next level. Fortunately you can make that happen by booking a ride with the Rainbow Ryders. This is the only company allowed to take guests during mass ascension.

As with everything during the Balloon Fiesta, prices are at a premium. Rides usually run for at least $430 (normally $150) and they book up quickly. For reservations, contact them here:

Rainbow Ryders
1-800-725-2477
flightinfo@rainbowryders.com

Another way to get a ride, is to volunteer with a pilot. You can sign up online or if you meet pilots, ask if they need help on their crew. Jacob joined the Chase Crew of the balloon that I rode and helped pack up the balloon once we landed. Typically pilots will give volunteers a ride something during the week.

Pro Tip Note: Don’t book your flight on the last day in case there are cancellations due to weather.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Albuquerque New Mexico Balloon Festival 2020

Best Places to Watch the Hot Air Balloons

Nothing compares to seeing the balloons take off from Balloon Fiesta Park, but since the wind controls their fate, you can see the balloons from outside the park as well. Unfortunately, there isn’t a good way to predict which way they’ll go each day.

While Jacob was with the Chase Crew, they used a mix of GPS, walkie talkies, and just trying to see the balloon in the sky to stay in touch with where the pilot was headed.

With that in mind, here are some popular spots to watch the balloons if they’re flying in that direction.

North Domingo Baca Park (7521 Carmel Ave NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113, map) Vista Del Norte Park (1005 Osuna Rd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113, map) Wildflower Park (San Mateo Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87108, map) Sandia Peak Tramway (30 Tramway Rd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87122, map) although far away Los Ranchos/ Journal Center Railrunner Station (101 El Pueblo Rd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113, map)

Pro Tip: Since it’s hard to predict, just pick a location to start and have a backup location on the opposite side in case the balloons float away from you.

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension

Essential Tips for the Albuquerque New Mexico Balloon Festival

Book Early! This is an extremely popular event and people travel from all over the world to see it. Book everything as early as possible. Arrive early to events. To avoid the crowds and traffic arrive as early as you can. It will always take you longer than you think to get to the launch field. Plan your trip around what you’re interested in. It’s always good to catch different events and definitely try to see a mass ascension. It’s cold in Albuquerque this time of year. Pack layers since it’ll be 20-40°F in the mornings and 50-70°F during the day. A hat, gloves, and rechargeable hand warmer was also essential since you’re standing around a lot. Respect the Balloons, Pilots, and Zebras. One of the best things about this event is that you can walk right onto the field where they are launching from. Just be respectful and don’t touch any of the balloons unless given permission. Pilots also love telling their story, but if they are busy trying to launch, don’t bug them. Zebras, the people with the ref jerseys on, are there to ensure everything goes smoothly so listen to them if they are instructing you to do something. Carry a backpack or daypack so you have somewhere to put layers you don’t need and other items you packed. Be sure to check out our entire packing list below. Be sure to check out the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque Balloon Museum, which has multiple exhibits, balconies overlooking the launch field, and gift shop. During the festival, they have special events too. The Balloon Discovery Center Tent is also great for families. Here you’ll find exhibits and activities for kids related to hot air balloons. Food in the park is plentiful. There are all kinds of food vendors with options similar to those at any outdoor festivals. Think burgers, pizza, nachos, donuts, and burritos. Some spots are also open for breakfast too so you can grab coffee. Bathrooms are located easy to find. There are tons of port-o-potties located throughout the park. Pins are a popular collectible and each year there’s a whole set of new ones. Pilots also carry Balloon Trading Cards that feature their balloon. If you meet one, you can ask if they have any on them. Here are some keywords you’ll hear on the field. Zebras are a nickname for launch directors. They look like refs and help ensure launches go smoothly. The Box is referencing the weather phenomenon where low winds fly in one direction and high winds fly in the opposite direction, allowing the balloons to fly in a box shape and land where they took off.
ABQ Balloon Fiesta Pins

Frequently Asked Questions about the Balloon Festival

How many days should I attend the ABQ Balloon Festival? You can definitely stay for the entire week, but at the minimum you should plan on at least 3 days. Since the events are weather-dependent, that gives you some leeway in case anything is cancelled or pushed back. Keep in mind the mass ascensions happen on the weekends, but that’s also the most crowded time to be there. What are the best days to attned the Balloon Fiesta? There isn’t a straightforward answer to this. You should definitely try to see a mass ascension, but these are also the busiest days (the first weekend being busier than the second). We attended the second weekend because we wanted to see the Special Shapes Rodeo too. Weekdays will be the least crowded and it’s worth attending in the morning and evening to see the difference. What time should I arrive at the Balloon Fiesta? Arrive early! The park opens as early as 4:30 and you want to leave enough room to find parking and get to the launch field. They recommend arriving by 4-4:30 am and 4:00 pm on the weekends. We aired on the safe side and preferred waiting around in the park rather than stuck in parking panicking about missing something. How do I know if the Balloon Fiesta is cancelled due to weather? Usually pilots find out events will be delayed or cancelled at 6:30 am during their meeting. Unfortunately if you want to catch them flying, you still need to plan on being there really early. Since weather conditions do need to be just right, it’s common that some events get cancelled. Unless the weather is hazardous, the park usually still stays open and they keep a few balloons tethered to the ground. Keep your tickets since they will be good for the next session. Are pets allowed at the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival? No dogs or pets are not allowed in the park unless you have a service animal. The dog in our photos belongs to the pilot and is cleared to be in the park. Can I bring food and drinks in to the park? Yes, but glass and alcohol are not allowed. Can I bring a cooler? Yes, but they will be searched. Is there a backpack size limit? No, but keep in mind that they will be searched and the area is large. You’ll most likely spend a decent amount of time walking and you don’t want something cumbersome to carry through large crowds. Can I volunteer? Yes, volunteers are essential to the event. Volunteers have to available for the entire Balloon Fiesta and take at least three shifts. In exchange, they get free parking and entrance along with some other benefits. Is smoking allowed at Balloon Fiesta Park? Absolutely no smoking is allowed. There’s a lot of fuel around and ash can damage the balloons. Is the park handicap accessible? Yes. There is handicap parking near the entrance gates. There are also mobility scooters, wheelchairs, strollers, and wagons available for rent on site.
International Hot Air Balloon Festival New Mexico

What to Pack

Warm Layers – It’s cold in the mornings (we’re talking 20-40°F) and you’ll be standing around waiting for everything to happen. Gloves and a hat are really helpful too. Backpack or Daypack – To carry everything around. Rechargeable Hand Warmer – Ever since getting this, it has come with us on every cold trip. We need to get a couple more so we don’t fight over it. Sunblock and Sun Protection – Albuquerque is at a higher altitude. Camera, Wide and Long Lens, and Extra Batteries – Keep in mind that batteries die quicker in the cold. Picnic blanket or Lightweight Camping Chair – Seating is limited and it’s nice to get off your feet every once in a while. Portable Charger – To keep all your devices charged all day. Batteries die faster in the cold. Headlamp or Flashlight – Especially if you’re arriving really early or staying late. Some areas are dark. Cooler – If you have drinks you want to keep cold and plan on staying put. It would be a pain to walk around with otherwise.

More Things to Do in Albuquerque

Take advantage of being in Albuquerque and explore the rest of town. Just keep in mind that there will be a lot of other visitors doing the same thing.

ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden ABQ BioPark Zoo Albuquerque Old Town American International Rattlesnake Museum Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum of Albuquerque Grave of Walkter White Indian Pueblo Cultural Center Kimo Theatre New Mexico Museum of National History & Science Petroglyph National Monument San Felipe de Neri Church Sandia Peak Tramway The Albuquerque Museum The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History The Turquoise Museum

Have you been on a hot air balloon before? Which one would you want to ride?

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Albuquerque Balloon Festival - What You Need to Know Before You Go

Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

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