A few facts you might not know about hot-air balloons: it’s hot—as in, skin-prickling hot—riding directly beneath their burners. Hot-air balloons also rise off the ground a lot faster than you’d think, and can vertically travel 10 feet or more per second. And once you’re up, you feel weightless and free-floating, as if you’re suspended over the landscape on the gentle breath of the breeze.
Another fact: the Hudson Valley Hot Air Balloon Festival, now in its 28th year, returns—bigger and more aww-inspiring—to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, New York, this weekend. Dubbed “Little Albuquerque” by insiders (after the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest in the world), the Hudson Valley festival started out as a 10-balloon event with 3,000 spectators. Last year, 35,000 people came out to watch more than twice as many balloons. This year, with more than 100 morning and evening launches of 30 invitation-only balloons helmed by both national and international riders, attendance may tip the scale at closer to 50,000.
On what makes this festival different, Michele Hooper, a lifelong balloon enthusiast who serves as this year’s co–balloon meister (festival coordinator), says, “We’re bringing in our balloon friends, experienced riders, from all different places. We’re sharing the magic at home.”
During the afternoon, while the balloons are on the ground (many will offer tethered rides that rise about 50 feet into the air) the Hudson Valley Hot Air Balloon Festival will also feature kids’ activities, live music, and plenty of food trucks. Attend the early-morning launch to enjoy smaller crowds and the soothing sight of balloons floating over the just-past-sunrise sky. Or wait for an early-evening launch, plus “moonglow” around 8:30 p.m., when the riders tether their balloons and light their flames, for a dramatic luminous effect against the night sky.