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Image of Hot Air Balloon. Caption: Ever wonder what a hot air balloon ride feels like? Why not treat yourself to a tethered launch? You might get hooked on the feeling! Photo by Robin Catalano.
Ever wonder what a hot air balloon ride feels like? Why not treat yourself to a tethered launch? You might get hooked on the feeling! Photo by Robin Catalano.

Weekend Travel Pick: Hudson Valley Hot-Air Balloon Festival

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.

Image of hot air balloon deflated on ground before launch. Caption: Glorious in flight, hot air balloons begin each journey quite humbly; photo by Robin Catalano.
Glorious in flight, hot air balloons begin each journey quite humbly; photo by Robin Catalano.

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.

Find out more and purchase tickets to the festival here.

Image of a plume of fire inside a half-inflated hot air balloon on the grounds of the Hudson Valley Hot-Air Balloon Festival days before the event. Caption: A whole lotta heat goes into getting a balloon vertical; photo by Robin Catalano.
A whole lotta heat goes into getting a balloon vertical; photo by Robin Catalano.
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Robin Catalano believes in the power of storytelling to connect communities and cultures. She’s applied her creative approach to writing for magazines, books, blogs, websites, and a wide variety of marketing projects, and has published more than 75 articles and 1,000+ blog posts. As an editor, she has worked on more than 350 books for publishers including Penguin Random House, Workman, and Simon & Schuster. She has also served as a book coach for independent authors, helping them take their ideas from concept to print. An avid traveler and travel writer, Robin lives, reads, and writes voraciously in upstate NY.

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