Every fall, the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, makes its visitors feel a sense of awe and wonder when they look up into its skies. We're not talking about Roswell or UFOs, these flying objects take on the form of hundreds of hot air balloons, each with a more dynamic theme and appearance than the next. New Mexico's International Balloon Fiesta is the largest balloon festival in the world, and it happens every October.

For nine days in a row, visitors and locals are treated to a spectacular sight - nearly 600 balloons take to the air to create a fun and whimsical show from morning until night. And after the sun goes down, the show continues with balloons that glow and glimmer in the night sky, making for a perfectly lovely way to spend any crisp autumn day. Here's what you need to know about Albuquerque's biggest balloon festival.


When Is The Balloon Festival?

Each year, the balloon festival in Albuquerque is held during the first week of October. While this part of the U.S. doesn't necessarily experience fall with bright leaf color changes, it's still just as crisp and refreshing as autumn anywhere else in the country - with the added bonus of more than 500 balloons overhead.

The first week of October provides great weather in which to watch the festival take place. During those nine days, festival-goers can watch the release of balloons on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday, starting at dawn during Dawn Patrol (7 AM) at Balloon Fiesta Park.

Related: 19 Dizzying Hot-Air Balloon Rides (Not For Those Who Can't Do Crazy Heights)

What Else Can Festival-Goers Expect At The International Balloon Fiesta?

Of course, watching each hot air balloon is a spectacular activity in itself, but there's plenty more to see at this balloon festival. From entertainment to food vendors and even chainsaw carving, each year brings with it a new venue of entertainment to take in while the balloons enjoy some air time. Here are some more things to expect at the festival.

Special Shape Rodeo

If you've ever watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade then you're also familiar with the unique balloon shapes that have flown in the parade. At the International Balloon Fiesta, the Special Shape Rodeo releases about one-dozen new shapes each year, which makes a total of 100 uniquely shaped balloons that are released. Anything from Darth Vader's head to giant animals such as owls and cows is fair game in the hot air balloon world.

Balloon Glowdeo

This event happens after dusk when it's dark enough out to see the glowing lights within the balloons. This event, in particular, has a special significance to Albuquerque. Balloon glows, as they were referred to back then, began in 1979. These events were put on by local pilots who released glowing balloons into the air on Christmas Eve to say 'thank you' to all the Alberquerque residents.

Today, it's a sweet nod to a tradition that has spanned for decades, with traditional balloons firing up their burners and lights for all the city to see. The festival's fireworks show soon follows the balloon glows, and these are two of the most popular events during the International Balloon Fiesta.

Balloon Competitions

We bet that you didn't know competitions existed among hot air balloons and their pilots! Alberquerque and its balloon festival are a great place to watch talent by those who are responsible for flying them. Festival competitions include anything from navigating the wind and airflow in order to land on a spot marked with an 'X' to dropping payloads on a pre-determined location from the height of the balloon.

Balloon Discovery Center

This is a free session offered by the festival to all those who pay for admission. Here, festival-goers can learn all about hot air balloons and the science behind how they soar, what it takes to pilot them, and other fun historical facts. It provides guests with a unique behind-the-scenes look at the hot air balloons in the festival that they wouldn't usually get anywhere else.

This Year: Chainsaw Carving

This year's event is chainsaw carving, which is unique to 2021. Each year, the festival usually brings in a different event that festival-goers can watch in addition to the balloons. At this year's chainsaw carving, artists will be featured from all over the country to carve incredible sculptures out of wood using mostly a chainsaw.

Leading Up To The Gordon Bennet Race

According to the Alberquerque International Balloon Festival's website, the Gordon Bennet gas balloon race is akin to the America's Cup Yacht Race in terms of its preparations and endurance. In this race, teams compete with their own gas-powered hot air balloons to make it to the finish line before the others. While the motto might be slow and steady while navigating wind conditions and weather patterns, the outcome is no less exciting or thrilling than that of any other long-distance race.

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