If you’re into hot air balloons, or just happen to be in the neighborhood of Letchworth State Park on Memorial Day weekend, plan to visit the balloon festival held here each year.
The Red, White, and Blue Balloon Festival at Letchworth State Park is held annually on Memorial Day Weekend.
The Balloon Festival is free and open to the public, except for the park entrance fee, which you will need to pay if you arrive during regular operating hours.
The Balloon launch is held at the Archery Field located near the Castile entrance to the Park, just across from the Great Bend Overlook.
The first launch is Friday at 6 PM, with subsequent launches at 6 AM and 6 PM on both Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
All launches are dependent on favorable weather conditions. The event administrators and pilots will decide exactly when and if to launch on-site just before the advertised launch time.
Getting there early for the 6 AM launch time can be a bit daunting if you have far to travel or kids that have a hard time getting up early, but the rewards are well worth the effort!
Seeing the sunrise over the Great Bend Overlook is almost reason enough to get up and get there early. But when the balloons enter the picture, it’s just breathtaking.
You might be surprised how many fellow early risers are there with you to see the launch as well! Chances are this early in the summer that the early morning hours are still chilly, so bundle up accordingly.
One of the things that I love most about the Balloon Festival at Letchworth is the relaxed atmosphere, and the easy access you have to get up close and rub “elbows” with the balloons scattered all over the Archery Field launch site.
It was nice to get right up and see the balloons filling up, first with a fan, then with the burners, and even warm cold fingers with the warmth put off by those burners!
The early morning launch times have fewer onlookers, enhancing the familiar comraderie and intimate feel of the event.
However, you may find that the morning launch has fewer balloons as well, depending on the weather conditions.
Still plenty of balloons are on hand to fill up the field and the sky with vibrant color.
Something that is always surprising to me, and to most people who haven’t been around balloons too much is how silently they fly.
The burner makes a loud whooshing sound as it flares up, but then the balloon lifts off the ground and soars up with hardly a noise.
The direction of the balloon flight is entirely dependent on the wind direction, with the pilot only able to control the altitude.
On the Saturday morning launch this year, the balloons sailed off north-eastward over the gorge, with many of the balloons dipping down into the gorge itself and one or two even skimming the river down below.
After watching the balloons sail out of sight, the girls had a chance to chat with a park ranger about what it is that park rangers do, and learn the inside scoop of state park safety and security.
Every outing is a school field trip when you’re homeschooled!
Parking is much less of a chore if you come for the morning launch, with plenty of spaces to be found close by to the launch area.
Space to park your lawn chair is plentiful too, if you prefer to sit and watch the spectacle from the sidelines.
We preferred to get right in the thick of it, talk with the balloon crews and learn as much as we could about the fascinating hobby of ballooning.
Friendly folks are everywhere to share their knowledge and experience, so make a new friend by stepping up and asking questions!
Deb Rudy, crew chief of Aloft Horizons, took the time to chat with us, answer questions, and even gave picture cards of lots of different balloons to all the kids. She was friendly and knowledgeable and made the even an even more fun and unforgettable experience.
Pilot Walt Rudy and his crew came all the way from Wadsworth, Ohio, for the event. They love the relaxed atmosphere of the event and also the stunning surroundings of the flight.
The local company that offers balloon rides through the summer season, May 1 – October 31 is called Balloons Over Letchworth. They, of course, had a presence at the Festival, selling t-shirts and other memorabilia.
I couldn’t resist getting my own memento of the occasion.
At the Saturday evening launch, which was scheduled to start at 6 PM, I guess the weather conditions were a bit in question, because the balloons weren’t pulled out and unrolled until about 6:30.
From then until 7 or so, however, it was a riot of color and activity and excitement, watching those huge balloons fill, stand up, and lift into the air.
We wandered around in and among all the balloons, each of us trying to decide which was our favorite, and which would be the first (or next) to launch.
Two tethered balloons were on site to give rides for a fee. The line looked incredibly long, however, and it was already getting past the littlest ones’ bedtime, so we didn’t stick around for that.
Heading out back to the car after the last (non-tethered) balloons had left, we had to face all the rest of the traffic heading the same direction.
Parking was a bit of a challenge, and we ended up a 10 minute walking up the road to find a spot.
The kids, tired as they were, did fine, and the fellow event-goers were patient and careful on the narrow park road.