If you follow any travel blogs or Instagrammers, you have probably heard of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Now the biggest hot air balloon festival in the world, this event is held during the first week in October each year. Albuquerque has ideal wind conditions for ballooning, which has earned it the nickname: Hot Air Balloon Capital of the World. This 9 day event brings in people from all over the world. So how can you make the most of your visit to Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta?
How Fiesta Works
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is a 9 day event, kicking off on the first weekend of October and going through the following Sunday morning. Before planning your Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta travel itinerary, take a good look at the schedule to see the different themed events and plan out your week.
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has 2 session times most days with a total of 14 sessions. Morning sessions begin between 5:45 and 6:00 each day, although parking and entrance gates will open earlier than that. The fields will clear around noon each day until 2 or 3 in the afternoon when the evening session begins.
Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival tickets are general admission and can be used for either morning or evening sessions. If you’re planning to attend both morning and evening sessions in a single day, you’ll need a ticket for each session. They are easy to purchase online or at a booth as you walk up to the event. We decided to purchase tickets online in the morning instead of purchasing our session tickets ahead of time. This way if one of the sessions is cancelled, we could use that ticket for the next session we attend, instead of having an extra ticket purchased that we didn’t end up using. Tickets are $15 for anyone 12 years old and up, so young children are admitted free!
The Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival also offers a few VIP ticket options as well as the popular Park & Ride Tickets which are not offered same day. With a Park & Ride ticket, your admission and your transportation to and from Balloon Fiesta Park are paired together and the bus uses a special route that bypasses the traffic of everyone waiting to park at the festival.
Parking at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is $20 per session.
There’s a lot of lingo in the world of ballooning, but the two key things to understand are Dawn Patrol and Mass Ascension. Dawn Patrol is the first handful of balloons that take off before sunrise each day. These pilots are tasked with testing the wind conditions and reporting back to the rest of the balloon crews. Mass Ascension is when hundreds of balloons take off at dawn. Note that the schedule marks some mornings as simply a ‘balloon launch.’ This means that there will be fewer balloons flying that day. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad morning to go to Fiesta! Fewer balloons means less crowds and with 600 balloons participating in the festival, you’ll still have a good showing even on the weekday mornings.
15 Tips for Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta with Kids
1. Book Early
You don’t want to wait to start booking your Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta travel itinerary. This is an incredibly popular event every year. Hotels, Airbnbs, campgrounds, flights, and rental cars will all need to be reserved well in advance. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta offers a couple of different temporary RV lots for the festival. Reservations for those open in January and sell out quickly.
2. Go Early and Often
When planning your Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta travel itinerary, make sure to plan multiple trips to the festival. The weekends might be more crowded, but they also have the most activities and events, so we recommend planning to attend both a weekend and a weekday morning session. And as we’ll mention in #13, you probably shouldn’t expect to attend both morning and evening sessions in the same day, unless you’re fine with only a few hours of sleep each night. Most people recommend planning to attend at least 2 morning and 2 evening sessions for your Albuquerque Balloon Festival travel itinerary. So you’ll want at least 4 days in Albuquerque. But you might need more to account for bad weather and we recommend arriving early in the festival so you have additional flexibility as needed. (See our next tip.)
It’s also worth mentioning that every day the balloons will behave a little differently, as the wind is always different. During our visit, one day the balloons stayed perfectly in the box and seemed to just float above the field. Many pilots were able to land back on the balloon field, which they often can’t do! Just a few days later, the balloons were moving south after takeoff, leaving the field area completely. This makes it difficult to see the balloons from outside the festival grounds, because you’re not sure which direction they’ll be traveling, but you might also get the fun surprise of seeing a balloon land in the middle of the city!
3. Plan for Bad Weather
Part of planning to attend Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta multiple times is accommodating for bad weather. It doesn’t take much wind for balloon launches to be canceled. It might feel like a beautiful day outside, but if the wind is too gusty or unpredictable, it is not safe to fly.
Gut reaction… how many morning and evening sessions would you like to attend? Ok great, now add at least 1 morning session and 1 evening session to that number. You’ll want a buffer for poor weather conditions.
If wind conditions aren’t right, balloons may still inflate but stay tethered to the ground. This is a great opportunity to walk around and enjoy all the different balloon designs and collect balloon cards from the crews. (See tip #11 for more!) This is also a great time for photos in front of your favorite balloons.
If conditions are worse, the balloons might not be allowed to inflate at all. If this happens, your ticket should be honored for another day’s session. But there’s still food booths, craft vendors, and the balloon museum to enjoy!
These announcements are often made at the last minute, so it’s best to stay flexible and find another part of the festival to enjoy if you’re on the field when balloons are grounded. Don’t let a little wind ruin your Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta travel itinerary.
4. Morning and Night are Different
As I mentioned above, there are morning and evening sessions at the New Mexico Hot Air Balloon Festival. Balloons only launch during the morning session, which evening sessions including things like balloon glow, kites, skydiving, drone lights show, and fireworks.
5. Visit on a Weekday for Lower Crowds
The two bookend weekends of Fiesta are the busiest, so we recommend having a few weekdays on your Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta travel itinerary as well. The schedule is posted online well in advance, so you can see that Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday only have morning events. And Wednesday is marked as a Mass Ascension, which means it will have more balloons in the morning launch than Monday and Tuesday. Thursday and Friday have both morning and afternoon events, but will still have lower crowds than either of the weekends.
6. Get Up Early
This is not a drill. Dawn Patrol is at 6 am, which means you’ll want to be parked and inside the balloon field before 5:45. You’ll need to accommodate for travel time, parking lines, and security. Think about how excited you’ve been to plan your Albuquerque Balloon Festival travel itinerary as you set that super early wakeup alarm. It will be worth it!
When we arrived at 5:30, we had plenty of time to stop by the restroom, wander through the merchandise tent, tag our kids (see #10), and purchase some delicious breakfast foods. (We highly recommend the mini donuts and the fry bread breakfast taco. Yum!)
Mass Ascensions start at 7 am with the sunrise and balloons will launch one right after another for about an hour. There are still things to see and enjoy after 8 am, but if you end up arriving late, you’ll miss the main attraction.
7. Bike if You Can
While I didn’t list it #1, this is probably my best tip for what to do at Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival. When you bike to Balloon Fiesta Park, you’re directed to the FREE bike valet, just south of the festival field.
Not only does biking save you the $20 parking fee for each session, but it is a highly efficient way to arrive at Balloon Fiesta Park. Albuquerque has fantastic bike paths and biking in will save you quite a bit of time over parking a vehicle.
If you plan to bike to the New Mexico Hot Air Balloon Festival, you’ll want to wear extra layers and be well prepared with lights and reflectors for biking in the dark.
8. Pack Well
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Outside food and drink is allowed at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, so we recommend packing some good snacks! We brought a handful of small snack and breakfast items as well as a refillable water bottle. And if we hadn’t been biking, you’d better believe I would have brought a travel mug of tea or hot cider with me!
I purchased a tiny folding hiking chair, so that we could strap it to the backpack while biking, but we saw several people carrying regular camping chairs. Other people spread out blankets.
9. Layer Up
Albuquerque’s desert weather requires a little strategy and planning. If you’re arriving at Balloon Fiesta Park at 5:30, you’ll be experiencing the coldest temperatures of the entire day for over an hour. Even if it’s going to be a warm day, it will take a little while after sunrise for temperatures to rise. We layered a t-shirt, a sweater or sweatshirt, and a coat along with hats and gloves. Make sure you have room in your backpack for these additional layers.
10. Tag your Kids
I’m sure losing your kids is not on your Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival travel itinerary, so we were glad to learn that the New Mexico State Police had a booth near the food vendors where we could write out an identification bracelet for our kids in case they get lost. Stopping here is also the perfect opportunity to give your kids some safety reminders.
11. Collect Balloon Cards
This is definitely my kids’ favorite tip for what to do at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Balloon crew members will hand out small cards that look very similar to baseball trading cards with a photo and information about their balloon. Collecting these cards was a fun activity to do as we walked around and they make for a fantastic FREE souvenir from the trip.
12. Visit the Museum
The Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum is quite impressive and well worth the stop! Admission was very reasonable and we were impressed with how extensive the Albuquerque balloon museum was. In addition to historical information and artifacts from past 50 years of the Balloon Festival, there were several exhibits on other hot air balloon expeditions that have taken place throughout history across the globe. The museum also has a fantastic hands on section that kids of all ages will love. We visited the museum after a morning session, but I’d recommend saving it for a day you’re attending the evening session, because there’s lots to see there and we were too tired after our early morning to really give it the time it deserved.
13. Schedule a Nap
You’re getting up EARLY, so it’s unlikely you’ll have enough energy to do the morning session, visit a local attraction in the afternoon, and then head back to the field for the evening session all in the same day. We woke up at 4 am, so we were thankful that we didn’t try to cram everything in! Book a few extra nights and spread out your Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta travel itinerary as much as you can.
14. Enjoy Albuquerque
Find other things to do in Albuquerque during your visit but be prepared for the crowds to follow you especially in the afternoons between sessions or if a session is cancelled.
15. Wander Around
Don’t just stay in one spot! We noticed a huge difference in the crowds as we walked around to see all the different balloons. Spectators had a tendency to congregate along the edge of the field by the food vendor, but if you move into the field more, you can find a little more breathing room and be surrounded by balloons on all sides. You’ll notice that the field is made up of squares with roads where vehicles will need to enter and exit. If you find a spot towards the edge of one of these squares, you’ll have a great seat as balloons are setting up and lifting off.
One lesson we learned at the hot air balloon festival was how to stay out of the way. Balloon crews are very welcoming, but there are certain times when they need spectators to stand back for their own safety. If you can see the gas flame of the balloon, you need to stand back, both while they’re filling the balloon with air and when they’re about to take off. And then once the pilot has taken off, the chase crew must follow them, so be aware that the other crew members will need to load up quickly and drive off of the field. Keep your kids close by and out of the way of vehicles.
If you’ve been dreaming of attending New Mexico’s Hot Air Balloon Festival, I hope these tips gave you some ideas of what to do at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. This annual event is a once in a lifetime trip full of color and whimsy. It’s truly spectacular and with our tips you can build the perfect New Mexico Hot Air Balloon Festival travel itinerary.