Social media has undoubtedly taken #travelgoals to the next level, providing thousands of millennials with an endless database of jaw-dropping images of where to go next. If you’re an aspiring globetrotter who frequently keeps up with travel bloggers, then you’ve probably come across gorgeous images of hot air balloons soaring at sunrise in the Turkish city of Cappadocia. After coming across those images, we wouldn’t put it past you if you decide to add “witness hot air balloons fill the sky” to your bucket list.
But guess what? You don’t have to fly all the way to Turkey to make your hot air balloon dreams come true. Lucky for you, Colorado has a handful of colorful hot air balloon festivals scheduled every summer.
It’s no wonder that the state of Colorado has the affectionate nickname, “Colorful Colorado.” Indeed, the state’s summers especially, are resplendent with rainbow-hued vistas. But Colorado’s natural scenery plays only one role in its summer beauty. The region’s hot air balloon festivals also adorn the state’s summer skies with their own color-bursting brocade. Here are five hot air balloon festivals happening this summer that will set the tone for an eye-catching and eventful season.
Hot Air Balloon Rodeo
July 10 & 11 in Steamboat Springs
Kick off the summer in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The city will be celebrating its 40th Annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo on the weekend of July 10th and 11th. The Yampa Valley sky will be speckled with more than 24 balloons that will be launched from Bald Eagle Lake. Wake up early to see the balloons inflate before the Colorado summer’s staple event begins from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. You can head over to the Ski Town Ballfields for the public viewing but that’s not all — there will be plenty of food and merchant vendors to make sure you’re fueled for fun as well.
When you’ve had your fill of the balloons, the 46th annual Art in the Park is another colorful scene you can take part in just minutes away, with crafts, performances, and an interactive children’s area to fill your day. Art in the Park Park is free to the public and will feature nearly 150 artist vendors, live entertainment, food vendors, and an interactive children’s art area. Capacity will be limited to 500 attendees at a time this year.
Since you’re in the area, why not head up to the mountain where you’ll find a summer adventure for the whole family in The Land Up. Scream your way down the Outlaw Mountain Coaster, or play it safer at Maverick Mini Golf Course. You can also take a scenic chairlift ride, hike among wildflowers, or explore the mountain on cross country bike trails. We promise you’ll feel peachy in Strawberry Park Hot Springs’ mineral pools, where you’ll find the chance for some much-deserved R&R.
Moffat County Balloon Festival
Aug 7 & 8 in Craig
After being postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic, the hugely-popular Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival is making its colorful comeback this August at Loudy-Simpson Park in Craig, Colorado. This year’s free festival will be the 11th version of the Balloon Festival in Moffat County and the balloon launch will take place on the Saturday and Sunday morning. The balloon festival is shooting for roughly 30 pilots this year.
Along with the balloon festival, live music will be provided by a handful of bands at the two-day event. The Long Run, an Eagles’ Tribute Band from Denver, will headline the event, while the bands Southside Highway, Randy Burghardt, and Buffalo Commons will also perform in Craig.
But there’s more on tap while you’re in town: Yampa Valley Brewing Company provides a range of diverse, high quality craft beers for not just Yampa Valley, but the entire northwest Colorado. But if you really want to go wild, you might want to try The Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse Herd where you’ll witness an extraordinary herd of wild horses. While you won’t be allowed within 100 feet of the stallions, you can still see them in all their unbridled glory.
The festival is also located close to the northwest corner of Colorado, which means you could also take a trip to the border of Utah to check out the Dinosaur National Monument. There you’ll find fossils, immortalizing the mysterious reptile-like beings that walked our planet over 60 million years ago. Seeing the bone structures of these life-sized creatures is a pretty marvelous sight to see, so if you’re fascinated by all things science, this would definitely be an interesting adventure for you.
You can also find petroglyphs painted and etched on the monument’s rocks by the Fremont Indians thousands of years ago. To learn the park’s secrets of the past, it would be a good idea to book a guided tour. One unique tour for our outdoor explorers is a whitewater rafting tour through Dinosaur National Monument with OARS. They offer a variety of five-star tours that hit all the most exciting spots, all while enlightening you with everything you need to know about the land’s history.
Needless to say, a trip to Dinosaur would be an interesting attraction for history buffs too.
Labor Day Lift Off
Sept 4 to 6 in Colorado Springs
On Labor Day weekend, be prepared for lift off at the Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off, where the festival will have its massive hot air balloon launch. Aptly called “the most colorful weekend of the year,” the tradition will be celebrated from Memorial Park in Colorado Springs. The early morning balloon ascension will fill the city skyline. You can go up in one of 70+ balloons accompanied by breakfast and drinks from local vendors.
Just a ten minute drive from Memorial Park is Seven Falls, also known as “Colorado’s Grandest Mile.” There are many outdoor activities to keep you entertained at Seven Falls, but the most exhilarating one is the Soaring Adventure. This wilderness experience will take you through an intrepid route consisting of ten zip lines, various suspension bridges, and spectacular hikes giving you another chance to see Colorado Springs from an aerial perspective.
Colorado Springs sits at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains and is home to one of the nation’s most famous landmarks, Pikes Peak. Author Katharine Lee Bates was so taken by the summit that she penned the still-popular patriotic anthem, “America the Beautiful” in 1885. Visitors can ascend this 115-foot beauty accessible via car, bicycle, or hike. Each summer, skilled professional drivers gather to race up the highway during The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Two other sites to include on your Colorado Springs to-do list are the Garden of the Gods and the Cave of the Winds. As you can see, you won’t fall short of things to do in this city, being an added bonus after attending the vibrant hot air balloon festival.
Snowmass Balloon Festival
Sept 10 to 12 in Snowmass Village
There’s a lot of summer fun to be had in Snowmass! The village might be known for its picturesque ski resort near Aspen, but the Snowmass Balloon Festival every September is plenty of reason to visit during the “off” season. Rise and shine in the early morning hours and you’ll catch sight of over 30 hot air balloons, as pilots will be competing with each other in one of the highest-altitude hot air balloon festivals in the U.S. Balloons rise at an altitude from 2,000 feet to 10,000 feet, giving spectators 360-degree panoramic views of the spectacular Colorado mountains.
A highlight of the three-day event will be The Night Glow that usually takes place on Friday evening. In addition to balloon rides, there will be “baskets” of food and drinks, barbeque, and a free live music concert. There is also The Kids’ Corner where there will be plenty of family-friendly activities.
From Snowmass, you should definitely spend a day visiting the breathtakingly beautiful Maroon Bells. The best way to get there from Snowmass Village is through the village shuttle and bus service. What’s so great about Maroon Bells is that the most sought out mountain views are easily accessible to anyone. One hiking trail that’s safe for children and recommended for all skill levels is the Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail. As you hike towards the lake, you’ll see exactly why the Maroon Bells mountains are one of the most photographed ridges in the country.
For some added adventure, tucked in among the trees and rocks at Elk Camp on Snowmass Mountain is The Lost Forest — an on-mountain adventure center where there are zip lines, a mountain coaster, and 80 miles of amazing hiking and biking trails — not to mention the incredible mountain excursions and two-disc golf courses. You’ll also get lost in the magnificent mountain views.
Sept 17 to 19 in Pagosa Springs
Are you ready for the mass balloon ascension in Pagosa Springs? We certainly hope so because 40 — yes, 40 — balloons will fill the sky on the weekend of September 17th to 19th at Colorfest Balloon Rally. See them float over the Pagosa Lakes area and the Pagosa Springs Golf Club during the morning hours.
Attendees 21 and older should also get a “passport” to the Pagosa Wine and Food Festival, so you can listen to live music as you sample wine from around the world and feast on local cuisine. Pagosa Springs takes their food very seriously — local restaurants and specialty food shops will be competing for the Golden Whisk Awards by providing tastes and samples from their menus. Some food for thought: you’re invited to vote for your favorite dish or sample!
While you’re on holiday, treat yourself to a relaxing day at one of the town’s many hot springs. Most people are drawn to The Spring Resort & Spa to see the “Great Pagosah Spring,” breaking records as the world’s most massive hot spring with a depth of over 1,000 feet. The pool’s exact depth is unknown to anyone, as no plumb lines or measuring devices have ever actually hit the bottom. With temperatures surpassing 140 degrees, visitors are not allowed to dip into this worldwide phenomenon, but as the Mother Spring, it does supply mineral water into the spa’s many swimmable soaking pools.
If you’d rather soak in hot springs on a rooftop, you can cross the San Juan River and spend an afternoon at Overlook Springs. Catch sunset overlooking the city as you unwind in one of their scenic rooftop tubs, or stay as late as 10:00 PM on weekdays, and 11:00 PM on weekends to gaze at the stars.
Despite the timeless TLC song, “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls,” the town recommends that you do go chasing the wondrous waterfalls in Pagosa Springs. There are four magical cascades to choose from: Piedra Falls, Fourmile Falls, Silver Falls, and Treasure Falls. The sights and sounds of each will transport you to another world.
Last on your itinerary, head west to the Chimney Rock National Monument, a celestial observatory built by the Ancestral Puebloans over a thousand years ago. The monument is only open to the public between May to September, so this would be your last chance to witness this astronomical masterpiece for the rest of the year. Check it out if you get the chance and experience the powerful energy in an archeological wonder that some say was ahead of its time. Be sure to reserve tickets to Chimney Rock directly on the Recreation.gov website before your trip.