There is something magical about floating high above the landscape.
Riding in a wicker basket suspended from a huge bag of hot-air lifts both your body and your spirits to new heights.
The world below you looks small, which helps shrink your own troubles as you relax and enjoy the panoramic views. Your balloon is at the whim of the wind, so let the breeze blow your worries away.
Hot-air ballooning is popular throughout the Inland Northwest, as shown by the number of ballooning festivals and companies offering rides to the public.
Part of the fun of ballooning is getting in on the ground floor, so to speak, and helping spread and inflate the bag. The experience is informative and enlightening. Once inflated, the brilliant colors of the balloon against the blue dome of sky are truly inspiring. Altitudes during the flight can vary anywhere from treetop level to several thousand feet.
Summer travelers may want to schedule their trips to coincide with regional balloon festivals. Such extravaganzas are fun for the whole family. Children are amazed to see some of their favorite animals grow and take shape. The sight of dozens of dazzling colored bags of all shapes and sizes is a Kodak moment. It is like an animated cartoon in the sky.
Most festivals have an evening show, when the balloons literally light up the sky. Competitive events such as hare and hounds races are fun to watch. One balloonist, playing the hare, takes off and lands. The “hound” balloons give chase and try to catch the hare by touching it.
During the festival, public rides are not allowed. However, most balloonists arrive a few days before and stay after the festival dates to provide rides. A one-hour ride costs about $125.
Here are some selected festival locations, so you can plan your vacation plans to include one of these colorful events. Some towns hosting a balloon festival have local companies which offer public rides. If available, the companies are listed. Call for more information and reservations.
The annual Boise River Festival will be held June 22-25. Call the Boise Convention and Visitor Bureau, (208) 344-7777 or (800) 635-5240.
Several Boise companies offer rides.
Boise Valley Balloon, (208) 853-1611.
Idaho Hot Airlines, (208) 344-8462.
Ultimate Ride, (208) 377-2090.
The Flathead International Balloon Festival will be October 7-8. For information, call the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, (406) 862-3501 or Flathead Visitor and Convention Bureau, (800) 543-3105.
Air Big-Sky Ballooning offers champagne flights throughout the Flathead Valley. (406) 862-3432.
Big Skyfest will be held August 3-6. It is one of the nation’s premier gatherings of competitive hot-air and special shaped balloons. The event this year is part of the professional balloon racing circuit, Balloon Tour America. Pilots flying on this circuit earn points to qualify for the Finals Championship Event.
Billings Chamber of Commerce, (406) 245-4111 or (800) 735- 2635.
Armstrong, British Columbia
The annual Balloon Rendezvous will be held October 6-8. Armstrong is located at the northern end of the Okanagan Valley, a popular vacation destination in south-central British Columbia.
Armstrong Chamber of Commerce, (604) 546-8155.
Okanagan-Similkameen Tourism Association, (604) 860-5999.
Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta
No hot-air balloon festivals will be held this year in these towns. But ballooning is a popular attraction for residents and visitors to these vacation playgrounds. Here are some businesses offering rides. The approximate U.S. dollar cost for an one-hour ride is $113.
Aerodynamics in Calgary, (403) 287-9393.
Balloon Dimensions in Calgary, (403) 254-5246.
Windship Aviation in Edmonton, (403) 438-0111.
For information on accommodations, attractions, points of interest and other recreational opportunities:
Calgary Convention and Visitor Bureau, (800) 661-1678 or (403) 263-8510.
Edmonton Convention and Visitor Bureau, (800) 463-4667 or (403) 496-8400.
The Walla Walla Hot Air Balloon Stampede wraps up today . As many as 50 balloonists attend this annual event. (509) 525-0850.