Hudson Valley Hot-Air Balloon Festival in Rhinebeck

(Photo by Paul VanDerWerf)

The passage overhead of a hot-air balloon (or many) has got to be among the most enticing photo ops ever. They’re brightly colored. They move slowly, so it’s easy to capture images of their stately progress. And they’re not launched in dicey weather conditions, so a ballooning day is always a great day to be outside, snapping away.

Hot-air balloon festivals are of course the best chances to catch glimpses of these majestic conveyances, and our best annual local opportunity comes up the weekend of July 6 through 8. Scattered in years past over many locations, the 2018 Hudson Valley Hot-Air Balloon Festival will be concentrated in one spot: the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck.

This 27th annual gathering of balloonists and vendors from all over the country is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors, but the Fairgrounds are a large enough venue to welcome them all comfortably. When nearly everyone is looking up at the sky, being part of a crowd isn’t a daunting problem. But there will be plenty to do on the ground as well, with appealing activities for the entire family.


Each year, this Festival schedules about 100 balloon launches. They’re typically clustered in the very early morning, before the sun is high, when the air near the ground is cool and winds haven’t yet had a chance to gather strength. Thermodynamic conditions often become friendly again toward nightfall, so if you’re not an early riser, viewing an evening launch of a cluster of illuminated balloons – known in the trade as a “moon glow” – may be your best bet.

If watching doesn’t seem like enough, it is certainly possible to go for the low-tech ride of a lifetime at the Hudson Valley Hot-Air Balloon Festival. For the real thing, an untethered “walkabout” journey through the sky, you’ll have to purchase tickets in advance; be prepared to shell out $250 for a 6 a.m. launch and $275 for 6 p.m. The length of your flight and your landing site may vary. If you’re willing to wait in line and spend $20 (cash only), you can opt for a tethered ride, which will take you up, up but not away. These happen between 5 and 9 a.m. and again from noon to sunset. All flights are “weather permitting,” with no guarantee that a launch will happen in the timeframe that you’ve reserved. Even when they’re not carrying passengers, balloonists are a cautious lot who only take off in predictably safe conditions.

Helicopter rides are another aerial thrill being offered (though these again will be limited if adverse weather conditions prevail). Antique airplanes from the Rhinebeck Aerodrome will do flyovers. On the ground, there will be hayrides for the whole family, and youngsters can take a ride on the trackless Roaming Railroad. Other kid-friendly activities include the Great White Shark Slide, the Heart Pumper Obstacle Course, Reptile Encounters and Birds of Prey exhibitions, the Two-by-Two Petting Zoo, face-painting and miniature golf. There will be field games and carnival games. Perhaps most intriguing of all, you can check out the mobile versions of the latest interactive attractions at Headless Horseman Hayrides, known as Escape Rooms.

Live performers will include illusionist Ryan Dutcher, Bee Bee the Clown and lots of musicians: Freedom Class on Friday evening, Lucky House and Wyld Blu on Saturday and the CloudeNYne Band and the Roadhouse Roosters on Sunday. Aerophone, a 50-piece band, will play patriotic tunes during the Hot-Air Balloon Illumination Moon Glow events on both Friday and Saturday night, weather permitting.

Teens and tweens who love YA literature will have chances to chat with teenaged Rhinebeck author Erin Forbes, who will be signing copies of her Fire & Ice series of novels between 4 and 7 p.m. each day. Sessions of Sunrise Yoga with Ruby Star Healing Arts and Morning Mat Pilates with Studio 8 will be offered on both Saturday and Sunday mornings; reserve your spot in advance. And for thirsty 21+ grownups only, a Craft Beverage Tap Tent beckons.

The Fairgrounds gates will be open with free admission from 5 to 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The grounds will then close until noon, and an admission fee will be required to reenter between 12 and 9:30 p.m. both days, or from 4 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday. Most of the vendor action and activities will take place in the afternoon and evening hours, though a breakfast fundraiser to benefit Dutchess Outreach is scheduled for 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Admission costs $10 in advance per day, $10 at the gate for Friday evening and $13 at the gate for either Saturday or Sunday afternoon and evening. Admission for children aged 3 to 16 includes a Game Coupon voucher to play eight carnival games; children under age 3 get in free. On Friday at the gate only, seniors aged 65+ and military personnel get in for $7. An All-Weekend Access Pass costs $23. Parking is free.

The 27th annual Hudson Valley Hot-Air Balloon Festival is presented by the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce. To preorder tickets, reserve spaces and see the full schedule, visit

Hudson Valley Hot-Air Balloon Festival, Friday, July 6, 4-9:30 p.m., $7-$10, Saturday/Sunday, July 7/8, 5-9 a.m., free, 12-9:30 p.m., $10-$13, Dutchess County Fairgrounds, 6550 Spring Brook Avenue (Route 9), Rhinebeck;