If soaring into the skies in a wicker basket held up by a gigantic, beautiful balloon is one of the items on your bucket list, there’s no better time or place to check it off than summer in Iowa.
Hot air balloon rides offer unhindered views of the sunrise or sunset, the chance to see your area from a completely new viewpoint, and an unforgettable memory made with those you love. Even if you’re afraid of heights, this serene experience can help you conquer your fears with a higher level of comfort and ease than, say, a roller coaster or flight.
Fortunately, Iowa is something of a hot spot for this riveting activity. After all, Indianola is called “the hot air balloon heart of the U.S.” So without further ado, here’s your ultimate guide to the state’s hot air balloon scene.
What to Know Before You Go
Riding a hot air balloon isn’t the most common pastime, so it would make sense if you aren’t sure what to expect. Here are some tips for first-timers.
How Much It Costs
For most folks, riding a hot air balloon is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not only because it’s so thrilling, but because it costs a pretty penny. According to Hot Air Flight, rides typically cost anywhere from $130 to $300, depending on the location, time of year, and company. Get the most bang for your buck by going with a larger group, waiting until the off-season, or choosing a weekday to ride.
The site also recommends checking cancellation policies, as rides are highly dependent on weather. You definitely want to make sure you get a refund if your ride gets canceled!
What to Bring
Dress for a variety of weather conditions by wearing layers of loose-fitting and comfortable clothes; you don’t want to be too cold, especially on the morning rides, but the burner can also get pretty warm. It’s likely you’ll be landing in a field, so you’ll also want to wear long socks and close-toed shoes. Lastly, bring a camera for breathtaking photos!
Hot air balloons are generally considered safe, but there are extra steps you can take to calm any worries you might have.
When booking a hot air balloon ride, make sure to do your research ahead of time. Read reviews of different companies, and once you find one that looks up to snuff, ask the operator when the last inspection was completed for the balloon you’ll be riding and when the pilot’s last flight review was. You might get an eye roll or two, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry, and your fellow passengers will feel better knowing they’re in good hands—as will you!
Private Tour Options
Whether you’re jonesing for a summer thrill ride with friends or want to pop the question in a unique and romantic way, a private hot air balloon ride is just the thing. There are numerous companies across the state that offer this service, but these three are the cream of the crop.
Buzzards Glory Balloon Co.
Buzzards Glory Hot Air Balloon Company in Cedar Rapids is the oldest hot air balloon company in the state, so you know it’s tried and true. Plus, it received the highest rating possible from the pros at Hot Air Flight!
There are six experienced pilots and seven colorful balloons to choose from for a one-hour ride that typically costs around $575 for up to two passengers.
Freedom Balloon Rides
Located in Indianola, Freedom Balloon Rides offers two different packages: group rides for $250 per person, or private tours for two for $800. Hot Air Flight gave the crew a 5/5 rating, so you know it’s a company you can trust.
Balloon Travels Unlimited
Users have left comments like “ride of a lifetime,” “the entire crew is amazing,” “breathtaking experience,” and “highly recommend.” One rider even said she ”Got a little history lesson on balloon flying at the end with a champagne toast.” How dreamy!
The Marion-based rides usually last around an hour but the cost depends, so the company suggests reaching out for up-to-date info.
Hot Air Balloon Festivals and Events
Maybe you’re not interested in being suspended thousands of feet above ground level. We don’t blame you. But if you’re still interested in enjoying the spectacle of these beautiful, billowy balloons, you can attend a festival or event. You’ll not only get to witness the color-speckled skies but enjoy a variety of other activities to boot.
Plus, each of these events offers either regular or tethered rides for purchase, so everyone in your party can get what they want out of the experience!
Here are a few of Iowa’s most exciting annual events.
National Balloon Classic
One of the country’s premiere hot air balloon events happens over nine days every summer in Indianola. The 2023 National Balloon Classic takes place from July 28-Aug. 5 at Memorial Balloon Field, where more than 100 balloons fill the sky with vibrance.
While pilots from across the globe compete for awards, attendees can enjoy live music, glow parties, fireworks, skydivers, kite shows, activities for kids, and so much more.
Balloon rides (including brand-new private flights for two) are offered every morning and evening (weather permitting), but interested parties should reserve their spot ahead of time, as tickets sell out quickly.
Field of Flight
Each September, Ditmars Orchard and Vineyard in Council Bluffs—one of the largest orchards in the state—hosts an event featuring balloon launches, night glows, live music, apple picking, and wine tasting.
Stay tuned to the venue’s events page for more information.
Southwest Iowa Hot Air Balloon Days
On the third weekend of September, the small town of Creston gets transformed into a hot air balloon paradise. Although the main attraction is balloon racing, additional events include a 5K, arts festival, flea market, parade, human foosball, tethered balloon rides, drag brunch, pet show, and more.
According to Travel Iowa, the 2023 event is set to take place from Sept. 15-17, so mark your calendars!
Ottumwa Pro Balloon Races
Ottumwa’s signature event is the Pro Balloon Race Charity Fundraiser put on by Elks 347.
Dating back to 1977, it’s the longest-running free balloon event in the state. Festivities take place in June, so you’ll have to set a reminder for next year after getting your feet wet with the opportunities we listed above.
This five-day event includes family-friendly activities with a small-town flair, like a car show, pickleball tournament, local music, kids’ tractor pull, and, of course, the competition balloon flight.
by Claire Mainprize
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