First Timer's Guide | Balloon Fiesta

travel couple balloon fiesta New Mexico

oh the places you'll go...

If you’re into fairytale experiences, like dancing in an outdoor ballroom filled with hot air balloons, then the Balloon Fiesta might be your vibe!

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is the largest balloon festival in the world and has been on our list for over 10 years. The fiesta is located in the beautiful city of Albuquerque, New Mexico surrounded by the Sandia and Manzano mountains. It takes place every year for two weeks during the beginning of October and, if it is not already, should be on your dream-list!

en route

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta takes place annually at Balloon Fiesta Park in the northern part of the city. Its easily accessible and only 14.6 miles or 24 minutes from Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ). From the airport you can either rent a car or order a ride-share if you did not drive. Balloon Fiesta Park is located at 4401 Alameda Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113. Getting to the The park has two roadway entrances: Northern Entrance (I-25 Exit 234, Roy-Tramway, South to Balloon Fiesta Parkway) Southern Entrance (I-25 Exit 233, Alameda Road West to Balloon Museum Drive). We highly suggest opting in for the Park and Ride which we will cover below! 

balloon fiesta New Mexico
travel couple balloon fiesta New Mexico
balloon fiesta New Mexico

first impressions

This was not only a dream-list experience, but the first time we’ve ever really been around hot air balloons! To our surprise, these festivals happen all over the world in some pretty insane settings like Cappadocia, Turkey or Lake Havasu, Arizona for example. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta being the largest in the world, it hits a bit different. It felt like we were in a fairytale all morning! The organization of the festival was super impressive and after visiting multiple festivals with over 100,000+ attendees, they have it nailed down! The fiesta had clean grounds, friendly volunteers, and it felt very safe! It was a wonderful mix of local balloon fiesta veterans and visiting globetrotters alike. Truly everyone was happy! We loved how accessible the grounds were for everyone to explore and be as close as you would like to experience the festival fully! 

Morning glow Balloon fiesta

eats & sips

The Balloon Fiesta’s main street span’s over one-third of a mile with concessions galore! There are many local venders ranging from breakfast burritos at Blakes to local green chile cheeseburgers. The setup reminded us of a fairground with funnel cakes, turkey legs, giant corndogs and so many other similar foods bringing back all the nostalgic vibes! There is surely something there to appease all ages! We probably had 4 cups of coffee each while we where there… no shame in our caffeine game!  Make sure to check out and support all of the local vendors! 


The Balloon Fiesta tends to book out a year in advanced. Whether you are in a travel trailer like us, or looking for a hotel or AirBnB for the weekend, we recommend getting on it quickly! Cheaper prices and more availability is the name of the game and that usually comes from planning ahead with these types of events. 

We did not because we like to miss these windows (LOL) but we were still able to find a last minute option a few weeks before so there is hope if you are a bit late! Some of the closer hotels will offer shuttles but since this event starts so early (we woke up at 3am) we found the Park and Ride option to be the best bet. Our $25 ticket (per person) included round trip shuttle and a ticket for entry. We highly recommend choosing the 4 am Shuttle time! Click here for more info! 

There are four parking lot options placed around the Fiesta. It’s beneficial to find lodging near one of the below Park n Ride locations if you’re going that route. Keep in mind, these locations may change year to year.

  • Cottonwood Mall (10000 Coors Bypass NW) 
  • Coronado Center (6600 Menaul Blvd NE) 
  • Hoffmantown Church (8888 Harper Road NE) 
  • Intel – Only on weekends (1600 Rio Rancho Drive SE)

There are other options like limos for larger groups and bike valet. Parking is also available on the Fiesta grounds if you wish to drive but it is not recommended unless you love spending your free time sitting in bumper to bumper traffic!

travel couple balloon fiesta New Mexico
balloon fiesta New Mexico
balloon fiesta New Mexico

local & unique

With over 51 years of bringing life to the sky in Albuquerque, this event has proudly grown to the largest Balloon festival in the world with over 600 balloons and close to 1000 pilots/balloonists. There are multiple events over the course of the two weeks, which are all unique in their own ways and hold value for everyone of all ages. Some of the local traditions that we would highly suggest are the Drone Show, Dawn Patrol, Morning Glow, and Mass Ascension. We knocked all of this out in one morning and felt that we had experienced a lot of what the festival had to offer for us. Some of our favorites are listed below!

travel couple balloon fiesta New Mexico
balloon fiesta New Mexico

fav events

At first, we played around with the idea of staying on the outskirts and not going into the festival but we knew it would not be the same experience. We were right! We would have sold ourselves short of this incredible experience.

After looking at the schedule, our favorite events were all happening on the same day. We loved the Dawn Patrol which starts at 6am followed by the Morning Glow at 630am. These two events happen on Mass Ascension days — pilots perform the Dawn Patrol which gives a chance for about 12 pilots to determine the day’s winds and conditions.

There was something so special about being surrounded by thousands of strangers cheering together in the dark with excitement as the light starts to fill the sky. Watching the hot air balloon flames ignite, erect, and gently float away into the morning sky brought tears to our eyes! This is followed with the Morning Glow, which is equally impressive, offering a different perspective with more light in the sky and balloonists taking flight.

The star of the show was the Mass Ascension, which takes place on both weekends of the Fiesta. This event is where 500+ balloons launch in massive continuous waves for over two hours! So many balloons!!!! The spectacle will overwhelm you with childhood joy – it’s hard to describe how magical it is to witness!

We decided that when we visit our next balloon festival, we will look to actually ride in one! This is a widely popular option here, we just missed the window (again, per usual!) Click here for reservations and more information.

Morning glow Balloon fiesta
Dawn Patrol Ballloon Fiesta
Drone Show at Balloon Fiesta
Dawn Patrol Balloon fiesta

before you go

Depending on what you are looking to experience, make sure to have a solid morning plan! We woke up early so we could avoid a huge rush, we also wanted to see the unique shows before the sun came up. We left our hotel and parked at our designated Park and Ride lot at 3:30am, had some coffee and got in line! We didn’t have any issues at all and right at 4am, the buses began loading. Organized chaos at its finest and tons of busses were waiting to be filled up! 

Pro-tip: Talk with your group and decide ahead of time what type of experience you want to have – whether you want to be a spectator or right in the mix. We wanted to be up close and emerged in the fiesta so all we brought was a blanket and it was the perfect choice. We sat on it in the morning for the Drone Show but as soon as that was over, we went straight into the center field for the Dawn Patrol, Morning Glow and Mass Ascension. We were running around like kids in a candy shop!

weather tips & what to wear

In October, early mornings and overnight temperatures are around 40 degrees. By mid-afternoon, temperatures will likely be up to 70 degrees so you will want to dress in layers! Our go-to store for most of our gear is REI! One of our favorite athleisure brands is Vuori, we are admittedly obsessed! We also love our Patagonia shells – we don’t leave home without them! Make sure to bring comfy shoes, gloves, and hand warmers! One bag is allowed per person – for more information on what’s allowed in the park, click here.

balloon fiesta info

4401 Alameda Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113


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