From the beginning of humanity, some folks have turned their heads toward the sky and wondered what it would feel like to fly. Balloons offered some of the first opportunities for manned flight, as early as the late 18th century, although these early flying machines were usually filled with hydrogen rather than heated air. Today, hot air balloons are generally considered one of the most romantic, if not peaceful modes of flight, and attending a hot air balloon rally or festival is one of the best ways to learn more about them and even ride as a passenger over scenic, pastoral territory.
New England's oldest balloon festival is located halfway up the state of Vermont and just over the New Hampshire border. Officially titled The Quechee Hot Air Balloon Craft & Music Festival, it is a three day event that takes place every Father's Day Weekend. My wife, kids, and I had the opportunity to attend a couple of years ago and although we were too late to book a balloon ride through the valley, had a great time enjoying the festivities, food, and the evening balloon launch. Here are a few takeaways to consider in your planning, especially if you plan to drive several hours to attend the festival.
Inside the balloon at Quechee.
Where are the balloons?
One thing that you must know up front is that hot air balloons are extremely fickle. They need wind to blow them down the valley, but not too much or the flight becomes unstable. Thermal activity from the ground heating up occurs during the late morning and afternoon, so flying during that time is no good. What this means is that balloons can launch in the early morning around 6am before the sun heats up, or in the evening at 6pm when the air becomes smooth again. In between those times there's no flying, except for a tethered balloon in the center of the field that rises to 50 feet above the surface and provides 5-10 minute rides. If you really want to see the balloons, and of course you do, then be at the field at 5:45am, or later in the afternoon. We made the mistake of arriving at about 1pm, giving us five hours to kill as we waited for the evening launch. Food and entertainment were ongoing, but it was a long afternoon.
Visitors can purchase a tethered balloon ride that floats 50 feet above the field.
Food, Beer, and Entertainment
The festival has booths with the typical fair offerings including burgers, fries, kettle corn and the like. Beer and wine is also available for purchase. Next to the food court are some craft tents and a stage tent that features a number of bands as well as family oriented comedy and magic shows. On the main field, there are a few things going on to keep you occupied:
- A half inflated balloon that children (and adults) can run through and play, kick balls, and generally feel like pre-schoolers again
- Pups In the Air dog show that runs twice daily and features lovable canines jumping and catching frisbees
- Parachuting demonstration where skydivers land on the main field
- Tethered balloon rides from 10am - 3pm
We stayed for the evening launch at 6pm. It was almost cancelled due to lack of a breeze, but eventually the balloons started inflating and popping off the surface like water beginning to boil. It was a pretty cool sight to see all of the balloons launching together, and made for some pretty colorful photos. My only regret was not booking a ride (and arriving a bit too early - almost forgot). By the time we started thinking about it that day, they were sold out. Balloon rides are not cheap, but it's an experience that doesn't present itself often, so I wouldn't return without making it part of the weekend. If you are considering a flight, I recommend booking prior to arrival.
If you are staying in the area for the weekend, you will want a few extra things to do besides go to the Quechee Balloon Festival, It's a half-day event. So to round out your time in Vermont and New Hampshire, consider these nearby places of interest and attractions:
- Morningside Flight Park:
- Located a bit south of the festival, Morningside is where I learned to paraglide. I still go there from time to time to brush up on skills and shake off the cob-webs after a long winter of inactivity. They also offer tandem hang-glider rides. One passenger and a certified tandem pilot are towed to 2,000 ft behind an ultralight aircraft and released for a 15-minute flight over the Connecticut River Valley. If you did not get your balloon ride booked at Quechee, this is your chance to experience non-powered flight. Morningside also has a zip line course with seven consecutive zips and two suspension bridges that traverse the mountain, making it a great, adventure packed afternoon, especially if you are traveling with teens or tweens.
- The amount of cool stuff going on at Killington in the summer is too vast to list in its entirety. The Adventure Center features a mountain coaster, zip lines, ninja obstacle course for ages 7+, 30-foot bungee jump, summer tubing, and more. Visitors can also rent mountain bikes, paddleboards, and sign up for a Segway tour of the mountain. It's like summer camp for kids and adults alike.
The Bottom Line
Yes. It's worth a trip up to Vermont to see the festival. But timing is critical. Figure out what else you want to do in the area - attractions, dining, hiking, etc... or else you'll be sitting for hours waiting for the balloons to launch.