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The Great Reno Balloon Race

Up, Up and Away!

Soaring high above the Reno skyline in early September, upwards of 100 beautiful hot-air balloons take flight for the Great Reno Balloon Race. It has been one of Reno’s most colorful and spectacular events for more than three decades and is a world-renowned and locally beloved community tradition. Sure, it might mean setting your alarm clock for a bit earlier than you’re used to, but it’s worth the wake!

The Great Reno Balloon Race is the largest free hot-air balloon event in the world, enchanting those of all ages with its vibrant colors and crowd-pleasing events. With an average of more than 120,000 spectators attending over three days, the number of lives touched by the beautiful spectacle continues to rise just like the balloons themselves. Highlights include the Mass Ascension, Glow Show, Dawn Patrol, vendors and a VIP tent for spectators who want to upgrade their experience.

The World's Largest FREE Hot Air Balloon Festival

One of the reasons Reno Tahoe is so special is the abundance of unique special events, and arguably one of the most iconic events in the area is The Great Reno Balloon Race. Up to 100 colorful balloons float above Reno in the early hours of the morning. Fans can walk right up to them while the pilots prepare to take off and get an experience that is unlike anything else in the world. Whether it’s your first time or a loyal follower, here are some tips to help you manage that early wake-up call.

The Great Reno Balloon Race Schedule of Events

Mornings at The Great Reno Balloon Race begin with the Glow Show (or Super Glow Show if you attend on Friday morning!). This trademark event draws visitors before the sun rises to view a handful of balloons light to the tune of choreographed music, complete with ever-popular dueling banjos. Following the Glow Show is the Dawn Patrol, during which a group of balloons that are qualified to fly in the dark rise into the pre-dawn sky, creating an unforgettable experience.

Once the sun starts to rise, nearly 100 balloons will launch for what is known as Mass Ascension. Make sure to keep a look out for some of the popular special-shaped balloons that have made appearances in past years including Smokey Bear, Gus T. Guppy, Soccer Ball and even the Darth Vader balloon. This is one of a kind experiences as the balloons rise over the Virginia range and float off into the distance. Many locals will tell stories of balloons landing in a variety of places, including football fields, parking lots and residential streets as they drift back to land.

During the time that the Mass Ascension is taking place, you will want to make a stop by Balloon Boulevard, a place for crafts, souvenirs, food and drinks. Here you snag one of the collectible Great Reno Balloon Race posters or some clothing and memorabilia! Other features that typically take place during the event weekend include pajama parties and kid-friendly activities like tethered balloon rides.

Most of the events that The Great Reno Balloon Race offers happen before dawn, so make sure to set that alarm!

The Great Reno Balloon Race Location and Parking

Each year, the Great Reno Balloon Race is held at Rancho San Rafael Park, located just 1.5 miles north of downtown Reno. For spectators and participants, there is limited parking available at Rancho San Rafael and across the street at the University of Nevada. Much of the street parking in the surrounding areas is blocked off, so if you are planning on parking, get to the event early!

If you are staying or parking in downtown Reno, you can walk, but keep in mind that it is uphill on the way to the park. A great option to access the Reno balloon races is RTC RIDE service which offers shuttle service from pickup points in Reno and Sparks.

For more tips to help you make the most of this event, including how to dress and what you can bring into Rancho San Rafael Park, visit The Great Reno Balloon Race’s official site.

Make the Most of Your Experience

Enjoy the comfort of a heated seating area, 360-degree views of the balloons, breakfast and a hosted bar with a Cloud 9 VIP Club experience. Cloud 9 members also get a parking pass and a special edition champagne glass to take home.

At this year’s event, a special First Responders VIP Tent is open to honor the first responders who have worked tirelessly for their communities. To access the First Responder VIP Tent, located in the East Cabanas, simply bring a current, valid identification. You are welcome to bring a guest with you to share the experience.

With over 125,000 spectators coming out for the event over three days, parking can be challenging. If you were not able to snag one of their VIP Parking Passes this year, there are still several options to get you into the park. There are two parking lots at Rancho San Rafael Park that make for a short walk to the launch field. For a $25 cash-only donation, you can park at the corner of Sierra Street and McCarran, or the Coleman Street lot starting at 3:30 a.m. The University of Nevada, Reno offers their north parking lot to the public for free parking, but cars must be out of the lot by 10 a.m. RTC RIDE will be offering free transit service to and from Rancho San Rafael Regional Park for passengers who board at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center’s parking lot. For more information and specifics on parking, check out their Parking & Transportation page.

Balloon Boulevard is filled with everything you want on a chilly morning. You can find dozens of food vendors with everything from hot coffee to breakfast sandwiches to gourmet pastries. Of course, you’re free to bring your own food and beverages to cozy up on the field with, it just never hurts to grab a little something special to add to the mix. You’ll also find toys for the kids, gorgeous balloon memorabilia and the official GRBR merchandise tent.

Children of all ages are drawn to the whimsical nature of the event, making for a family-friendly environment every year. Kids are free to run and play in the large regional park (but make sure to watch for other people and balloons!) and there is an entire section of Balloon Boulevard dedicated to kids. Designated balloons will be giving tethered rides (for a small donation) to anyone wanting to experience the joy of flight. Be sure to meet and greet the pilots, too! They will be handing out special trading cards so kids can try to collect as many as possible.


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