Trip overview: The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is an annual event in that runs for nine days in early October. During the fiesta, hundreds of hot air balloons fill the sky above Albuquerque providing amazing views and photo opportunities. Locals claim this fiesta is one of the most photographed events in the world. Fiesta visitors are able to walk right up to the balloons as they launch, which provides a unique viewing experience. There are also many vendors at the Fiesta who sell authentic New Mexican food! We attended the Balloon Fiesta in October of 2017.
Tickets: You must purchase a general admission ticket for each Fiesta session you wish to attend. Tickets are $10 each and can be used for either the Morning Session (5:45-11:30 am) or Evening Session (1:30-9:00 pm). Up to date ticket information can be found at the Balloon Fiesta website, but tickets can typically be purchased at the entry gate upon arrival or ahead of time online or at several local stores. To see all that the Fiesta has to offer, you will want to buy at least 2 tickets and attend both a Morning Session and an Evening Session.
Logistics: The Fiesta takes place at the Balloon Fiesta Park, which is located at 5000 Balloon Fiesta Pkwy NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113. It is best to find accommodations that are within ~30 minutes driving from the park because traffic can be slow and you will want to arrive to the Morning Sessions very early. We chose to rent an AirBnB in Albuquerque, there are also many hotel options.
We ended up taking Ubers to and from the Fiesta each day, and it was easy and fast. Uber was a sponsor for the event and Uber drivers were able to drive in the traffic-free bus routes and drop guests off at a special parking lot. I cannot guarantee this option will be available at future Fiestas, but I would highly recommend using Uber if they have access to the bus routes. The next best option is to use the Park & Ride service. Tickets for this service are $15 for adults (13-61 yrs.), $12 for seniors (61+), and $7 for children (6-12 yrs.) and can be purchased in advance online or on-site at most of the pickup locations. With this service, you park at an outside lot and are bused the remaining distance to the Balloon Fiesta Park. The worst option is driving your own vehicle and parking at the Balloon Fiesta Park parking lot. The traffic near the park is very heavy and slow. Parking is only $15 per vehicle, but be prepared to be in traffic for 30 minutes at a minimum.
Once you arrive at the Balloon Fiesta Park, head to one of the several gates and enter the Fiesta. You then can either head to the launch field and see the balloons or go to the concession area to buy food and drinks. There are restrooms at the Fiesta, but be aware that they are porta potties and the lines can be long.
Supplies: The Balloon Fiesta is all outdoors so check the weather forecast and dress accordingly. Mornings and evenings are generally chilly and sunny days can be warm in the afternoon. I bought a rain jacket and a light down jacket to keep warm in the morning, and it worked well. We were briefly rained on during one Evening Session, so be aware that it can rain and there are not many places to hide. You will likely be on your feet most of the time while at the Fiesta, so a comfortable pair of shoes is also important. If you prefer to sit, bring a blanket to sit on or bring a lightweight packable chair. You will also want a nice camera for taking photos and will want a hat or sunglasses since there is no shade on the launch field.
You can bring in outside drinks and food, but glass and alcohol are not allowed. We chose to just buy food at the Fiesta and it was very good. In the morning there are plenty of breakfast burrito options, and in the evening there are several New Mexican staples with green and red chile. If you do plan to bring your own food/drinks, bags, backpacks, and coolers are allowed into the Fiesta, but are subject to search at the gate.
Events and Schedule: A full schedule of the events for the 2017 Fiesta can be found in the 2017 Guest Guide. Future Fiestas likely will have a similar schedule, but check to be sure. The main attractions are the Dawn Patrol, the Mass Ascension, and the Special Shapes Glodeo (or Night Glow on weekend nights). The Dawn Patrol kicks off each morning at 6:00 am and consists of ~50 balloons taking off while the sun is still down. This event provides great photo opportunities because the balloons glow as they ascend into the dark early morning sky. You will want to arrive at the Balloon Park before 6:00 am so that you can get through the gate and to the launch field before the Dawn Patrol balloons take off. Gates open at 4:30 am, but you do not need to arrive until ~5:30 – 5:45 am. The Dawn Patrol happens every morning on both weekdays and weekends.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the Mass Ascension at 7:00 am is the next can’t miss event. During this event, 100s of ballons ascend up into the sky and provide amazing photo opportunities. The Mass Ascension is event that the Balloon Fiesta is famous for, so you don’t want to miss it. It is best to plan your trip so that you have the opportunity to attend morning sessions on Saturday and Sunday. This way you have two opportunities to see the Mass Ascension. If there is bad weather on one of the days and the balloons cannot launch, you can come back the next day and see it.
There are some other events in the Morning Sessions, but they are not as popular as those mentioned above and I will not go into details. These include the Special Shapes Rodeo (on weekdays at 7:00 am) and the flying competition (on weekdays at 8:00 am).
For the Evening Session, the main event is the the Special Shape Glodeo (or Balloon Night Glow on weekends). During the Glodeo, many unique balloons are filled up with air while tethered to the ground and are lit up so they glow in the night sky. The balloons do not launch, but you can get some great pictures walking up to and around the balloons. The Glodeo starts at 6:00 pm and is followed by a Laser Light Show at 7:45 pm and fireworks at 8:00 pm. The laser show and fireworks are nice, but are not can’t-miss events.
For our trip, we arrived in Albuquerque on Thursday night. We used this night to find our bearings and buy our supplies for the weekend.
On Friday morning, we hiked the La Luz Trail outside of Albuquerque and caught some glimpses of the balloons from the top of the Sandia Mountains. We then grabbed a late lunch and headed to the Fiesta at ~4:30 pm for the Evening Session. The events for the Evening Session do not start until 6:00 pm, so we used the first hour to grab some drinks and buy some food from the concessions. Then, starting at 6:00 pm we watched the Special Shape Glodeo, the Laser Light Show, and the Afterglow Fireworks.
On Saturday morning, we woke up early and headed to the Fiesta for the Dawn Patrol, and the Mass Ascension. We arrived at the gate at 5:45 am and headed straight to the launch field. By ~10:30 am we had seen enough balloons and headed home to freshen up. We spent the rest of Saturday exploring Albuquerque.
On Sunday, we did not go to the Fiesta and instead enjoyed more of Albuquerque. If the balloons had not launched on Saturday due to weather, we would have went back to the Fiesta for the Morning Session this day. Luckily we went on Saturday though because the it was too windy for the balloons to launch on Sunday and there was no Mass Ascension!
Dawn Patrol: Arrived at 5:45 am on Saturday, located on the Balloon Park launch field
Mass Ascension: started at 7:00 am on Saturday
Special Shapes Glodeo: 6:00 pm on Friday night
Photos from other perspectives:
Here is a related trip report: