Whenever someone mentions hot air balloons my mind immediately goes to the classic song "Up, Up and Away" by the Fifth Dimension. In Indianola, Iowa, riding in a beautiful balloon is a way of life. Each summer, about 70,000 people gather for a nine-day event at the National Balloon Classicational Balloon Classic. This year's classic runs from July 29 to August 6.
We've become fans of hot air balloon festivals, having previously attended the National Balloon Classic as well as the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico — the Super Bowl of hot air ballooning.
With more than 100 hot air balloons expected to participate, the skies in central Iowa will fill with a colorful sight. Pilots from almost 25 states are expected and at least one European. With pilots coming from states such as Iowa, Nebraska, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and New Mexico, it's about double the number of states when we attended our first National Balloon Classic in 2014.
Hot air balloons come in all shapes and sizes. From the classic balloons often seen floating in the sky to animal and vehicle shapes, hot air balloons are as unique as fingerprints. They may look similar, but that's as close as they get. Colors and patterns differ, so no balloon looks the same (with a few corporate exceptions).
Located about two-and-a-half hours from Omaha, attending the National Balloon Classic offers up-close views of the balloons. You're only a few feet away from some of them as crews inflate the balloons for early morning and evening ascensions. Bring a blanket or lawn chair to sit back and enjoy the aerial show.
Each day features a morning and evening ascension. A dawn patrol launches at 5 a.m. July 30 and August 6. Daily activities include evening concerts.
What to expect
Directions and parking
We recommend arriving early to ensure you find a good parking spot. Gates are open 6-9 a.m. for morning activities and at 5 a.m. on July 30 and August 6. The parking lot is a field, so you'll need to follow traffic as there won't be parking attendants. Parking is a free-will donation in the mornings. Morning admission is free. Evening parking starts at 4 p.m. and is included with admission.
The Classic is located east of Indianola on Highway 92. From the intersection of Highways 69 and 92, travel east two miles and follow the balloon signs. It's also recommended to drive in from the east for better traffic.
You're there to see the balloons ascend into the Iowa sky. Each day features a 6:30 a.m. mass ascension (weather permitting). Pilot briefings take place at 6 a.m.
Dawn patrols on July 30 and August 6 provide an opportunity to watch balloons launch in darkness. A rare occurrence (and a must-see), select pilots will ascend with special lighting on their balloons. Stick around for the 6:30 a.m. ascension.
The evening ascension will feature a mix of balloon launches and inflations. A mass ascension of all balloons takes place nightly.
July 30-31 features a balloon launch and shaped balloon inflations.
Nite Glows are fun to watch as pilots turn the gas on and off creating a colorful and beautiful scene. They're scheduled July 31 and August 3.
Besides morning ascensions, the National Balloon Classic features events daily.
The annual Warren County Parade and summer arts festival is held at Buxton Park in Indianola starting at 10 a.m. on July 30.
Concerts take place nightly at the balloon field and feature different bands and music styles nightly.
Fireworks shows are hosted after dark July 30, August 4 and 6.
National Balloon Museum and Hall of Fame
Learn about the history of ballooning and some of the best pilots and others involved with the sport at the National Balloon Museum and Hall of Fame With an array of exhibits and memorabilia, the small museum offers a unique look at ballooning.
Things to do
During your downtime, head to Buxton Park Arboretumuxton Park Arboretum, where you can enjoy the fragrance and beauty of the butterfly and formal gardens, sculptures and fountains, as well as a self-guided tree tour.
Enjoy a bit of history and public art with a walk around Indianola's historic square. With murals and sculptures as the centerpiece, the square is home to a variety of shops and restaurants.
Wine aficionados will enjoy a visit to Summerset Winery, about a 10-minute drive from town. The winery grows its own grapes, producing a variety of wines on-site. Enjoy a wine tasting and tour during your visit.
From dawn launches to evening mass ascensions, and a whole lot in-between, a trip to Indianola's National Balloon Classic makes for another fun Travels in the Heartland.
To learn more about The Walking Tourists, Tim and Lisa Trudell, visit our Travels in the Heartland page.