During the annual Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival, tens of hot air balloons inflate and soar into the sky as the sun rises, dotting the sky with a plethora of different colors. Below it all, rows and rows of spectators watch the event unfold.
“Watching all those balloons go up is pretty magical, and it’s a fun-filled weekend with lots to offer the whole family,” said Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce executive director Olivia Mears. “It’s extremely affordable as the festival is essentially free.”
To view the event, patrons are advised to bring a lawn chair or blanket to rest on and arrive early.
This year, the event will take place August 25-27. Throughout the weekend, check out food trucks, vendors, and more in Hot Springs. And don’t miss the Glow Around Town on Saturday night.
“The Hot Springs Chamber designed the festival specifically so that people could spend their money on accommodations, food, and shopping—they don’t have to pay for the entertainment.” – Olivia Mears
The 605 team headed to the Hot Springs Municipal Airport before 5 a.m. on Saturday for the opportunity to float into the horizon with a couple of the hot air balloon pilots.
Saturday and Sunday, there are typically balloon launches if the weather permits it, according to Mears.
“It’s a pretty unique experience in South Dakota to have that many balloons in one place at one time and enjoy that at no cost to the spectators,” said balloon-meister Tamie Shrum.
Upon arrival, each member of the team signed in before heading over to grab some caffeine and muffins served by the Hot Springs Rotary Club. While we waited for the pilots to arrive, we browsed the large selection of hot air balloon gift items offered by Discover Balloons from New Mexico.
Next, the team headed over to meet our assigned pilots.
605’s Alana Snyder and I were passengers in pilot Garrett Williams’s basket, while Cailyn Patterson and John Snyder flew alongside seasoned pilot Hank Humiston.
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As Williams and his team inflated the balloon, Alana and I climbed into the basket, nearly missing takeoff as we were busy watching the surrounding balloons rise from the dewy grass.
“It was 30 hot air balloons and two special-shaped balloons,” said Shrum.
Williams says that as a game for the balloon pilots, there’s a target along the path where the pilots can drop a bean bag, trying to get closest to the target. Throughout the flight, we took in the view and captured a few fun photos.
Since it was Cailyn’s first flight, they experienced the tradition of popping champagne, catching the cork, and enjoying a sparkling glass upon landing.
While the majority of the balloons left the field, last year’s festival was lucky enough to have two special-shaped balloons present: Darth Vader and Yoda. They remained static on the field for spectators to get up close.
“Special shapes are more expensive to own and equally more difficult to fly, but we had the ability
“The launches take place on the Saturday and Sunday mornings (weather permitting), but the festival actually starts at Centennial Park at noon on Friday.” – OLIVIA MEARS
During the festival, there are plenty of activities to keep anyone entertained.
“At Centennial Park, there are giant inflatables, obstacle courses, and games as well as the vendor market,” said Mears.
Vendors carry things like jewelry, décor, accessories, plants, gifts, and other merchandise. Each food truck offers menu items varying from cotton candy and shaved ice to tacos, Thai food, and American cuisine.
The Mammoth Site also offers a couple experiences for the event.
“Post launch on Saturday the Walk-in Balloon sets up at The Mammoth Site for a few hours,” said Mears. “This gives people the chance to see what the inside of a balloon looks like, and The Mammoth Site also hosts a day of fun activities including Mammoth Mini Golf, Science Fun, and a Fun Zone for kids.”
GLOW AROUND TOWN
Stop by these sites to see hot air balloons light in the dark accompanied by music.
» Butler Park
» Centennial Park
» Michael J. Fitzmaurice SD State Veterans Home
» The Mammoth Site
LIGHT UP THE NIGHT
Saturday night, Hot Springs is lit up for the Glow Around Town. At various locations, hot air balloons are static, lighting up as the pilots keep their balloons inflated without lifting from the ground.
“It offers the locals to see it in their neighborhoods,” said Shrum.
Most of the balloons were stationed at Butler Park. As the sun sinks below the horizon, flames inside each balloon light up periodically, causing each balloon to glow bright in the dark night.
During this time, guests can wander around the park.
“It lets everyone in the neighborhood engage with the pilots,” said Shrum.
While the team was there, we got the opportunity to see all of the balloons lit up, including Darth Vader and Yoda.
We each paid a visit to our pilots. Alana even got the opportunity to try pulling the lever on the inflation device for one of the balloons, sending flames high into the night air.