Northern Nevada is no slouch in the special events department. And as summer starts winding down, we jump from events like Hot August Nights to the one and only Great Reno Balloon Race. For 40 years, this family-oriented event has been a visual spectacle and for many locals, a beloved tradition. Oh, and one other thing – the whole thing is entirely free. If you’re new to the area, read on for a local’s guide to the Great Reno Balloon Race.
The Great Reno Balloon Race began humbly in 1981 with 20 balloons. Today, it’s the largest free hot air balloon event in the world. For four days in early September, the Reno skies fill with hot air balloons of all shapes and sizes and colors.
The event is held at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park north of downtown Reno and draws some 120,000 spectators every year. Young and old alike come to marvel at the balloons – and plenty come early. Dawn Patrol begins at 5:30 am – it’s a signature event of the Balloon Race, with a small group of balloons that are qualified to fly in the dark. It’s an incredible sight to see these glowing balloons accompanied by choreographed music. For the really early birds, there are Super Glow Shows, which begin at 5 am. Around 35 glowing balloons serve as a beacon to spectators making their way to the launch field for Dawn Patrol. Pro tip – set the alarm and get there early. Pack blankets and a thermos of coffee or hot chocolate, and be prepared for a dazzling show. It’s something you need to experience at least once!
The Mass Ascension Launch is scheduled for 7 am, and includes north of 100 balloons making their way into the early morning sky. Even if you don’t make it to Rancho – and you should! – you can’t miss the balloons dotting the skyline.
The Great Reno Balloon Round is rounded out nicely with tethered rides, the “Balloon Boulevard” with concessions and event swag, and the Tissue Paper Balloon Launch, a special collaboration with local schoolchildren. Some 2,000 students head to Rancho on the Friday of the event to launch their handmade hot air balloon models off mini burners.
The 2022 Event
This year, The Great Reno Balloon Races begin Thursday, September 8 at 6:45 am with the national anthem and a preview day launch. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, September 9 through 11, gates open at 3:30 am – so set the alarm early for good seats! Everything wraps up by about 11 am. But I promise, this is an event that’s worth the early wake-up call.