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How to Survive Your First Great Reno Balloon Race

Posted by Jeff Sallan on Friday, September 6th, 2019 at 2:09pm.

Waking up before dawn to see The Great Reno Balloon Race is one of the most Reno experiences you can have. Yes, it’s early. But, it’s totally worth it to see the sky come alive with dozens of colorful and bright balloons.

If you recently moved to Reno, or if you haven’t experienced this event yet, you may have many questions about The Great Reno Balloon Race. Luckily, we’ve got the answers you need to have a great time.


What is The Great Reno Balloon Race?

The Great Reno Balloon Race is the world’s largest free hot-air ballooning event held right in Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. The event began in 1982 as a way to keep visitors in town the weekend between the State Fair and the Reno Air Races. Over the past 38 years, it’s won many awards, including ‘Best Special Event in Reno’ and ‘Best Special Event in Northern Nevada.


When is The Great Reno Balloon Race this year?

This year’s race will take place from Sept. 6–8, 2019. For a full schedule, visit renoballoon.com/event-info/schedule-of-events.



Photo Courtesy Great Reno Balloon Races

When can I see the balloons at The Great Reno Balloon Race?

Now, here’s where the early comes in. Each day of the race features a Glow Show or a Super Glow Show (Friday only!), followed by Dawn Patrol and a Mass Ascension Launch. The Glow Show or Super Glow Show starts at 5 a.m. every day, then comes Dawn Patrol at 5:30 a.m., followed by the Mass Ascension Launch at 7 a.m.

The Glow Show features a handful of balloons, while the Super Glow Show on Friday showcases more than 35 glowing and twinkling to music across the field.

Dawn Patrol is a trademark of The Great Reno Balloon Race and is worth the early rise. It features a handful of balloons that can fly in the dark. This takes a special skill, as atmospheric conditions change drastically as the sun begins to rise. Balloonists glow, twinkle and fly along with choreographed music the dawn sky.

During the Mass Ascension Launch, nearly 100 balloons rise into the air from Rancho San Rafael Park.


Is it actually a race?

While it may look like the hot air balloons are leisurely floating by, they’re really racing toward two targets. Before the event, organizers place large white “X” marks on open fields north and west of Rancho San Rafael Park. Pilots carry a yellow bean bag and toss it as close as they can to the center of the “X.” The closer their bag lands to the center of the target zone, the more points they earn. Winners get a portion of a cash prize and bragging rights.


What should I do before and after the balloons take off?

Visit Balloon Boulevard, where you’ll find crafts, souvenirs, food, and warm drinks. This is where you can buy official swag, including clothing and memorabilia. You can also walk around and enjoy Rancho San Rafael Regional Park’s beautiful arboretum and museum.


What should I bring with me?

It really is darkest and coldest before the dawn, especially in September. But, by the time sun rises, the temperature warms up. So, layer your clothing and bring a blanket or sleeping bag. To relax comfortably, bring lawn chairs or blankets for the ground. If you bring chairs, sit so you don’t block the view of those with blankets. Don’t forget to bring your camera! But, do leave the pets at home. All the people and unpredictable sounds balloons can spook animals.


How do I get there?

If you plan on driving, arrive early because there is limited parking at the event site. Free parking is also available at the University of Nevada, Reno’s north lots, but cars must be removed by 10 a.m. Parking also will be available at the corner of N. Sierra St. and McCarran Blvd. for a donation to the event.

Or, skip trying to find a parking spot and use RTC RIDE’s Park & Ride Program. There are pickup points at RSCVA Convention Center-Parking Lot C, Reed High School, and downtown Reno. For more about parking and transportation, click here.


The view of the many colorful balloons at the launch is better than you can imagine. Don’t miss this quintessential Reno event that will lift your spirits—even if you’re not a morning person.

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