Summer is the perfect time for scenic activities like picnics, hikes, beach trips and maybe even hot-air balloon rides. In Oregon, you don’t have to travel far to see an impressive, picture-perfect display of your own. The Festival of Balloons in Tigard (a suburb 30 minutes southwest of downtown Portland by car) brings more than a dozen brightly colored, colossal hot-air balloons to the sky every June.
“There’s a huge adrenaline rush every time you inflate a balloon and every time you fly,” says Katie Griggs, a hot-air balloon pilot who’s participating in the 35th annual Festival of Balloons this June. (She’ll be the one flying a 75-foot [23 m] yellow goldfish.) “It’s the greatest feeling.”
Want a taste of that exhilaration? The Festival of Balloons is taking to the air every June (the festival returned June 21–23, 2019).
What to expect at the Festival of Balloons
If you’re eager to see these hot-air balloons in flight, you’ll need to get up early. And we mean early: Balloons launch between 5:45–6:15 a.m., thanks to the laws of thermodynamics. (The sun heats up the earth during the day, creating thermal drafts, which make flight conditions unsafe for balloons.) After floating southward, the balloons are driven back to the festival’s location at Cook Park in time for the evening festivities.
Although the festival doesn’t offer balloon rides, you can go up a few stories in a tethered balloon. From 6:30–7:30 a.m. (or until the fuel runs out), attendees can rise 20–30 feet (6–9 m) in the air. These “tethered rides” offer some of the adrenaline rush of flying with nothing more than hot air— while staying safely roped to the ground.
Tethered rides are free, but offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so hurry across the field after launch to secure a spot in line. (Pro tip: Kids usually rush for the hot-air balloons in fun shapes, so lines for classic balloons are typically shorter.)
Not an early riser? The Night Glow showcases these humongous hot-air balloons each evening of the festival at dusk. As pilots burn propane to fill the balloons, the flames light up the night. Festival program director Kristin Romelhardt suggests laying out a blanket and relaxing in the glow.
More than hot-air balloons
If you sleep through your alarm, there’s still plenty to see and do at the Festival of Balloons. Beginning at 10 a.m. each day, a fair-like vibe awaits, complete with carnival rides. If giant slides and upside-down rides aren’t your thing, the Rogue Ales Beer Garden serves award-winning brews beginning at 5 p.m.
Festivalgoers can also groove to live music throughout the day or set out a picnic blanket and simply hang out. (Visitors are welcome to bring in their own picnic items of food and non-alcoholic beverages). An obstacle-course-like play area for kids can keep little ones busy in between balloon events.
Visiting the Festival of Balloons
The Festival of Balloons takes flight June 21–23, 2019. A $5 advance ticket ($8 at the gate; kids under 6 years old enter free) gets you into the festival all weekend long. Parking at Tigard High School is $8; you can walk to the festival from there or pay $1 per person for a shuttle.
Know before you go
Bear in mind that hot-air balloons are finicky, so the festival’s schedule depends on the weather (simply the threat of rain can ground balloons). Keep an eye on Tigard’s weather forecast and monitor the festival’s website for the latest updates.