I’d never imagined what it would be like, walking through the entrance gate, through a break in the row of festival tents set up on the perimeter of an enormous, grassy field, in the midst of a bustling, joyous crowd of onlookers and participants… to witness hundreds of huge, brilliantly-colored hot air balloons suspended in the air directly in front of you, some landing RIGHT THERE; some gently bobbing along, at higher and lower elevations, to other destinations…
Q: So how can you experience the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in your RV?
A: Your Ultimate RVer’s Guide to Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2024!
1) REGISTRATION INSANITY
According to AIBF (Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta):
Intense competition for RV camping spaces in January 2023: The website to reserve one of 1,785 spaces opened at 9 a.m. sharp… 70 minutes later a record was set as all spaces were gone and a waiting list was activated. The website received 2.5 million requests per second… [and crashed repeatedly]
I had no idea… The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta wasn’t on our RV Bucket List, since we’re usually on the East Coast, heading toward Florida in October. The Balloon Fiesta, of course, is in Albuquerque, 1,800 miles away from our winter destination.
However, when our best RV friends, fellow Entegra owners and NIRVC family, called us in January to join in the registration challenge for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend with our besties… How could we refuse?
Registration Day was insanity: Chaos! Between the four of us, we tried to coordinate being on the website, and communicate by phone and text, at exactly the moment registration opened, to grab two RV spaces in any of the six different camping areas surrounding Balloon Fiesta Park: TOTAL FAIL. We did, however, somehow manage to get on a Wait List, for one of the areas… I don’t even know which lot it was.
For the lucky people who were fortunate enough to get a reservation in that crazy process, I’m told it feels like winning the lottery! Fortunately, for the rest of us… I didn’t know it at the time, but there are other ways and means to get an RV site at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival:
- GET ON THE WAITLIST: Patience. Wait it out. (Much like an AIM Club Rally! 😉) Six months later, in June, we received an email: “Congratulations Mr. Caldwell! There has been a match to your criteria on the waitlist for October 5th – October 15th in Standard.” Yay?!?!
- Back-up plan: By then, we had come up with another plan. In April, we signed up for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Rally Event with ECOA – Entegra Coach Owners Association [https://entegraowners.com/].
NOTE: If you are at all interested in attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the very first thing you’ll want to do is GO TO THE WEBSITE: https://balloonfiesta.com/ – Scroll down and sign up for the E-Newsletter… as soon as you’re done reading this article!
Xfinity Balloon landing in the SOUTH RV LOT!
2) RV CAMPING OPTIONS
- Balloon Fiesta RV Camping:
- After you sign up for the Newsletter, go directly to the RV Information page on the website to familiarize yourself with the RV Camping options. There are maps, descriptions, pricing, and all the current information to prepare for the online-only Registration Event in January.
- RV parking at Balloon Fiesta Park is mostly DRY CAMPING, with a 3rd party vendor available for pumping and fills at additional cost, cash only.
- Before Reservation Day, there will be even more detailed instructions and a video to help you through the process for booking reservations.
- When Reservation Day comes around in January: Be ready. Be online and signed in at the exact moment the window opens! Have your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th and 5th choice in mind… and then reserve anything you can get into, by the end of it. If your choices are full, BE SURE TO GET ON THE WAITLISTS!
- May the odds be ever in your favor.
- Other Albuquerque Campgrounds: If you have to wait out the waitlist, or make other arrangements, there are plenty of RV camping options to consider in the greater Albuquerque area. All accommodations book out EARLY around the dates of the Balloon Fiesta, You’ll want to reserve as far in advance as possible.
- Research campgrounds, resorts, and free camping (if you boondock) in the area on your favorite RV trip planner. Check campground reviews and Google to find your best match.
- Another great source of general area information and RV campgrounds in any city is the local Visit[city].org Convention & Visitors Bureau online. For Albuquerque: https://www.visitalbuquerque.org/places-to-stay/campgrounds-rv-parks/
- FOR THE WIN: RV Clubs & Groups! This is how we got in, and how we would choose to go again. We were able to sign up for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Rally with our Entegra Coach Owners’ Association. Not only did we secure great resort reservations, well in advance of the event, we enjoyed camping with our tribe: Entegra friends, old and new. It was an organized rally, with scheduled events at the Balloon Fiesta and at the resort, with all the arrangements, reservations, tickets, transportation to/from Balloon Fiesta Park, entertainment, and several meals provided. Other group options for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta include:
- Brand Groups – Like our ENTEGRA Group, there are many other RV brand-specific owners’ groups that organize rallies for the Balloon Fiesta. We camped with ECOA at the Route 66 Casino RV Resort, which is about 30 miles from Balloon Fiesta Park. Our NEWMAR friends enjoyed their group rally, camped in the Balloon Fiesta Park RV SOUTH LOT – fantastic location! – right there, amidst all the action! They enjoyed the view and proximity to the Balloon Fiesta, with organized events and activities. Check into your brand and manufacturer’s groups!
- Tour Groups – Fantasy Tours (AIM Sponsor) & Adventure Caravans. While these are more expensive options, they are generally more organized, with more amenities, events, activities and services, including entertainment, Happy Hours, catered meals and organized sightseeing adventures in the Albuquerque area. We had NIRVC friends who camped with both tour companies in 2023. Both were in different sections of the Balloon Fiesta Park RV SOUTH LOT. From both accounts, FANTASY TOURS is the recommendation:
We were in the SOUTH LOT w/ 30 amp and water. One free pump out which Fantasy handled. Great location. Easy to walk to balloon field or catch shuttles. Balloons flew over each day. You can tell Fantasy is a well-oiled machine. All ambassadors were very friendly. I would recommend this to someone for a first trip there. — Thanks for the review, Ruth Candler! 🙂
- Other RV Groups – Escapees RV Club and closely affiliated Xscapers Group both offer unique Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Rally experiences to their members.
Xscapers 2023 Registration Info:
Parking is in the Box View section of the SOUTH RV LOT. It is walking distance to the event or you can take one of the free shuttles offered on-site (wait times can be long). All parking will be dry camping, so please plan appropriately. There is a dump service and water fill available on grounds throughout the week for an additional fee.
- Another opportunity – Monaco International Group offers a number of Rally Experiences throughout the year, including Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. The group is open to new members as follows:
If you own any FMCA-approved recreational vehicle and are a member in good standing of the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA), we invite you to explore our website and consider joining our organization.
3) BALLOON FIESTA PREP
Once you’ve secured your reservations, it’s time for some pre-planning!
- FOLLOW GROUP / CAMPGROUND INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY: As far as your dates, schedule, timing, directions, and arrival instructions, especially if you’re going to be in Balloon Fiesta RV Parking. It gets complicated, with hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area every October. Fortunately, after 51 years, it is a highly coordinated and well-choreographed event, as far as people moving, accommodations, and schedule.
- Before & After Balloon Fiesta: Don’t forget to plan your travel days and schedule before & after Fiesta camping reservations in advance, according to your Albuquerque arrival and departure dates and timing.
- Boondocking: If you’re going to be boondocking or dry camping in the Balloon Fiesta RV Camping Lots, reserve your before & after campgrounds as close as possible, to prep before, and dump tanks after. Arrive with black and gray tanks empty, fresh water full, and all the provisions you’ll need, so you can focus on the fun at the event!
- Balloon Fiesta Park is in an urban area, with many restaurants, stores, and services close by. However, it can be difficult to get in and out of the area during heavy traffic and event times.
- For more info & advice about dry camping at events, see: Roughing It At RV Shows & Rallies – You Can Do It!
Early morning Dawn Patrol Launch testing The Albuquerque Box
4) WHY ALBUQUERQUE?
- Weather: Albuquerque is known as the Hot Air Balloon Capital of the World due to its high desert location (elevation: 4,967’), geography, and weather – 310 days of sunshine a year! October averages: 71°/44℉, 10% chance of rain. It will be COLD in the early mornings and at night. It will be WARM during the afternoon!
- The Albuquerque Box – Wind conditions and air temperatures contribute to the famous Albuquerque Box phenomenon: The wind blows predictably north at one elevation and south at another, allowing pilots to launch, fly a great distance, change altitude and backtrack to return close to the launch site.
5) SOURCES OF INFO
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2023 – Full Schedule of Events
- Schedule – The Balloon Fiesta runs 9 straight days: 5AM to 10PM on weekends (including Thursday); and 5AM to NOON on weekdays (and final Sunday). You can see above on the 2023 schedule, it’s jam-packed from Day 1 to Day 9. Even on the weekdays, you have to consider, with traffic and transportation, to see it all, you’ll be getting up by 4AM and going all day, every day.
- For that reason, many people (and group schedules) choose to attend part of the week, including either Opening Weekend – or – Closing Weekend. We were there Closing Weekend, and it was fabulous! I’ve heard from other friends that Opening Weekend is “quieter.” Weekends are definitely more popular, busy, and CROWDED. Consider your energy levels and preferences when scheduling your time at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.
- On the busy weekends, consider getting naps in, between the AM & PM Sessions.
- Download the App – The schedule is available online and they hand out the VIEW FROM ABOVE brochure at the entry gate, before all sessions. The official FIESTA App, for your smartphone, includes interactive maps, FAQs, the list of vendor booths, entertainment, and daily weather updates and event info. Much of the Balloon Fiesta is also simulcast Live on TV on local station KOB 4 in Albuquerque.
- Weather dependent – It happens! Two of the 14 sessions in 2023 were canceled due to poor weather conditions. If an event is canceled due to weather, you can use your ticket for another session.
- Sightseeing – Albuquerque and nearby Santa Fe are great places to explore on weekday afternoons, or if the balloons are grounded due to weather. Both cities’ Convention & Visitors Bureaus staff booths onsite at Balloon Fiesta Park with info, maps, and suggestions about the local area.
- Event Tickets – AM & PM sessions are ticketed separately, general admission. Tickets are $15 per person, per session. Tickets are not specific to a day or session. Tickets can be purchased online in advance (recommended) or at the gate. Kids 12 and under are free.
6) GETTING INVOLVED
One of the best ways to experience the Balloon Fiesta is to get involved! Yes, you! Those friends who dragged us into the Reservation Day arena in January, then recruited us onto the Chase Crew for HAM-LET – The World’s Largest Flying Pig!
Getting ready to Chase HAM-LET – The World’s Largest Flying Pig!
It was truly the experience of a lifetime, wrangling a big pink hot air balloon pig for a week!
There are several ways to get involved at Balloon Fiesta:
- Chase Crew: Helps the pilot inflate the balloon and launch or tether in place.
- After launch, Chase Crew follows the balloon in a chase vehicle on the ground to help land safely, deflate, and pack it all away.
- If the balloon is stationary, or tethered, Chase Crew assists with crowd control and interaction— answering questions and handing out balloon cards!
- Chase Crew does require some early mornings and physical stamina!
- If you are interested in being on a chase crew, you can register online at https://balloonfiesta.com/Crew-Registration or visit the Chase Crew Tower on the launch field to sign up.
- You might also see people with CREW NEEDED signs walking around. If a pilot doesn’t have enough people to help, they can’t fly the balloon.
- Navigators: 1,134 Navigators volunteered at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2023. Navigators (not including Chase Crew) are volunteers who provide guest services, administrative service, balloon coordination and safety, set-up and logistics, and much more, in over 40 different operational areas of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. More info: https://balloonfiesta.com/Volunteers-New
- Balloon Rides: Media and volunteers might have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to literally see the world from above in a hot air balloon at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta! Another opportunity to get a lift is to purchase a hot air balloon ride at the Balloon Fiesta with Rainbow Ryders. Rainbow Ryders is the ONLY company authorized to give balloon rides from BALLOON FIESTA® PARK for the world’s largest balloon event, the ALBUQUERQUE INTERNATIONAL BALLOON FIESTA. Again, be sure to schedule your reservation IN ADVANCE!
Rainbow Ryders Balloons taking paid guests aloft at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2023
7) INSIDE THE GATE
→ Be prepared for CROWDS and TRAFFIC – especially on the weekends!
- Transportation: There are several options, around the Albuquerque area and Balloon Fiesta Park. No matter which you choose, give yourself extra time to allow for heavy traffic:
- General parking is available at Balloon Fiesta Park for $20 per session.
- Park & Ride is available and encouraged during Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, with pick up and drop off locations throughout the city. **Admission to Balloon Fiesta Park is included with your Park and Ride Ticket**
- Courtesy Shuttles are on designated routes in and around Balloon Fiesta Park, and can get you where you need to be, to/from the parking lots or RV Camping areas.
- Weather Reminder: In October, mornings and nights can be COLD, while it can be very WARM during the day. Dress in layers!
- Getting through Security:
- ALLOWED – Backpacks, folding chairs, picnic blankets and soft-sided coolers (including food and non-alcoholic beverages) are allowed.
- NO alcohol, glass containers or hard-sided coolers.
- NO DOGS OR ANIMALS ALLOWED – except for service animals.
- On the inside: Balloon Fiesta Park is more than 360 acres, the size of 54 football fields, all put together. Guests walk the field and are part of the action. That’s a lot of walking! Wear comfortable shoes. Stay light and mobile. A limited number of benches, bleachers, and picnic tables are available. You can bring your own folding chairs and picnic blankets.
8) AM EXPERIENCE: SUNRISE
Honestly, I’m really not an early morning / sunrise kind of girl. And yet, somehow, after the first morning (when I did second guess myself all the way to Balloon Fiesta Park)… It was second nature: get up at 3:30AM to leave by 4:00AM to GET THERE! We had to leave early to get through traffic, especially toward the weekend, to park and get through the gate by 5:00AM; or earlier, if you want to stand in line at the Official AIBF Merchandise Tent to purchase one of the Limited Edition Balloon Fiesta Event Collector’s Pins, very limited quantities only released at AM/PM opening.
Dawn Patrol Launch
Not-to-be-missed balloon events during AM Sessions:
- SAT/SUN – 5:45 AM: DRONE LIGHT SHOW – Incredible drone formations light up the early morning sky above Balloon Fiesta Park, and again on weekend nights after all the activities of the day. The shows are absolutely breathtaking.
- DAILY – DAWN PATROL / DAWN PATROL SHOW – Choreographed inflation and launch set to music. A dozen balloons light up and launch before dawn to test the air currents and conditions of The Albuquerque Box. It is spectacular. Dawn Patrol inflations begin, weather permitting, about 5:45 AM, with launch around 6:00 AM.
- SAT/SUN & WEDS: AM BALLOON GLOWS – In the predawn darkness, as the balloons are inflated, still tethered to the ground, Balloon Glows are early morning light shows: firing up the propane burners and lighting up the colorful balloons in an ethereal display before the launches begin.
- EVERY MORNING – 7:00 AM: OPENING CEREMONIES – Weather permitting, the balloons go up every day, in different launch sequences. Always led by a designated balloon flying the American Flag, with the singing of The Star Spangled Banner by a featured guest, broadcast over loud speakers across Balloon Fiesta Park. Accompanied by spectacular aerial flyovers by military and other flight groups.
- SAT/SUN – 7:00 AM: MASS ASCENSION – During mass ascensions, balloons launch in two waves. Launch directors, also known as zebras because of their black-and-white-striped outfits, serve as traffic cops, coordinating the launch so balloons leave the field in a safe and coordinated manner.
- THUR/FRI – 7:00 AM: SPECIAL SHAPES RODEO™ – Featuring the 100+ Special Shapes Hot Air Balloons (our HAM-LET, The World’s Largest Flying Pig and all the others!) lighting up and launching in the first coordinated wave.
- AM SESSION CONTINUES UNTIL ABOUT NOON EACH DAY: While the balloons are flying and chase crews are chasing, the activities and fun continue at Balloon Fiesta Park, with shopping and entertainment, Chainsaw Carving Exhibitions & Auctions, Kite Shows, Remote Control Balloon Exhibitions, various Hot Air Balloon Competitions, and so much more!
Mass Ascension begins…
There is a break, each day, between the AM & PM Sessions, when everything shuts down for the afternoon. On the weekends, when there is a PM Session, this is a great time to get in a nap, to be rested and ready for evening events, from 4:00PM until…
9) PM EXPERIENCE: SUNSET
Saturday/Sunday Opening Weekend & Thur/Fri/Saturday Closing Weekend: As glorious as the AM Session events are, the PM Session is just as thrilling:
At twilight the burners of tethered balloons are ignited, illuminating the night with colorfully glowing envelopes [balloons] that guests can wander amongst before enjoying the Drone Light and AfterGlow™ Fireworks shows.
- 5:00 PM – TEAM FASTRAX™ SKYDIVING: Before and after the PM Balloon Glows, professional skydivers enchant the crowd below with incredible aerial manuevers, with smoke trails and light shows in the gathering darkness at sunset.
- 6:00 PM – PM BALLOON GLOWS: Every Night Glow event is just a little different, with TWILIGHT TWINKLE GLOW™ (1st Saturday); The Original BALLOON GLOW (Sunday); SPECIAL SHAPES GLOWDEO™ (Thursday & Friday); and NIGHT MAGIC™ GLOW (2nd Saturday).
- The evening balloon glows are magical! The crowd is intimately involved in the action. The balloons are inflated and tethered to the ground, and onlookers are invited to mingle and explore at will, taking pictures with their favorite balloons, asking pilot & crew questions, and collecting balloon trading cards!
- The SPECIAL SHAPE GLOWDEO™ features the special shape balloons, some very intricate, like our HAM-LET, The World’s Largest Flying Pig, with wings and tails and legs – it’s a lot to fill with hot air and wrangle, on the ground and in the sky! In 2023, there were 107 special shape hot air balloons, including BEAGLE MAXIMUS – an enormous flying dog! – DARTH VADER & YODA from Star Wars – a many-faced Jester (kinda creepy!) and many others, including favorite classic cartoon characters.
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Drone Light Show 2023
- 7:45 PM – DRONE LIGHT SHOW: As the crowd settles in for the spectacular closing events each night, chase crews deflate the balloons and pack them away. Hundreds of small, lighted drones fly in formation, enchanting the crowd below with intricate choreography to form objects and scenes in homage to Albuquerque culture, flavor, and history.
- 8:00 PM – AFTERGLOW™ FIREWORKS SHOW: As the drones fly off into the night, fireworks light up the sky in the most amazing display I have ever seen, with a spectacular fireball finale– you have to see it to believe it!
Collect Balloon Cards at Balloon Fiesta – just ask a crew member!
10) BALLOON FIESTA SECRETS ROUND-UP
- Arrive early – getting there & getting through traffic & security.
- Check into RV Rally Camping with the Monaco Group!
- NO DOGS in Balloon Fiesta Park. (Service animals are welcome.)
- NO SMOKING!!!
- Enjoy close-up, ACCESS TO BALLOONS ON THE FIELD!
- ⚠️ WATCH YOUR STEP, when you are walking on the field: balloons are fragile – never step on them! There are ropes everywhere, above and below. The balloon baskets are very heavy and can slide along the ground before they lift off. Pay attention to the zebras! 🦓
- Collect Balloon Trading Cards! Each balloon has its own Balloon Card. Some of the chase vehicles do, too! Ask the Chase Crew! 😃
- Purchase Balloon Fiesta Pins! Event Pins & Limited Edition Special Pins available at AIBF Merchandise Tents or online at balloonfiestastuff.com
- FOOD is twice the price at BF Park. Consider venturing outside to Blake’s LottaBurger – local fast food recommendation. 😉 (4th & Pueblo best location, according to locals!)
- REMEMBER: Weekends are BUSIER, with more going on AM & PM – ALL DAY.
HAM-LET mascot Kim Silva with Balloon Fiesta Zebras (launch coordinators)
At the end of your time at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, you’ll leave with incredible memories and hopefully some amazing photographs, too! You might be exhausted from early mornings, long days, and a whole lot of walking, but it’s all worth it for a lifetime of colorful, balloon-filled stories and memories.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Your Ultimate RVer’s Guide to Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta!
Best Wishes for Blue Skies & Safe Travels!
Sherri Caldwell is the founder of BooksAndTravelUSA.com, a full-time RV travel blog and PODCAST! 😉🎙️🤠 Click to enjoy Episode 12: Insider’s Guide 🤗 RVing the ABQ Balloon Fiesta about our 2023 Chase Crew Adventure! With her husband, Russ, she is currently living, working, and traveling full-time in their 2016 Entegra Aspire.