The Great Reno Balloon Race fills the skies above the Biggest Little City with up to 100 balloons from Sept. 11-13. Initially created in 1982 to keep visitors in town the weekend between the State Fair and the Reno Air Races, the event is now billed as the world's largest free hot-air ballooning event in the world.
About 125,000 people are expected to gather before dawn during the three-day event in Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, located a few miles north of downtown Reno. In addition to the parade of colors and shapes, the race also features shopping and food vendors along Balloon Boulevard, a massive pajama party, daily glow shows and education for the kids.
Planning to attend? Here's 11 tips to make the most of your experience:
1. The Glow Show is totally worth waking up for — even at 5 a.m. Grab some coffee and a blanket and score yourself a good seat. On Sept. 11 and 13, a handful of glowing balloons will act as a beacon to those sleepy spectators making their way to the launch field. Friday morning only is the Super Glow Show starting at 5:15 a.m. This new feature showcases more than 20 balloons glowing and twinkling to music across the field.
2. Since you're up anyway, keep your eyes to the sky to appreciate Dawn Patrol. A trademark of The Great Reno Balloon Race, the show features a handful of balloons that are qualified to fly in the dark. This is a dangerous task as atmospheric conditions change drastically as the sun begins to rise. Balloonists glow, twinkle and fly along with choreographed music across a darkened sky, leaving the crowd awe struck. Saturday and Sunday only starting at 5:30 a.m.
3. Don't bother changing out of your pajamas on Friday, Sept. 11. Once again, the Great Reno Balloon Race will play host to a giant pajama party and this year's theme is Star Wars. Attendees are encouraged to come dressed in their best tribute costume for a chance to win a hot-air balloon ride for two on Saturday.
4. There are lots of Kodak moments, even if you can't drag yourself out of bed for the Glow Show. Make sure you've got your camera or camera phone handy — you'll want to Instagram this for sure.
5. Support the vendors on Balloon Boulevard. By purchasing souvenirs, drinks, and food, you can help the event continue to be free. Balloon Boulevard is also the place to get official event posters.
6. Enjoy a tethered ride and support Children's Miracle Network. For a $5 donation to CMN, anyone can enjoy a ride after the mass ascension. Thanks to the Wilbur May Foundation and The Children's Cabinet, rides are provided to disadvantaged children at no cost.
7. The mass ascension is another can't miss aspect of the Great Reno Balloon Races. At 6:45 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 11, Saturday, Sept. 12 and Sunday, Sept. 13, more than 100 balloons will simultaneously launch from Rancho San Rafael, turning the morning sky into a rainbow of colors and shapes.
8. There are balloons of all shapes and sizes from all over the country participating in this year's balloon races. This year's race includes 17 special shaped balloons including new additions Master Yoda, an Elvis-tribute balloon, a dragon, a fish bowl, a replica of the Liberty Bell and a pair of flip flops. Returning special shapes include: Darth Vader, Smokey Bear and sushi.
9. Layer your clothing. Dawn in September can be biting cold, but as the sun rises you will want to shed a layer or two. Also, bring a blanket or sleeping bag to sit on the grass with or cuddle in.
10. Parking at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park can be tricky. Avoid the crows and use RTC RIDE's Park & Ride Program with pickup points at RSCVA Convention Center-Parking Lot C, Reed High School and downtown Reno's Citicenter. For more information call 775-348-RIDE or go to their website www.rtcwashoe.com.
11. Bring lawn chairs, sleeping bags or blankets if you want to sit rather than walk around. Please use the designated blanket area or sit along the very edge of the launch field. If you bring chairs sit so you don't block the view of those with blankets. Remember to stay clear of the balloon launch sites and please relocate if asked to do so by an event official, pilot or launch crew.