What began with just 20 hot-air balloons in 1982 has grown to feature more than 100 colored and themed balloons that decorate the sky and attract more than 125,000 people each year. From Sept. 9-11, the Great Reno Balloon Race will again light up the skies and draw throngs of locals and visitors.
How do you prepare for the colorful extravaganza? We’ve rounded up a list of our favorite tips to enjoy the Great Reno Balloon Race to the max.
1. Getting there
Be sure to weigh your parking options in advance and arrive early. There’s a number of public parking lots available. For $10, spectators can park at the Sierra Street/McCarran Boulevard lot or the Coleman Drive lot beginning at 3:30 a.m. The neighboring University of Nevada, Reno offers its north parking lot to the public for free before 10 a.m. If you’d rather not work to find a parking spot, there’s RTC Park & Ride Program, which will provide pickup points at the RSCVA Convention Center-Parking Lot C, Reed High School and downtown Reno’s Citicenter. For information call 775-348-RIDE or visit www.rtcwashoe.com.
2. Apologies to our furry friends
Although Rancho San Rafael Regional Park usually is pet-friendly, the event is not. Pets are prohibited from the park during the event and spectators who try to bring pets will be asked to leave.
3. Don’t balloon on an empty stomach
You can pack your own brunch or take advantage of the many food and beverage vendors at the event serving everything from pancakes and breakfast burritos to hot chocolate and morning libations. (Bring cash. Some vendors do accept cards, but not all.)
4. Dress for the occasion
Dawn is chilly, so be sure to wear layered clothing you can remove as the sun rises. The park is lit as much as possible, but a flashlight or headlamp during the wee hours is always handy. Bring blankets or low-backed chairs for seating. Insider tip from the festival folks: Small wagons are a good option for traveling with children and supplies.
5. The Biggest Little Pajama Party
For those fans showing up in their jammies, the Biggest Little Pajama Party is back this year. On Saturday, the visitor with the best pajama set will win a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood. Judging begins at 7 a.m.
6. Glow, baby, glow
Saturday and Sunday's Glow Shows at 5 a.m. feature three to five hot-air balloons lighting up the field, followed by Dawn Patrol at 5:30 a.m.
7. Kids play
After the 7 a.m. mass ascension, where the participating balloons all take flight, the RE/MAX balloon will provide tethered rides for children — the only rides available to the general public during the event. Cost is a $5 donation to the Children’s Miracle Network. Also for the youngsters: The Girl Scouts of the Sierra Nevada are hosting a free scavenger hunt on Sunday. Between 5 and 6:15 a.m., visit the Girl Scouts tent to pick up the scavenger hunt cards. Current Girl Scouts will earn a STEM badge when completing the challenge.
8. Super shapes
Many flock to the races just to see what balloons are in store. This year will feature an Angry Birds-themed balloon, a hummingbird, a replica of the Liberty Bell, a pirate parrot, Smokey Bear, Sushi and many others.
For more planning tips and insider news, visit the Great Reno Balloon Race online.