Up, up and away: National Balloon Classic embraces the sky over Indianola, Iowa

Balloons fly over the field at the National Balloon Classic in Indianola, Iowa.

The central Iowa sky fills with the colors of the rainbow as hot air balloons ascend from outside Indianola, rising high above the horizon. More than 100 hot air balloons are expected at the National Balloon Classic from July 29-August 6.

With daily events surrounding morning and evening mass ascensions, more than 70,000 people are expected over nine days as Indianola celebrates hosting the National Balloon Classic for its 32nd season. Its history dates back to 1970 when Indianola hosted the preliminary competition of the United States National Hot Air Balloon Championships. After 18 years, the event moved to Louisiana. The National Balloon Classic was born afterward and has taken place in Indianola since 1990, except for 2020, when it was canceled because of the pandemic.

Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with Travel Iowa. However, all opinions and views – as always – are ours.

As one of the largest hot air balloon festivals in the nation, the summer competition attracts pilots from more than 25 states and countries, including Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota. Contestants also come from Georgia, Texas and New Mexico, home of the world’s largest balloon event, the International Balloon Fiesta.

Daily launches

Plan to arrive early for morning balloon launches and competitions. Kicking off at about 6 a.m., morning events last until about 9 a.m. During our first visit, we had no issue parking on the grass field, as we didn’t know what to expect. However, with balloon fans wanting to get out and enjoy the weather and festivities, it’s advisable to arrive early. Parking and admission are free for morning events.

The National Balloon Classic is located east of Indianola on Highway 92. From the intersection of Highways 69 and 92, travel east about two miles and follow the balloon signs. Visitors are encouraged to arrive from the east for easier access.

Hot air balloons begin a mass ascension at the balloon classic in Indianola.

Pilots meet about 6:15 a.m., and, if given the green light to fly, balloons inflate and head off into the wild blue yonder about 6:30. Wind speed and the threat of inclement weather could cancel flights. But, that’s the chance you take to enjoy this fun sport.

Gates open at 5 a.m. July 30 and August 6 for dawn patrol flights. Equipped with special lights, select pilots will take off before sunrise for an impressive view of hot air balloons in the dark.

Balloons start their evening ascension daily at 6:30 p.m. Parking opens at 4 p.m. and is included with admission. Once given the green light, balloons launch, heading skyward and dotting the sky with all colors and shapes. July 30-31 features a balloon launch and shaped balloon inflations.

Reserve your own ride on a balloon with Galena on the Fly. Rides have a fee and must be purchased in advance.

Festival events

A crew member helps prep a hot air balloon for flight during a morning ascension.

Besides watching balloons fly, the National Balloon Classic includes a variety of events. Following July 29th’s kickoff evening ascension, the Warren County parade starts at 10 a.m. July 30 following a route through Buxton Park. The park is also the site of the annual summer arts festival.

Stick around for Nite Glows on July 31 and August 31, to watch as pilots turn the gas on and off on their balloons during dusk, creating a colorful sight.

Fans watch as balloons fill the Midwestern sky outside Indianola, Iowa.

Memorial Balloon Field also hosts nightly concerts featuring a variety of bands.

Fireworks shows are hosted after dark on July 30, August 4, and 6.

Visit the National Balloon Museum

During your visit to the classic, stop by the National Balloon Museum and Hall of Fame. Showcasing the history of ballooning through a series of exhibits and displays, the museum may be small, but it packs a lot of information. While there, take a selfie inside a balloon basket.

The National Balloon Museum and Hall of Fame offer an interesting look into the history of ballooning.

Things to know

Balloons of all shapes and colors participate in the National Balloon Classic.

A few musts to know when planning your visit to the National Balloon Classic:

  • Tickets must be bought in advance. You can buy them online or at local outlets. There are ticket sales at the gate.
  • Bring a blanket or lawn chairs. There is a limited number of chairs available for rent onsite.
  • Only two bags per person are allowed. Festival organizers prefer visitors to use clear bags.
  • No alcohol or outside food and beverages are allowed. There are vendors and concessions available at the National Balloon Classic.

Whether you’re a true hot air balloon fanatic or just enjoy a unique experience, the National Balloon Classic offers a fun day trip or extended getaway. You’ll be singing your favorite balloon song after your visit.