Did you know that Benjamin Franklin saw the first hot air balloon take flight in Paris in 1783? Since then, hot air balloons have become beautiful sights in the sky, feelings of transcendence, and symbols of hope, new beginnings, and freedom. As the largest summertime hot air balloon and music festival in North America, the 37th Annual QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning on July 26 to 28 is a summer event not to be missed. Only about 75 minutes from Midtown Manhattan, the festival makes the perfect day trip for NYC families. Taking place at Solberg Airport in Readington, NJ, the “festival of ballooning,” a fancier way of saying the “hot air balloon festival,” has been designated, for the 6th time, as a Top 100 Festival in North America. What is now more than 100 sport and special shaped hot air balloons that take the sky started off as a few friends who brought 10 balloons to a local truck stop as a weekend gathering of balloon enthusiasts in 1983. Now, the 37th Annual QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning features concerts, family entertainment, arts and crafts vendors, a shopping center, food vendors, fireworks, and much more. Not to mention the festival is definitely Instagram-worthy. If you’re looking for a way to uniquely celebrate the summer with your family, check out our in-depth guide to all that there is to see and do at the 37th Annual QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning!
Get silly at this hot air balloon festival for all ages! Photo by Alex Slaughter.
Watching the Balloons
Watching the hot air balloons take off in the sky is the best part of the festival. And you want to make sure that you’re there to see them blow the balloons up too! You could bring a blanket or lawn chairs to spread out on the grass. I’d recommend lawn chairs, because a lot of people do bring chairs, and sometimes it can be difficult for the little ones to see everything if they’re on a blanket. Grab a snack beforehand at the vendors (which I’ll get to soon), and sit back and relax as you watch the balloons soar. If your kids are very active (as most are), then be mindful that they may not want to sit and watch the balloons for a long time after the novelty wears off. Luckily, there’s so much more to do at this festival, including concerts, magic shows, amusement rides, and more. So if your kids are getting antsy to get up and run around, hop on a ride or head to a kids’ concert. Another idea is to walk around; instead of sitting to watch the hot air balloons, walk around the venue for different views. Yet with the exciting variety of balloons, your kids will surely enjoy the anticipation of waiting for the next balloon to come in sight!
Sit, stand, or walk around to trace the journey of the balloons from take off to up high in the sky!
If you’re looking for a really unique experience at the festival and your family is not afraid of heights, consider taking a ride on one of the hot air balloons. You have two opportunities to ride the hot air balloons each day. Morning rides have a 5:15 am check-in and evening rides have a 5:15 pm check-in at the Balloon Ride Tent. If you’re doing a morning ride, be sure to dress warmly, because even in the heat of the summer, the morning can still be chilly, especially when you’re up in the balloon. Balloon rides are $240 per person in the morning, $275 in the evening on Friday and Sunday, and $295 in the evening on Saturday. Keep in mind that you have to purchase a general admission ticket to the festival on top of the balloon ride ticket. There is no age requirement, but all riders have to be 42 inches or taller. Balloon rides last 20 to 45 minutes. If you want the experience of riding a hot air balloon but are looking for a more affordable option, try out the tethered balloon rides on festival grounds. The tethered rides are only $20 a person!
Take a ride on a balloon for the most amazing views and a true feeling of transcendence as you look at the beautiful world around you!
Check out the tethered balloon rides- you’ll get a taste of what flying in a balloon is like!
Hundreds of balloons soar in the sky at this festival, but make sure you’re on the lookout for the special-shaped balloons. Kids especially love these balloons, because their colorful, unique, and often funny. This year, keep your eyes peeled for High Kitty, the 100-foot-tall, hot pink cat. High Kitty is based on a Japanese figurine that is believed to bring good luck! To celebrate the release of Disney’s The Lion King, watch Simba the Lion, the 85-foot tall balloon originally built in Belgium to help stop the poaching of lions. Kermie the Frog, a huge, green frog with cubic footage equivalent to 105,000 soccer balls will join after traveling all over the world. The Keystone Cops, Keystone Willy and Con Air, will take the sky – mustaches and all. These cops made their debut in silent movies, and now they’ve been made into iconic hot air balloons, sure to make you laugh. My final favorite special shaped balloon is the QuickCheck Flighthouse, a 115-foot tall lighthouse, symbolizing summer and safety!
Trust me- you won’t miss High Kitty in the sea of balloons! Photo by QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning.
Isn’t this blue dog just the cutest? He was one of last year’s special shaped balloons!
There are several concerts going on throughout all three days at the festival. On Friday, check out the Kids’ Concert with Dan Zanes and Claudia Eliaza. Later on in the day, enjoy live music from country artist John Cannavo Duo and a 5 pm concert, featuring Amanda Ayala. The main act of the day, playing at 8 pm, is Abba. Enjoy live music throughout the day on Saturday, with a lineup of Chuck Schubert, Karaoke with Dave, and Bobby Clark Band. Check out the School of Rock Concert at 4:30 pm, and the main act, The Band Perry, at 8 pm. On Sunday, head to the 1 pm concert with Sam Sims Band and the 3 pm concert, featuring The Beach Boys. Live music by Oasis will also be at 4 pm!
Don’t miss out on the kids’ concert on Friday, July 26 with Dan Zanes and Claudia Eliaza! Photo by Shaw Entertainment Group.
Family Fun Pavilion/Center
The Family Fun Pavilion and Center host a variety of activities and acts geared towards little ones and their families. Look forward to Flippenout, the trampoline acrobatic stunt show, American Roots Music & Kids Jugband, the “Grow up Great” Mobile Learning Adventure, The Amazing Michael’s Juggling Extravaganza, Steve Hennessey as Dr. Planet — the fun musical and educational journey through the solar system – and so much more. The festival is truly geared towards families, and they have tons of activities to keep your little ones entertained throughout the whole day. Check out the daily schedules to see when all of these activities are scheduled and plan your day accordingly!
There’s endless family fun at this iconic festival! Photo by Alex Slaughter.
Fireworks & Balloon Glow
July 4 may have passed, but what’s a festival without fireworks? If you’re planning to attend the festival on Friday, be sure to catch the Fireworks Extravaganza at 9:30 pm. Saturday night has another fun event that is definitely worth staying for: the Balloon Glow at 9 pm. The gigantic hot air balloons will glow beautifully against the night sky – a sight not to be missed.
If you’re planning to watch the 6:30 pm balloon take off, stay for the fireworks show later on in the night! Photo by QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning.
Taking place multiple times throughout the weekend, Belmont’s Festival of Magic’s show brings laughs and smiles to kids all over. The magic show takes place at Magic 98.3’s “Theater of Magic,” so be sure to catch at least one of their exciting shows during your time at the festival.
Amusement Park Rides
The fun truly never ends at this family-friendly festival, because in addition to music, magic, fireworks, and endless activities at the family pavilion and center, there are plenty of amusement park rides to enjoy. Hop on the spinning hot air balloon ferris wheel or take a ride on the classic carousel. The amusement park rides are a great way to break up your day and keep your kids entertained!
Hot air balloons come in every size, shape, and form- even amusement park ride form! Photo by QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning.
Stay Active: 5k, Sunrise Yoga, Pilates
Looking for a more active experience at the festival? Sign up for the Running with the Balloons 5k! You’ll start at the balloon launch area and finish at the heart of the festival. Check out the views of the balloons up in the sky as you run through this grass, pavement, and gravel course. This iconic race was featured on the YES Network and Fox Sports Regionals for its unique experience of running along with the balloons. The 5k is perfect for families who want to jog it together, but if you want to really compete, you have a chance of winning a free hot air balloon ride. If you want a more low key, yet still active experience, check out the peaceful sunrise yoga or the morning pilates classes as the morning balloons set for take off!
Get your workout in at the festival by running alongside the balloons in a 5k! #nodaysoff Photo by QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning.
If your planning on spending the whole day at the festival, then you’ll surely work up an appetite with all the activities keeping you busy. Of course, QuickChek will have their store on site with plenty of options for lunch and snacking. However, there will also be food vendors – many food trucks and tents to satisfy your hunger. Last year, the festival had a food truck that served huge plates of chicken fingers and fries and a delicious cupcake food truck for dessert. The festival did not release the list of food vendors for this year yet, but there will be lots of scrumptious options for your little ones. Note that coolers, bottles, and food are not allowed into the festival, so do not pack a lunch to bring onto festival grounds!
Who can refuse cupcakes at a festival? Certainly not me.
Arts & Crafts
Everything from jewelry to ceramics to family-friendly crafts will be at the festival for you to enjoy! Take part in interactive arts & crafts or watch the artists work their miracles. The list of craft vendors for this year has not been released yet, but last year, the festival featured Alex and Ani, Chocolate Moonshine, Collectibles Toy Box, and many more. Get creative and crafty with your family this summer at the hot air balloon festival!
In addition to arts & crafts vendors, there are various shopping vendors. At the Festival Shopping Center, browse homemade cat and dog treats, Thai-Asian style women’s clothing, Dye It Up tie-dye products, the Balloon Gift Shop, and much more. A helpful tip: your kids will likely get very excited over all there is to buy at this festival, especially with the tie-dye shirts and the Hot Air Balloon Gift Shop products. I’d recommend that you set a limit on shopping. Window shopping (or in this case, tent shopping) is always fun, but with kids, it can sometimes be overwhelming. Try to gear your festival experience more towards the activities included with your general admission ticket.
All smiles for the balloons, shopping, and arts & crafts! Photo by Alex Slaughter.
Tickets and Last Minute Tips/Info
General Admission tickets grant your entrance to the festival on any one day. Adult tickets are $30 through July 24 and $25 at the gate. Tickets for children ages 4 to 12 are $12 through July 24 and $15 at the gate. Children 3 and under are free! Lawn seating for concerts is included in your general admission ticket.
When you’re planning your trip, a helpful tip to keep in mind is that balloons take off at 6:30 am and 6:30 pm, so families typically either get there in the morning or arrive around 4:30 pm. But note that there will be a lot of traffic if you plan to arrive at the 4:30 pm rush. The best way to avoid traffic would be to come earlier, around 2:30-3 pm, and enjoy all that the festival has to offer before the balloons take off. Similarly, while some people stay for the concert after the 6:30 pm balloon take-off, there is a rush of people who leave right away and the parking lot will be crazy. I’d recommend leaving before everyone else does. Try to make it to your car before the rush, because otherwise you might be stuck in parking lot traffic for an hour. Also, when we left the festival, we were sitting in our car for over an hour, waiting to leave the parking lot. What we didn’t realize was that there were other exits from the parking lot, other than the way we came in. So when you’re leaving, look around for all exits!
We’re obsessed with these gorgeous balloons. Have the very best experience among the crowds while you’re there, but beat the crowds to your car when you leave!
One More Reason to Check Out the Festival: A Good Cause
While the festival is full of family fun, it also supports wonderful causes. Children’s Miracle Network and QuickChek NJ Festival of Ballooning team up again this year to benefit the Children’s Specialized Hospital, among other organizations. The festival works with various local, regional and national non-profits, schools, and religious-based groups. The festival raised over $2.87 million in charitable contributions! To join in and contribute to the Community Corner, as well as make family memories alongside beautiful balloons, buy your tickets for the 37th Annual QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning!
Connect on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @njballoonfest
Photographer: Alex Slaughter is a photographer and videographer based in NJ. His debut music video, Cuando, is out now on WorldStar.