Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Travel Iowa. However, all opinions are my own.
For nine days every summer, the central Iowa skies fill with colorful hot air balloons as part of Indianola’s National Balloon Classic. This annual festival is one of my favorites and draws thousands of balloonists and spectators alike to this small town.
Over the course of the nine-day festival, more than a hundred hot air balloons fill the sky for a variety of different flights, competitions and leisure rides. Whether you’re a central Iowa local or looking to plan a fun summer road trip, the National Balloon Classic is truly a sight to behold.
Keep reading to discover why you need to add this unique Iowa event to your calendar and how you can plan a hot air balloon adventure of your own.
The National Balloon Classic is held each year in late July and early August. This year, the event will be held July 29 through August 6, 2022. While this event is a lot of fun for spectators, it’s also the site of some serious competitions for balloonists from across the country and even internationally.
This year, the event includes competitions as part of the National Balloon Classic Championship, State Championship, North Central Regional Championship and U.S. Women’s National Championship.
Admission to the festival is free during the morning flights. For evening flights, admission is $10 per person for attendees six years and older. Tickets must be purchased in advance, but can be used for any of the evening flights throughout the festival.
If you won’t make it to the National Balloon Classic this year, mark your calendars for the next two festivals to be held: July 28 – August 5, 2023 and July 26 – August 3, 2024.
Morning Competition Flights
One of my favorite ways to attend the National Balloon Classic is during morning competition flights. Beginning on the first Saturday of the festival, the balloon field opens at 6 am so that spectators can watch pilots compete in a variety of events.
Many of the competition flights involve pilots dropping weighted bean bags from their baskets in an attempt to get as close to the target on the ground as they can. Even if you’re a novice ballooning spectator, these competitions are a lot of fun and a great way to learn from the event announcer.
For the first time this year, the National Balloon Classic is also playing host to the U.S. Women’s National Championship where 14 pilots are competing for the national title.
If you’re looking to beat the crowds (and the heat) while still seeing some balloons, I recommend setting your alarm clock early and heading to the field for a morning flight.
While the morning flights are fun, the evening flights are what typically draw big crowds to the National Balloon Classic. Throughout the festival there are a variety of different evening ballooning events as well as live music, special celebrations and more. Events like the Shape Inflate feature uniquely shaped hot air balloons. Then there’s the Mass Ascension, which lets visitors see what it’s like to be surrounded by 125+ ascending hot air balloons at once.
These specialty flights are held a handful of times throughout the festival. So be sure to check the nightly schedule when planning your trip.
Visit the National Balloon Museum
Whether it’s festival season or not, the National Balloon Museum is a great place to visit to learn more about the art and history of ballooning. If you have an hour or two to explore, this Indianola museum is definitely worth a visit.
Discover the history of hot air balloons and learn how modern ballooning came to be. The museum has a lot of great vintage balloons on display. It’s really cool to see how the construction changed throughout the years. I also really enjoyed the displays about past national title holders, including the collections of colorful and quirky ballooning pins.
In conjunction with this year’s U.S. Women’s National Championship, the National Balloon Museum has a special exhibit highlighting the contributions of women balloonists throughout history. The exhibit features artifacts as well as profiles of many women pilots, oftentimes submitted in their own words.
The National Balloon Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1 – 4 pm. Admission is $5 for adults (ages 13+) and free for anyone under 12 years old.
National Balloon Museum, 1601 N Jefferson Way in Indianola, Iowa
Plan Your Visit to the National Balloon Classic
The National Balloon Classic is located just east of Indianola’s town square at the Memorial Balloon Field. Especially if you’re planning to attend an evening flight, be sure to allow plenty of time to get to the field and park. Lines can get pretty long on the more popular evenings and there’s only one way into the venue.
When planning your visit to this event, the most important thing to keep an eye on is the weather. While it may seem like the perfect night for an outdoor event, hot air ballooning is a temperamental art and needs very specific weather conditions. If winds are above 10 miles per hour, it’s less likely that the balloons will fly. Keep an eye on the National Balloon Classic’s website and social media for day-of weather updates, and remember to be flexible.
Pack a picnic blanket or lawn chair and consider a book or game to pass the time. There are ATMs on site, but if you plan to buy snacks for the vendors, I recommend coming prepared with some cash. And don’t forget your bug spray and comfy shoes! The Memorial Balloon Field is a nicely landscaped area. But you’ll still be sitting in grass and walking on uneven terrain to find a seat.
For a full list of events, available vendors and FAQs, check out the National Balloon Classic’s Guest Guide.
Memorial Balloon Field, 15335 Jewell Street in Indianola, Iowa
Share Your Thoughts
I would love to hear from you! Have you attended the National Balloon Classic? What’s your favorite part of this unique annual event?