Olivia Ali // Nevada Sagebrush
Balloons flying in the sky for the 2018 Great Reno Balloon Race on September 8, 2018 in Reno, Nevada. There is up to 100 balloons and an average of 120,000 spectators a year.

Every year for three days in the late summer, Reno’s morning sky can be seen clouded with brightly colored balloons, marking the end of the summer and the beginning of the Great Reno Balloon Race.

The Great Reno Balloon Race began in 1982 with only 20 balloons participating, according to the Great Reno Balloon Race’s official website. However, it has exploded since then to be the world’s largest free hot-air balloon event, with up to 100 balloons and an average of 120,000 spectators a year.

The Balloon Race is held annually at Rancho San Rafael Park in the beginning of September. Additionally, the event is free to all, allowing families, groups of friends and more to set up camp in the park just before sunrise.

The 2019 Great Reno Balloon Race will run from Friday, Sept. 6 to Sunday, Sept. 8, with a preview media day on Thursday, Sept. 5. Doors will open on Friday to Sunday at 3:30 a.m., but the first event of the day, the Glow Show, won’t begin until 5:00 a.m., giving spectators time to settle in. Friday, Sept. 6 features a Super Glow Show at 5:15 a.m.

Following the Glow Show is Dawn Patrol around 5:30 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. Dawn Patrol features several balloons ascending before the sun fully rises, which provides a beautiful view of rainbow-colored balloons in the sunrise.

At 7:00 a.m., the main event finally takes place — up to 100 balloons ascend together into the sky to participate in the Great Reno Balloon Race. The balloons race from Rancho San Rafael Park to a specified target in Northwest Reno, which they aim to hit with a beanbag.

As the race is very early in the morning, you might be tempted to skip it and catch some extra sleep. However, the festival is truly unlike anything else in Reno — and possibly anywhere. Grab a group of friends, make a cup of coffee to-go and make your way down to Rancho San Rafael Park for the race. In Reno, it’s really just an event you can’t miss.

Beside taking over Northern Reno for a full weekend every year, the Great Reno Balloon Race does have some major accomplishments through the years worth noting. In 2002, the Great Reno Balloon Race was featured on ABC’s Good Morning America. In 2003, the event recorded 140,000 spectators throughout the weekend, which remains its highest recorded attendance to date. In 2007, CNN attended the event and covered the race alongside worldwide news topics.

The Great Reno Balloon Race advises wearing layers, bringing lawn chairs or blankets to sit on and to arrive early for the optimal viewing experience. The event schedule, parking options and more can be found at renoballoon.com.


Olivia Ali can be reached at oali@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.