Summer Fun for the Family: Hot Air Ballooning

Summer provides a great opportunity to take family on adventures and make some life-altering memories. A fun one that sneaks in a bit of science for the kids is hot air ballooning.

Balloon Basics

We all know that “hot air rises” and that’s what’s happening inside the balloon (referred to as the “envelope”). Propane is usually burned to heat the air inside the envelope so that it is lighter than the air around it.

The balloon crew starts by laying the envelope on the ground and uses high-powered fans to fill it with cold air at first, and once the envelope has expanded a bit, they start heating that air.

As the envelope rises you and your fellow passengers have to be ready to jump in before it leaves without you!

Up in the Air

Once you’re airborne the pilot is going to use the burners to heat the air rapidly and increase vertical speed. From there, piloting is all about utilizing the air currents at different altitudes. The pilot can open the parachute valve to release hot air to drop altitude or continue to heat the air to gain altitude. Don’t worry, there is a limit…the air gets too thin at a certain level for the buoyancy difference to matter so your balloon won’t drift into space.

Sometimes there are turning vents which can rotate the balloon clockwise and counterclockwise to give riders a panoramic view.


Unlike an airplane which has a fixed runway and the ability to control a set approach, a balloon will usually land in a generally safe area, with a few bumps along the ground to minimize the final impact. Speaking of impact, that’s part of the reason wicker is so often used for the baskets, as they flex to absorb the impact.

Most rides will take between 60-90 minutes, and only occur when the weather is optimal. Given the conditions of a balloon, flight in rain or with strong winds is not recommended.

Where To?

You might have some local options to go ballooning, in which case, definitely take the opportunity. You’ll never look at your neighborhood and city the same again when you’ve seen it from far above.

To add to your local views, here are a few more ideas we have:

  • Napa Valley, California — you can see Old Faithful, Mt St Helena, and the Palisade Cliffs
  • The Grand Canyon — most of the balloon rides will cross the widest area of the canyon so you can see it from both sides
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico — it’s known as the Ballooning Capital of the World, which isn’t too surprising given that they host the International Balloon Fiesta in October, a nine-day event which has 900,000 visitors, and 600 pilots from seven countries
  • The Rocky Mountains — while there are popular launches from Denver and Winter Park, if you’re thinking about end-of-summer vibes, there’s a Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off
  • Asheville, North Carolina — if you’re thinking Great Smoky Mountains instead of the Rockies, Asheville will be a great spot to launch from
  • Driggs, Idaho — if you want a special July 4th you could do worse than the Teton Valley Balloon Rally: camping, fiddlers’ contests, parades, fireworks, and yeah, balloon rides

You’ve got plenty of options to add some special memories to this summer (or even later this year).

40460cookie-checkSummer Fun for the Family: Hot Air Ballooning

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