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Carolina BalloonFest in Statesville (40+ Colorful Years of History and More Coming!)

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on April 25, 2024.

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Carolina BalloonFest is the second-oldest hot air balloon festival in the world and has been running for nearly 50 years. The Statesville-based festival brings in close to 40,000 people to Statesville from all over the country. Balloons fly all weekend, and it is certainly a sight to see.

It takes place on the third weekend of October annually and ranks on our NC Bucket List of things to do. We even included it in our book!

our daughter looking out the three balloons at BalloonFest in North Carolina

But what has made North Carolina, specifically Statesville, such a booming place for ballooning?

We share all of that, including updated info for 2024, in this guide! Here’s how we’ve organized things:

  • History of Ballooning in Statesville
  • Carolina Balloon Festival Background
  • Carolina BalloonFest Info
  • Our Balloon Ride Experience

Read More: 30+ Awesome Things to Do in Statesville

Carolina BalloonFest in Statesville

Special thanks to Visit Statesville for sending us up in a balloon and for introducing us to the folks who manage the Balloon Festival in Statesville, NC. All opinions within this article are our own.

History of Ballooning in Statesville

Much of this article’s information came from an interview with Carolina BalloonFest board member and balloon meister Daniel Sasser. He joined us for NC Travel Chat. You can listen to the interview here or anywhere podcasts are available.

The answer to “why Statesville” is simple, really—manufacturing. Balloon Works, also known as Firefly Balloons, opened in Statesville in 1969 and was one of the country’s original manufacturers of hot air balloons.

Read More: Fort Dobbs in Statesville (How to Travel Back to 1760 in Style!)

two fully inflated hot air balloons tethered to the ground and one being blown up rapidly

Tracy Barnes

Started by Tracy Barnes, Balloon Works was set up in Love Valley in Iredell County and capitalized on the area’s craftsmen. Every part of a hot air balloon needs a specific and specialized design, so this led to Statesville being the main area for pilots to buy and service their balloons.

Bill Meadows

In addition to Balloon Works opening to manufacture and sell balloons, Statesville native Bill Meadows established a flight training and promotion company to train pilots.

Not only was Statesville, where balloons were manufactured and pilots trained, but the weather and geography of North Carolina’s Piedmont were perfect for hot air ballooning. Tracy Barnes chose Statesville specifically because of those factors.

The proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina provided some shelter from extreme weather, so flying could be less challenging. Add in the fact that Statesville is centrally located because of I-77 and I-40, pilots and balloonists are able to reach Statesville easily.

Read More: 15+ Important Tips to Enjoy the NC State Fair

Carolina BalloonFest Background and Info

four hot air balloons flying above the woods during the Carolina BalloonFest

All of this is what contributed to the first Statesville Balloon Festival (BalloonFest) in 1974, when it was originally known as the National Balloon Rally.

Pilot training would take place at the factory, and many balloonists would return to Statesville to fly together. It became a homecoming and a way for people across the country to come together who share the same love for hot air balloons.

Balloon Works planned to invite past customers as well as potential customers to enjoy a week of fellowship, and the atmosphere of comradery lives on today.

2024 Carolina BalloonFest Info

The festival remains volunteer-led and returns for the third weekend of October 2024. Tickets for October 18, 19, and 20 can be purchased here. Kids 6 and under receive FREE admission.

our daughter with multicolored balloons in the background

The cost of admission goes back to the community through nonprofits that help provide volunteers for the events.  

If you are in Statesville during that weekend, make sure to look up at the sky, smile, and snap a picture.

Things to do at the Carolina BalloonFest

The Carolina BalloonFest is an excellent event for the whole family! We recommend bringing chairs or picnic blankets and making it a whole-day affair!

four people sitting in a field among a large group of visitors for Baloonfest!

There are plenty of activities for kids- including inflatables and a ninja course. The staff at the inflatables are incredibly kind and helpful! They make sure there aren’t too many children in at a time, keeping everyone safe.

a small pint of beer at Carolina BalloonFest

Is it even a festival without some local North Carolina beer and wine? Pay for a tasting wristband and talk to the local brewers and winemakers while you drink your way through North Carolina. We found it to be an incredible value! If that isn’t your speed, then draft domestics are also available at the festival.

Read More: 25 Wonderful Wineries Near Asheville (Vineyards Within 2 Hours)

a multicolored hot air balloon tethered to the ground by a few strings

Tethered balloon rides are also available for those not ready to take the plunge for a full hot-air balloon ride. These tethered rides are based on a first-come-first-serve basis.

The rides last approximately 3-5 minutes but provide a great overview of the festival and a taste of what it’s like to ride in a hot air balloon! Note that these rides are dependent on ideal conditions. If it is windy, the rides and balloons might not be operating.

Our Experience Riding in a Hot Air Balloon

the view of the landscape surrounding Statesville, NC

Even when Carolina BalloonFest isn’t happening, you can still fly high in the sky. Private balloon rides take place in Statesville throughout much of the year and are honestly an incredible experience.

The Basics (Plus Weather Factors)

a blue, red, and black hot air balloon soaring over the fields of North Carolina

Each balloon holds two people (and a pilot. You aren’t on your own!), and rides last for an hour to an hour and a half.

We flew with Charles and Kristie of Big Oh! Balloons and had a wonderful experience. They didn’t pay me anything to say that.

But there are some things you should know before you go up in a hot air balloon. Flights typically happen either at sunrise or just before sunset.

Why? Because this is the time of day when the air is the most stable.

Your flight is dependent on the weather, so being flexible and understanding that the pilots are thinking about your safety first is critical to an enjoyable experience.

Inflation

the fire shooting up towards the top of the balloon. It's used to inflate the hot air balloon

Before inflating the balloon (we don’t say blow up because that could be bad!), you will sit down and go over a waiver and safety protocols. If you are lucky, you can help your pilot inflate the balloon and even step inside it before turning it upright!

Take-Off

an aerial view of a hot air balloon, designed with purple, green, blue, and yellow patterns

Once inside the balloon, you are ready for take-off. The pilot will turn up the flame to fill the balloon with hot air to lift you and your companion off the ground.

I won’t lie. This was the scariest part of the entire trip for me.

I held on to the wicker basket very tight for at least 15 minutes after we were off the ground until I started to loosen up and feel secure.

While in the air, you are floating effortlessly over farmland and trees. Charles asked us to put our hands out and grab a leave from a passing tree.

Looking as far as you can from 400 feet above the ground with the silence surrounding you is something that really can’t be described beyond a magical feeling.

On a clear day, you can see Pilot Mountain and even the Charlotte skyline. Time goes both slow and fast while you are up in the balloon because before you know it, you are making your way to landing in what is hopefully a large field.

Landing

I was so worried about taking off that I didn’t even think about landing!

Landing is unpredictable. Ideally, you land in a large open field that is easily accessible via a secondary road because the chase car is going to want easy access to fold up the balloon and basket.

Our landing was a little bit of both. We landed in a large open field, quickly realizing that we were enclosed by an inaccessible fence.

To make things more challenging for Charles, the pilot, there was also a power line that he needed to hop over. We ascended and made it over the power line, hoping to land in the road but we missed it and kept going.

Deflation

The view from below a purple and white hot air balloon

Once the balloon was deflated, we helped to roll and fold it back up so that it would fit back nicely into the trailer of the chase car. Depending on where you land, this process can be easy or take a little longer.

And that’s part of the fun—every balloon ride will be different!

While talking to Charles during the flight, I learned that there really isn’t a bad time of year to fly a hot air balloon. The only time that might not be ideal is at the peak of summer, just because it gets so hot in North Carolina.

The heat combined with the heat coming off of the flame isn’t going to be enjoyable.

Ready for Carolina BalloonFest and Beyond in Statesville?

From Statesville’s interesting history of ballooning to the iconic Carolina BalloonFest, we think there are plenty of reasons you should keep tabs on this part of our state.

Riding in a hot air balloon was definitely a bucket list-worthy item for me, and I’m so grateful that have had such a wonderful experience in Statesville!

Have you ever flown in a hot air balloon? How about over Statesville or elsewhere in North Carolina?

Have you ever attended this hot air balloon festival in NC? We’d love to know either way and look forward to hearing about your experiences!

More Things to Do in Statesville (Beyond Carolina BalloonFest)

Beyond Carolina BalloonFest, there are some fun things to do in Statesville. We don’t want to take away from this awesome event but thought we’d mention it.

Here are some North Carolina Travel Guides that cover this awesome city and its surroundings.

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