ABQ International Balloon Fiesta Roadtrip

An adventure was brewing! Kyle and I got this crazy idea to drive to New Mexico this year instead of fly. We made plans with my sister to go to the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque! Put it on your list right now, this is a must-see! Truth be told, I am still not great at flying, so this was an easy decision for me….or was it? Should we really drive across the country with a 5-year-old and 1-year-old? Before this trip, our youngest son Brooks had a maximum amount of time in the car set at 5 hours. We were determined to make this an adventure of a lifetime! Check out instagram for more photos: #VA2NM2017

Our initial planning indicated that it would be at least 1,800 miles from our house in Virginia to Albuquerque, totaling over 3600 miles. We had to plan this carefully, but with plenty of wiggle room. This would be our first trip using our new Tepui Kukenam XL Ruggedized Roof-Top Tent. I like to camp, but I don’t like to camp, ha! This tent was made for people like me! I love being in nature but hate sleeping on the ground. I love the fresh air sitting outside in front of a campfire all night but want to sleep without worry about bugs and wild animals. Being on top of the roof of our vehicle is a fun view for all of us! Thankfully, the rooftop tent would give us the capability of keeping our plans structured while being able to switch things up last minute without spending tons of money. The freedom to make changes throughout this trip was worth its weight in gold and we did plenty of it. 

Our first stop was Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Nashville, TN. I had high hopes that giving the kids a fun place to start our trip would keep their spirits up if they got sick of being in the car. It was the longest stretch of driving on the whole trip. Unfortunately, Hurricane Nate was determined to destroy our plans. Well played, Nate. We intended to stay at Jellystone for 2 nights. After pouring down rain the entire first night, we packed up, headed to Memphis and got a hotel to dry out! Less than 48 hours into our trip, and we already had to switch it up! At least we found some amazing BBQ at Corky’s.

We got much more than we bargained for in Arkansas! We stayed at the KOA near the National Park. The town of Hot Springs is a vibrant little town. We got some great breakfast and headed up to the park to do some hiking. Hot Springs National Park was beautiful until a snake crossed our path and got angry about it. He crossed over the trail right in front of us. He raised up, started shaking his head and coming toward Kyle. We were just far enough back that he continued this agitation but kept moving without making contact with anyone. After that, we were all a bit nervous to continue hiking. We hightailed it back to the car and thought it may be a good time to head up the mountain tower to get a unique view of the area. Which was the first of 3 tall attractions we climbed on our trip!

Next stop: Little Rock, Arkansas! Kyle and I have visited Little Rock before. We didn’t stick around long but loved the downtown area where we could shop, eat a nice lunch and stretch our legs before getting back in the car.

We did a lot of driving from Little Rock to Oklahoma City, then onto Amarillo, TX! We were nearing the end of our trip out. Amarillo is just 4 short hours from Albuquerque! We opted to stay in Palo Duro Canyon thanks to a friend’s recommendation. It is nicknamed “Coyote Canyon” for good reason. We did a small hike upon our arrival and then made a campfire to finish the evening. I’m pretty sure I got NO sleep. It was a cool night. We heard coyotes echoing up and down the canyon the entire time. Around 2 AM we woke up to a yipping noise just outside of our tent. Kyle tried to talk me into thinking it was a lost dog. (insert eye roll here) All I can say is that I was never more thankful for the rooftop tent! 

We finally arrived at our destination in Albuquerque! We planned to spend a long weekend near the Balloon Fiesta site and then continue North to my sister’s house for the remainder of our visit! We chose a Marriott hotel in the neighborhood of ABQ Uptown. This was a great location to catch the bus at the mall across the street so that we didn’t have to worry about driving to and from the Fiesta grounds.

There is a full week of events including dawn patrol, evening balloon glows, special shape rodeos, and the mass ascension. This entire event is so enchanting, I really must let the photos speak for themselves.

Tickets for the 2024 event go on sale April 5th!

A few thoughts if you plan to visit the Fiesta:

Tickets go on sale well in advance. While the General Admission tickets don’t typically sell out, you should still get them as soon as you plan to visit, along with your park & ride tickets, hotel reservations, and flights. You must purchase your park & ride tickets in advance online. There are no ticket sales at the buses. Having everything printed out beforehand makes the whole process much smoother.

General Admission tickets are good for any session any day. The Fiesta has morning and evening sessions. Consider buying a few days worth of tickets due to the fragility of the skies. The weather for Ballooning must be near perfect or they can’t fly. This is for the safety of the pilots, riders, and spectators. It is easy to become frustrated with having to rely on the weather so closely. While some years are better than others, there are usually a few sessions that get canceled during the week. Your ticket can be used as a rain check for general admission if a session has been officially canceled. The Balloon Fiesta staff communicates very well via social media during the events. Check before you leave your hotel every single time no matter what the sky looks like.

Be sure to take chairs or blankets so that you can have a place to sit! They do have bleachers and picnic tables around but they fill up quickly. Plan to go through a security checkpoint. You will spend a few extra minutes being checked if you have large bags with you.


Wake up early and get to one of the mass ascensions! Check the schedule on BalloonFiesta.com to see when these occur.

I implore you to add this to your bucket list. It is a one-of-a-kind event that you will not regret!  When asked, I struggle to find the words to explain the Balloon Fiesta. An amazing number of pilots and their balloons come from across the world to spend a week celebrating this way of life. It is truly spectacular! If you are feeling adventurous, you can book a sunrise or sunset ride with the Rainbow Ryders!

29 comments / Add your comment below

  1. We have always wanted to see this in person! It looks like so much fun with the variety of balloons! I’m adding it to my list! Thank you for sharing!

  2. What a fun road trip! We were at a balloon festival near us, and it was very cool. I imagine the one in Alburqurque is amazing! Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. We almost went this year but my husband informed me he had a very important work trip he had to take. Ugh. Next year, I think will be our year to see this. We have seen a much smaller event in Vermont but like you said it really does depend on the weather.

    1. I feel you on that. My husband travels a bunch for work and it sure seems last minute every.single.time! 🙂

  4. I have been thinking about New Mexico for a trip next year, and I think this post has just convinced me. Also, a rooftop tent?! How cool. I had no idea these existed. I am going to look into that ASAP.

    1. Do it. Go! New Mexico is phenomenal for so many reasons. Luckily, my sister living there takes a lot of guess work out of things. Keep me posted on if you decide to check it out! We have visited each year for the past 5, so I really should make a huge New Mexico list of awesome things to do!

  5. We have a huge one here in Glens Falls. It’s awesome to see there are other great ones around the country

  6. That is so cool. Never heard of the balloon festival.

    We love road trip, but don’t have kids that go with us. I bet finding fun places that kids enjoy, along the way is not only fun, but a break for the whole family from sitting in the car. While we love to drive, I am sure it’s a challenge for young ones.

    1. We definitely have to take a few more breaks than when we didn’t have kids but my two boys have been roadtripping their whole lives so thankfully they are used to it! ha!

  7. We happened to be stationed at Kirtland AFB in ABQ one year during the Balloon Fiesta. What a treat! It was so much more beautiful than I could have imagined. Definitely a wonderful thing to see in person.

  8. I can’t believe you did a trip like that with such young kids but they will not forget it! This trip has been on my list for a few years now. Your pictures really sold me on it. Thanks for being an inspiration!

  9. Wow what an amazing event. I have yet to see something like this in my lifetime. Thanks for your coverage on this. I’m looking them up in my area.

  10. I live in Albuquerque and yes, this is a must see. I go with my family every year to at least see the mass ascension, get a burrito and hot chocolate. We bundle up the kids and head out early. It is one of the few balloon festivals that allow you on the grounds so close to the balloons. Its a riot. You are at the mercy of the weather but when its good and the box is working, its amazing. Get the sun over the mountains and the balloons up – breathtaking. In the morning, I can hear them over my home and as I drive to work, see them all along the skyline. Its a fun experience for sure! Thanks for posting this.

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