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The Best Ways to Experience Hot Air Balloons in New Mexico

13 April 2022

New Mexico is famous for its stretches of desert, colorful towns, splashes of cacti, and breathtaking sunsets. But few people know the best way to soak in all the landscape—from thousands of feet above the ground.

A hot air balloon ride is a once-in-a-lifetime experience in New Mexico. Not only do you get the thrill of calmly floating off into the horizon, but you can also absorb parts of the state in their entirety, getting a more complete feel of the history, culture, and nature from up above. So, pack your sunglasses, and a jacket (it’s colder than it looks up there), and be prepared to fill your phone’s camera stream.

These are the best hot air balloons in New Mexico, as well as a quick recap about the roots of hot air balloons in the Land of Enchantment.

HISTORY OF HOT AIR BALLOONS IN NEW MEXICO Did you know that New Mexico is referred to as The Hot Air Balloon Capital of the World? Not Turkey, Tanzania, or New Zealand, but our very own state nestled in the Southwest of the US is the best place to go air ballooning—and there are a number of reasons why.

New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque happens to be home to the annual International Balloon Fiesta—the world’s largest hot air balloon festival. Taking place every October, the festival sees the skies fill with a flurry of colorful spheres, gliding against the vast blue skies of New Mexico. In fact, the state’s landscape is partly why hot air ballooning is so popular—the flatland of the high desert makes it easy for balloons to take off and return, while the weather conditions and air temperature make for a smooth ride. In Albuquerque, the cool wind and wind patterns even have their own name: the “Albuquerque Box.”

THE BEST TIMES TO GO HOT AIR BALLOONING Like any air-bound adventure, hot air ballooning is dependent on the weather. It can be done all year round in New Mexico but April to October is the optimal time to fly due to reduced winds and less chance of rain. In general, balloons launch just after sunrise or just before sunset, so that passengers can enjoy the change in light being cast.

Although many people want to fly around midday when the weather is warmer, it can be hazardous for balloons because pockets of hot air can rise from the earth and cause turbulence. Winds tend to be lighter early in the morning and at sunset too—between four to six mph—perfect for a gentle sail up into the clouds.

High winds are one of the main reasons for hot air balloon rides to be canceled, especially because winds may seem ideal at the ground level, but at higher altitudes, they’re much faster. That’s why pilots will use a Pi-ball to test the wind speeds at different levels. They throw a small helium balloon from the launch pad and if it reaches the treetops and suddenly shoots up, that indicates that the conditions are too harsh to fly.

Naturally, visibility is also important. Pilots need at least one to three miles of visibility, so if there is fog, snow, mist, or low clouds, rides could be canceled. Be sure to chat with your hot air balloon host before you book to confirm that there aren’t any weather concerns, and bring lots of layers, even if you’ve reserved for summer. The temperature drops about 3.5 degrees every 1,000 feet you climb—and you’ll be going up to 3,000 feet or higher.

WHERE TO GO HOT AIR BALLOONING IN TAOS Taos may be known for its slopes and Southwestern culture, but it’s also a prime spot for hot air balloon enthusiasts (and newbies).

RIO GRANDE BALLOONS Drifting over the Rio Grande Gorge as the sun peeks over the snow-capped mountains, sounds pretty ideal right? This hot air balloon experience comes from Taos locals who proudly showcase the dramatic panorama, including the sage-filled Taos Plateau. Weather-permitting, rides can include a descent into the canyon, where visitors can take in wildlife like the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. Flights last up to one hour and reservations can be made directly with Rio Grande Balloons.

TAOS HOT AIR BALLOON RIDES Taos Hot Air Balloon Rides boasts a similar trip over the Rio Grande Gorge, however, this flight also explores the wider Taos Valley and comes with post-flight champagne. Traveling up to ten miles at altitudes between 500 to 4,000 feet, hot air ballooners can spot deer, foxes, and coyotes from their basket, and enjoy free photos taken from vehicles below.

Balloons can fit up to eight people, or “Sweetheart” flights are available for two-person private flights.

ESKE’S PARADISE BALLOONS Flying up, over, down, and into the Rio Grande Gorge, Eske’s Paradise Balloons is an incredible excursion. Flights last about an hour and allow visitors to snap photos of golden eagles and the 600-feet deep canyon walls. The ride even includes a “splash and dash” where the balloon basket grazes the top of the flowing river water. After the flight, riders are treated to a traditional champagne brunch to top off the day of luxury activities.

Eske’s Paradise Balloons prides itself on its flawless flying record since launching for the first time in 1991. For availability and pricing, visit the website.

BALLOON FESTIVALS IN NEW MEXICO There are more than just privately-run hot air balloon trips in New Mexico. There are also a number of balloon-dedicated festivals across the state. These are a couple of our favorites.

TAOS MOUNTAIN BALLOON RALLY Our very own hot air balloon bonanza is a three-day event that takes place in October. The festival hosts around 35 to 50 balloons, each with its own unique design and history. Because of its intimate nature, the rally is great for a sense of the local community and balloon crews, who all flock to see the mass ascensions at dawn, the roaring balloon flames in the evening, and the grand balloon ball.

This year will be the 39th anniversary of the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally, and a portion of the proceeds go to supporting students in Taos via scholarships.

ALBUQUERQUE INTERNATIONAL BALLOON FIESTA A festival that needs no introduction, Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta celebrates 50 years of flying high in 2022. Happening October 1-9, over 500 balloons will lift off from Balloon Fiesta Park in the northern part of the city. Balloons speckle the sky from 7am in the morning each day, as well as light up the grassy fields during the evening in the Balloon Glow. Other goings-on includes chainsaw carving, skydiving, a fireworks show, and a photo contest.

Of course, there is the option to hit the skies in your very own hot air balloon with Rainbow Ryders—the only company authorized to take off at the festival. But remember, the festival is internationally renowned, so tickets sell out fast. For more information, head to the official website.

If you thought New Mexico was stunning from the ground, it’s time to see it from above. Book your balloon visit now, and be ready to go up, up, and away.