As the 11th annual Lancaster Balloon Festival and Country Fair kicks off, running from Friday, September 16, to Sunday, September 18, the sky over Bird-in-Hand will again become a rainbow of canvas and the picturesque fields below will be full of fun for the whole family. The festival is held at 2727 Old Philadelphia Pike, just across the road from the Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant & Smorgasbord. The hot air balloons will be launched for rides as long as weather permits, but even for the people who intend to keep their feet on the earth, there will be plenty of entertainment on the festival grounds.
“We have balloon pilots coming from as far as Florida for the event here,” Jake Frame, the owner of Lancaster Balloon Rides, told The Lancaster Patriot. His grandfather started the company in the ’80s, and Lancaster Balloon Rides started the festival in 2010. “Up until 2019, we really only had probably 15 to 20 balloons out. Then after that, it’s just word of mouth. They all started talking about it in 2021, that everyone loved the festival, including the pilots. And I had pilots reaching out to me left and right to come and fly with us.”
The 2010 festival was launched as part of the Run, Ride and Soar event, which featured balloon rides, bicycle courses and the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon. The popularity of the balloon festival and the half marathon grew so much that now the events are held on different weekends.
Throughout the year, hot air balloons giving rides can be seen taking off over Old Philadelphia Pike, but there is a special magic in seeing around 40 balloons taking off together and gliding away, 3,000 to 5,000 feet in the air. The festival’s mass ascensions will take place at 5:30 p.m. each evening and at 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. At 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, the balloons on the ground will be lit up so that everyone participating in the earth-bound activities can enjoy the colorful illumination.
Fireworks, hayrides, a corn maze, lawn games, bounce houses, live music, reptile shows, performances for children, and juggling will keep festivalgoers entertained throughout the event. “So even if it’s a little bit too windy for the balloons, you’re still going to have a great time,” Frame said, but he added that he anticipates great weather for the weekend flights.
The festival’s untethered balloon flights last 30 to 60 minutes and give breathtaking views of Bird-in-Hand, Intercourse and Strasburg farmland, but flights must be booked in advance. Tethered balloon rides, which last three to five minutes and rise 25 to 50 feet in the air, can be purchased at the event. Entry fees for the festival on Friday and Sunday are $20 for adults and $10 for kids ages 5 to 12; children 4 and under get in free. On Saturday, the cost is $30 for adults and $15 for older kids. Parking is free, although there will be people out in the parking areas on Saturday to accept donations for charity, Frame said.
After the Saturday sunrise balloon rides end, a pilot’s breakfast will be held from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Everyone is welcome to attend just the breakfast, even without attending the rest of the festival or purchasing festival tickets. The all-you-can-eat buffet is $13 for adults and $9 for children ages 5 through 11, and it is first come, first serve. Frame said, “We’ll have pilots there talking about how they got into ballooning, doing Q&As, and also people will be able to have a great breakfast there on the field.”
Delicious food will be available for purchase throughout the rest of the festival from the Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant & Smorgasbord and from food trucks.
The Lancaster Hot Air Balloon Festival is presented in partnership with the Smucker corporation, Garden Spot Village and a variety of other community sponsors. Volunteers are also crucial to make the event possible. In addition to pitching in with regular festival tasks like check-in and parking, volunteers get to experience the balloons up close and personal, helping the pilots set them up and get them soaring. Volunteers receive free entry on the days they help out, and they’ll get a free festival T-shirt. To view the detailed schedule of events or to learn more about attending, volunteering, or setting up a flight, visit lancasterballoonfest.com. Since balloon launches are weather dependent, weather-related updates will be posted to the festival website and social media pages, and the festival organizers recommend following the Facebook page, facebook.com/lancasterballoonfestival, for live updates during the event.