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  • Writer's pictureElisabeth Dorosh

Rate the Date | Labor Day Liftoff Hot Air Balloon Ride

On a random day years ago, I was brainstorming surprises for Nazari and I thought it would be fun to surprise him with a hot air balloon ride for our anniversary or his birthday. Because it's such a splurge, I threw the idea by him to gauge his interest and he shut me down real fast, declaring he had no interest in said activity.

Fast forward to this past fall months prior to my 30th birthday. He informed me that he was planning something that he wanted to be a surprise, however, more strongly felt that he needed my opinion on the logistics of the matter. He proceeded to inform me that he wanted to take me on a hot air balloon to celebrate this monumental birthday milestone - and amid his research fell in love with the hot air balloon concept.

As it turns out - there are hot air balloon festivals all over the world all year long! And while there is no "hot air balloon season" - a December flight in Pittsburgh was far from ideal. Thus, he was torn between one of the largest festivals in existence in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a smaller, but epicly scenic festival in Colorado Springs. Seeing as this endeavor is definitely an investment, we opted for Colorado since my parents live there and we could save on costs for accommodations and get our feet wet with the experience.

The Labor Day Liftoff Festival was jam packed with activities, with sunrise flights each morning, and balloon glows at night (this is where the balloons are inflated, but stay on the ground and they are lit up!). There were substantial crowds - which with the views of the rocky mountains and the experience of watching the balloons rise - it was easy to see why!

We had an early arrival time - 6:00 am, which for us night-owls was probably the biggest challenge of the experience. We scheduled our balloon flight through Rainbow Ryders. After checking in at the tent and signing our waivers, it was a waiting game. Around 6:45, our guide led us to out spot and we watched the magic happen.

For your ride, there is a crew and a pilot (Yes - you need your pilot's license to fly a hot air balloon!). The team sets up the balloon, we then quite literally climb into the basket, and liftoff! That part was quite surreal, and we were mesmerized as we watch the crowds below grow smaller and smaller.

Immediately after takeoff, we were thrilled with our choice to take our ride in Colorado Springs. The 360 view as absolutely breathtaking and we couldn't get enough! There were about 80 balloons taking off, and the views of the Rockies, Prospect Lake, and the other hot air balloons all around us was something we will never forget. It is a scenic location on it's own, but throw in hot air balloons, and it is just next level. On that note, I'm really thankful we took our ride at a festival. While I have no doubt the experience would be incredible regardless of where you take your ride, see the views with hot air balloons sprinkled in was one of our favorites sites to date.

Our pilot informed us that the festival in Albuquerque is nearly 10 times the size of the one we were at in Colorado Springs - with nearly 800 balloons!

We thoroughly enjoyed our experience - and were glad we splurged on a personal ride. That said, we are definitely intrigued by the larger festival and the concept of seeing even more hot air balloons in the sky! If we rode again, we don't know that we would invest in the private ride again - but we have no regrets :)


  • Incredible views

  • Amazing experience to share together

  • Mimosa landing ceremony to end

  • Taking the ride during a festival and seeing so many other balloons!


  • Expensive: Costs range from $275/person for group flights, to $850 (total) for a private flight

  • Early morning wake up call (only a con if you're nocturnal like we are)

  • Unnerving if you don't like heights

  • There is a lot of waiting around for the actual experience, both setting up the balloon and putting it all away after landing.

  • You cannot use the bathroom for a few hours - which can be problematic if you have to pee (I did)


  • Rides last approximately one hour, but the entire experience is 3-4 hours (Be sure to use the bathroom before takeoff!)

  • Dress in layers! It can be cool - as the temperature matches that of the air, but whenever the pilot injects more hot air in the balloon, it can get toasty!

  • It is pretty low key and much more like floating than flying (there is no free-falling or adrenaline rush of that kind)

  • The baskets are small, and while you can move about a bit, there is not much space

  • Balloons cannot fly if windy

  • You can check out more information on the Rainbow Ryder FAQ Page

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