[Marcia Hadenfelt]

There’s always something magical about seeing a hot air balloon fly: maybe it’s the whimsical designs on the balloons, the slow and steady ascent, or the early morning takeoffs. During the 24th annual Bluff Balloon Festival on Jan. 13-15, hundreds of hot air balloons will take flight each day, weather permitting.

Marcia Hadenfelt, who has been organizing the festival since its inception, has flown in a balloon during the festival only once—she’s afraid of heights, she said—but described the flight as “fabulous, beautiful, mellow, exciting, and truly awesome.” 

“I’m looking forward to this year’s festival for a few reasons,” Hadenfelt said. “One of the big ones is that it is finally wonderful and easier to be back amongst friends … we cherish some of these friendships with regard to people willing to come back and wanting to come back year after year.” 

[Marcia Hadenfelt]

Most of the balloon pilots return each year, Hadenfelt said. Now that the festival is so well-known, festival organizers don’t have to recruit many pilots anymore—most will reach out to them directly inquiring about flying in the festival. In addition to being a spectacle, the festival also acts as a fundraiser: people can pay to sponsor a balloon, which buys them a spot in the basket when the balloon flies. 

The festival kicks off in the Bluff community on Thursday, Jan. 12: the pilots will visit Bluff Elementary School to do hot air balloon crafts like creating drawings for the festival posters and making and flying paper balloons. 

The festival opens up to the public on Friday, Jan. 13, when (weather permitting), the first balloons will fly over Bluff at dawn—spectating is free. That night, there will be a Navajo Taco supper, with all proceeds being donated to Bluff Elementary School. 

On Saturday, balloons will again fly over Bluff, followed by a breakfast hosted at Twin Rocks Café, with all proceeds donated to the Bluff Animal Rescue Committee, a nonprofit organization. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., local and regional artists will set up in the Community Center for a small art fair; there will also be food and entertainment at the Bluff Fort. One of the festival’s most anticipated events will round out the day: the “evening of fire and ice,” a chili and ice cream social, will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. Grab a bowl of chili or ice cream and explore the “glow-in,” where each balloon participating in the festival will be tethered and lit up, allowing participants to explore them up close. The evening will be accompanied by live music by Neon Nativez. 

On Sunday, the festival will end with its most majestic balloon flight: the balloons will fly over Valley of the Gods, about 20 miles from the town of Bluff. 

“The point of this festival is both to support businesses during the off-season, but also to entertain and invite friends and tourists to enjoy our place,” Hadenfelt said.

All the events during the festival are free to attend, and the full schedule can be found at www.bluffutah.org/bluffballoonfestival