The Great Smoky Mountains Balloon Festival is a fantastic family-friendly one-day event near Pigeon Forge. The main draw of the event is, of course, the massive hot air balloons sent soaring into the sky, but there are plenty of other things to do, see, taste, and otherwise experience at this end-of-summer event near Pigeon Forge.
The History of the Great Smoky Mountains Balloon Festival in Townsend, TN
The very first Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival took place in 2017 after just under five months of planning. The owners of the Dancing Bear Lodge and Dogwood Cabins came together to brainstorm an event they could hold during their so-called off-season to would get families out and engaged with the community. They wanted free activities for the kids and delicious food and beverages for the adults. The balloonists were originally a bit of an afterthought, but sometimes that’s how the best ideas are born!
That inaugural Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival featured just six hot air balloonists, all from the region, as well as a few dozen local breweries, wineries, food trucks, and craft vendors who set up their wares for viewing and sale. This was not planned as a major event drawing in people from around the country, but it became so because of one fortuitous scheduling overlap: The 2017 Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival took place just two days before, and the weekend immediately preceding the August 21, 2017, solar eclipse.
Dubbed the “Great American Eclipse” by the media, East Tennessee was one of the best places to enjoy the full experience of the total solar eclipse. So, instead of crowds numbering a thousand or two, that initial Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival saw an incredible, unprecedented, vastly unexpected 10,000 people. Many of whom came in anticipation of the upcoming Great American Eclipse but walked away with a newfound appreciation for East Tennessee and its local events and festivities.
That beautiful storm of circumstances gave the trial festival just what it needed to garner attention and grow. And grow it has. Each subsequent year of the Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival has incorporated more. More balloons, more vendors, more activities, more fun. If you’ve never been, then now is a fantastic time to mark your calendars and get ready to head out into the mountains for this colorful and adventurous festival.
What to Expect at the Great Smoky Mountains Balloon Festival 2022
This year’s great balloon festival will take place on Saturday, August 20, 2022, at the field outside the Townsend Visitor Center in Townsend, TN.
One unique thing about the event, and something very important to note for those planning to go, is that this is not an all-day event. It’s barely a day event in that festivities do not officially start until 4 pm. Vendors, balloonists, and others will start closing up at around 10 pm.
You can choose to park at the festival, be dropped off, or otherwise park further off-site. Parking at the Townsend Visitor Center and affiliated parking areas will cost $25 but nicely includes up to 4 admission tickets. Admission tickets are otherwise $5. So families or friends traveling together might appreciate the convenience of this bulk pricing while individuals and couples might consider an alternative plan.
What Food Treats Await?
You can expect this festival to include many of the most beloved local food and beverage outfits in the area. This has, after all, become quite the anticipated regional event.
Of course, where the food truck court and beer tent were once central components of that initial 2017 event, the Great Smoky Mountains Balloon Festival has grown to be so much more. This year, you can expect an exciting array of festivities that will include live entertainment throughout the course of the event and artisan areas where regional crafters are fully set up to demonstrate how they make or build their art and crafts in addition to their standard selling booths.
What Activities Can you Expect?
Then there are all of the festival or fair-like activities available for everyone. Some of these activities are geared more specifically to children (think bounce houses and face painting), but most are more overall family-friendly. Some crowd favorite activities that were available in previous years include mini-bungee jumping sets, axe throwing, and rock climbing walls. Most of these add-on attractions will charge a small additional fee for participation, much as you’d expect at a fair or other festivals.
In regards to the hot air balloons, you can expect significantly more than just those original six hot air balloonists. Now, dozens flock to the highly-anticipated Townsend event from all over the region and even further out. The hot air balloons will start inflating at dusk, creating a beautiful fiery glow during those crepuscular hours that lasts long after the sun vanishes behind the horizon (remember, festivities continue two hours after sunset).
Want to experience an aerial view of the event? You’re in luck! Individuals can purchase tethered ride tickets both via the official website for the Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival and on the day of. This year, tethered ride tickets (which is when you ride the balloon about 30 feet in the air but remain tethered to the ground) are $25 per person for about three full minutes in the air.
Closer to the event, we anticipate that the Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival will start selling a unique upgraded VIP ticket package. In previous years, this upgraded ticket purchase included exciting extras like a commemorative t-shirt, entrance to a wine tasting, and a gourmet dinner served as a picnic. Prices previously trended between $100 and $125, with most finding the value of the experience well worth the extra expense. Subscribe to the Townsend Visitor’s Center Eventbrite page for ticket updates and public releases.