The Great Forest Park Balloon Race is one of the top events of the fall in St. Louis. The race brings in 70 balloonists from all over the country and hundreds of thousands of spectators. But the two day event is a lot more than just a balloon race. It kicks off with the spectacular Balloon Glow on Friday night, and there's a full day of activities surrounding the big race on Saturday.
Dates and Times
The 2016 Balloon Glow scheduled for Friday, September 16, has been CANCELED because of rain and storms. The Balloon Race is still planned for Saturday, September 17, at 4:30 p.m., but pre-race activities begin at noon. If it's raining on Saturday, the race will be held on Sunday, September 18. All events are free.
The Balloon Glow
It's quite impressive to see 70 balloons floating over the city of St. Louis, but for a truly incredible view, don't miss the Balloon Glow on Friday night. Dozens of pilots will inflate their balloons (but not take off) on Central Field near the Jewel Box. As it starts to get dark, the glow from the balloons creates a surreal and beautiful site. Throw in the sound of the balloons' burners, plus great food and drink, and you've got a full feast for the senses. Visitors can also meet the pilots and learn more about what it takes to race a hot air balloon.
The Balloon Glow ends with a fireworks display at 9:15 p.m.
On Saturday, crowds will start gathering at the Central Field hours before race time. The Food Court opens at noon, as does the Purina Children's Activity Area, which offers pony rides, crafts and games to help keep the kids busy until the race. There's also live music and other entertainment. Many attendees like to bring blankets and picnic baskets and spend the whole afternoon at the park. Coolers, pets and alcoholic beverages are allowed, but open flame grills are not. Plan to arrive early to find a good spot near Central Field where the balloons launch.
Ready, Set, Race
The main event is a classic "hounds and hare" balloon race, with the Energizer Bunny Balloon as the perfect "hare." At 4:30 p.m., the Bunny launches from Central Field and gets a short head start, before being chased by the other 70 balloons. Their goal is to follow the Bunny's route, and, after the Bunny Balloon lands, drop a bag of birdseed as close to its landing site as possible. The one who comes closest to the Bunny wins the race.
Parking and Transportation
As with any big event in Forest Park, it can be difficult to find a parking spot near the activities. The closest parking lots to the race location are the Upper and Lower Muny Lots, but if you want one of these spots plan to arrive early. Organizers say most parking lots throughout Forest Park are filled by 2 p.m. on race day. The best bet is to skip the traffic and parking hassles and take Metrolink, although it still requires a bit of a walk. The closest Metrolink stations are Central West End and Forest Park-DeBaliviere.
The race area is about a 15 minute walk from the Central West End station and a 25 minute walk from the Forest Park-DeBaliviere station.