For half a century, hot air balloons have come to Forest Park each year to delight generations of St. Louisans. This weekend, the Great Forest Park Balloon Race returns and celebrates its 50th birthday at the newly renovated Emerson Central Fields.
“You become a child again around hot air balloons,” says Jessica Stegen, director of communications and event production. “There’s something whimsical and special about it. It’s all about fun, just being able to escape from screens for a while and be out in the park making new memories.”
The event begins Friday evening with the Balloon Glow, when the balloons are filled with hot air, causing them to glow. It’s a lovely and, at times, dramatic experience—there are flames involved, after all. If the weather cooperates, the tethered balloons will go up as far as their ropes allow.
Once darkness falls, the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team will put on a special birthday show. The Knights make a second daytime jump on Saturday, but Friday’s jump promises to be pretty special.
“They are a very elite team,” Stegen says. “They are going to be doing a night jump just before the fireworks finale—they’ll be jumping with pyro. We’re all so excited to see how that wows the crowd.”
Saturday is packed with events, including performances from local dance and theatre troupes, games, tons of food trucks, birthday cake, and the Purina Pro Plan Performance Team. The race itself begins at 4:30 p.m. It’s a hare-and-hound-style race format, in which the first balloon drops a target, and the winner is the balloon that comes closest to hitting it with a beanbag tossed from above.
“We are also bringing in shaped balloons for the very first time,” says Stegen. “We have five different special shapes to help celebrate our birthday.” (Keep an eye out for an 80-foot birthday cake, a friendly dinosaur, and an elephant.)
The event is free to attend, but there are a number of VIP options that you can buy for access to special seating and food and drink options. Visit the website to plan your experience—there’s a lot to see, as well as such logistics as where to enter Forest Park, where to park or meet ride shares, and what road closings to expect.