Hot Air Balloons at the Stratobowl!

I review a hot air balloon launch that occurs every year at the historic Stratobowl, in the Black Hills.

The alarm wails and wakes you from a deep slumber, it’s 4:30 am…you stumble out of bed and feel for your clothes through sleep-blurred eyes.  The dog wonders if you’re crazy for being up before the sun.  A short drive later and you park along the roadside in an ever-growing line of vehicles, strap a headlamp to your brow, and set off for the mile-or-so-walk to the Stratobowl as, ever so slowly, the darkness perceptibly lessens.   

The Stratobowl Historic Hot Air Balloon Launch

This is a really cool annual event that occurs one weekend each year in early September.  It is VERY weather-dependent and can be canceled due to the frequent, South Dakota wind.  On the days the flight is canceled, some of the balloons are often at least inflated and fly, tethered, several hundred feet above the ground.  

I discussed the Stratobowl in a previous post.  If, however, you’re unfamiliar with this location, the hike takes you along the Stratobowl rim with a valley that spreads far below you. (The meadow in this valley is where the balloons take off from.)  One of the meadow’s unique aspects is that one of the residents who lives there mows a peace sign in the same field that is the site of the launch.  It fits the tranquility of the site–and the Hills in general–well.  It also compliments the kaleidoscope of bright colors that adorn the balloons.

Our view from the Stratobowl rim.  If you look closely enough, you can see the “peace sign” mowed into the grass.
This gives you an idea of how far below you the valley floor is

The rainbow of colors from the balloons make for a spectacular contrast against the dark green backdrop of the Black Hills National Forest, where the aspen trees are usually just beginning to take on their autumnal, yellow hue.  As the sun rises, it slowly unfurls its light over the tree-covered Hills to the west.  The *whoosh!* of the flame-heated air rushing in to fill the balloons then reaches your ears from the basin far below.  

If you’ve never seen a hot-air balloon, a large propane tank is attached to a basket.  At regular intervals (as controlled by the pilot) the tank springs to life and rushes hot air into the balloon.  A fan also helps with the initial inflating process.  Hot air rises, so, once it’s full enough, the balloon does as well–yay science! 😝  The pilots can control the altitude of the balloon using this device, allowing for a safe landing, but they can’t control where the wind blows the craft (Someone Else is still in charge of that department). 😉  A “chase vehicle” follows the balloon to collect it from whatever field it finally lands in.   

I have fond memories of hot-air balloons from my childhood in Indiana.  There were several pilots around the local area where I grew up, so these craft were a regular sight in the sky.  We also enjoyed several mass-launches at the county fair in the summer.  I have one, specific, memory of a balloon flying over my grandparents’ pool so low to the ground that we were able to talk with the pilot (he ended up landing in the field across the road).  

Embrace Life’s Simple Pleasures

This is another opportunity to enjoy the simple things in life, not to mention a micro-adventure close to home.  It is a family-friendly, free activity, less than a half-hour drive from Rapid City, which requires only the small sacrifice of missing some sleep.  But it allows us to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds us in a unique and easy way.  So again, strive to seek out these simple, everyday opportunities that are present in your local neighborhood (farmer’s markets, county fairs, free events downtown or in local parks, etc.)  You’ll be surprised how much fun you can have (and it’s frugal too!) 🤑

You can see the tethers on the dark blue balloon, anchoring it to the ground

Have you ever watched balloons take off from the Stratobowl?  What did you think?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!

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Are you looking for a place to see hot air balloons in the Black Hills? Click here for a historical site that offers a launch every year!


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8 thoughts on “Hot Air Balloons at the Stratobowl!”

  1. I love this kind of local event! It’s not often you get such a good view from above the hot air balloons!

    It would be even more amazing if you could blag a spot to rise on one of the balloons!

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