Each summer, the popular Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival welcomes visitors from Canada’s Capital Region and beyond to enjoy the breathtaking sights of floating hot air balloons as well as entertaining live shows. 2017 marked the 30th anniversary of this impressive annual festival and while the weather was not always cooperative, there were many highlights.
The festival takes place at Parc de la Baie in Gatineau, Quebec, less than a 15 minute drive from downtown Ottawa. Cyclists can access the site using the Voyageurs Pathway, a paved bike path that stretches along the Ottawa River. There is also a free shuttle service leaving from various Gatineau neighbourhoods, making the trip even easier. Planning on staying all weekend? You can reserve a spot at the on-site RV Park and take full advantage of all the activities, including exploring the Outaouais region in Quebec and the Ottawa region in Ontario.
Weather permitting, lift-offs take place at 6:30 each morning throughout the weekend and are accompanied by live music. Pilots launch their hot air balloons from Parc de la Baie and allow the wind to carry them on an adventure. If you can’t make it to the lift-off site, another great vantage point is the Rockcliffe Park Pavilion, a short drive or bike ride east of downtown Ottawa, near Rideau Hall. It’s not unusual to find a group of spectators at the pavilion, gathered with their coffee and cameras to snap photos of the balloons. There are also evening lift-offs so if mornings aren’t your thing, you can also watch the balloons at 6:30pm. If you can’t make it to the festival over Labour Day weekend, or if the weather isn’t cooperating, you can easily book a hot air balloon ride year-round.
Hot air balloon flights are very dependent on the weather: too much wind or rain and they won’t be given the green flag to lift off. Consequently, if weather permits, balloons will take part in tethered flights instead, allowing visitors to ride up and enjoy the views. One of the highlights for me this year was the night glow aerial ballet. Balloons of all shapes and sizes lined up and were introduced and illuminated. Not only was it a great photo op, but it was also an opportunity to hear where each balloon originated from. Pilots travel from all over the world to attend the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival: this year, an armadillo balloon from Brazil took part!
In addition to the beautiful hot air balloons, the festival features an impressive variety of live entertainment in both English and French. There’s a full schedule of entertainers performing music and comedy shows on multiple stages. The amusement park is always a hit with rides and treats for the young and young-at-heart. The Ferris wheel is one of my personal favourites. And it wouldn’t be a festival without fireworks! Saturday night is reserved for a spectacular fireworks show.
Whether your view is a panorama from the sky or one of the many viewing opportunities on the ground, this annual festival is not to be missed!
For more information, including admission prices and RV park availability, visit the festival’s website.