Clusters of hot air balloons hovering along the Androscoggin River and over rocky Great Falls is one of Maine’s most picturesque sights and a highlight of summer in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

The three-day Great Falls Balloon Festival, Aug. 16-18, includes hot-air balloon launches at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily, as well as carnival rides, games, food and entertainment. Admission is free, and about 100,000 people pass through the festival each year between the primary location at Simard-Payne Memorial Park (off Oxford Street) in Lewiston and additional entertainment and food options on the other side of the Riverwalk at Festival Plaza in Auburn.

“A lot of people who come from out of town to see the balloons want to book their vacation that week,” said Tracy Collins, president of the Great Falls Balloon Festival board. “Lewiston-Auburn has amazing architecture, and photos of the launches look so majestic featuring church steeples and balloons touching down on the river.”

Balloons take off from Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston during the 2018 Great Falls Balloon Festival. This year, the festival will be held from Aug. 16-18. Sun Journal file photo

A festival highlight is the Moon Glow on Friday (8-9 p.m.), when three specialty balloons — including Smokey Bear (celebrating his 75th birthday) — will be lit up and tethered, hovering over the field.

“The Moon Glow brings a huge crowd,” Collins said. “People get to see the balloons in a whole new light.”

Balloon launches are, of course, weather dependent, with the festival’s balloonmeister watching the weather and observing Federal Aviation Administration guidelines. Collins says that wind is more often a deterrent in the evening; if you really want to see the balloons in the air, morning is the better bet.

(Note: Dogs are not allowed on the field during any of the balloon launches.)

For balloon watching, parking is more plentiful in the morning, as are the pancakes (5:30-10:30 a.m.).

But you’ll find more going on later in the day, when the majority of the food vendors are open and poutine and lime Rickeys are crowd favorites. Every year, local nonprofits raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for local high schools, churches and civic organizations selling everything from hot dogs to taco salad.

Entertainment throughout the festival includes musical groups, local dance and cheerleading teams, dog tricks and  medieval reenactors with staged battles. Sunday is family fun day, with free kids’ activities from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., including a fun run, diaper derby, face painting and family-friendly entertainment.

The full festival schedule and advance registration for a balloon ride ($200 per person) are available online: www.greatfallsballoonfestival.org/

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writing living in Portland.


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