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Kentucky Derby Festival Great Balloon Race Festival

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Kentucky Derby Festival Great Balloon Race Festival
© Andy Lyons / Getty Images

The Great Balloon Fest is a series of five Kentucky Derby Festival events that lead up to the main event--the Great Balloon Race. The first Great Balloon Race was held at Iroquois Park in 1973, and featured only seven balloons. However, the Great Balloon Race quickly became one of the most popular Kentucky Derby Festival events, and what was once just the Great Balloon Race is now an entire weekend festival of hot air ballooning events. Each of these events is free with a Pegasus Pin, though you may be required to pay a parking fee.

Great Balloon Tour

The Great Balloon Tour is the kickoff event for the Great Balloon Fest. It is one of the newer Great Balloon Fest events, with the first event occurring during the 2006 Kentucky Derby Festival. The Great Balloon Tour is held at a different location every year and features a short, 30-minute hot air balloon race.

Great Balloon Glimmer

The Great Balloon Glimmer is a smaller version of the Great Balloon Glow. It is held at Waterfront Park on the Thursday prior to the Great Balloon Race and serves as the kick-off for the Kroger Fest-a-Ville on the Waterfront and the opening of the Chow Wagon.

Great Balloon Rush Hour Race

The Great Balloon Rush Hour Race is essentially the same thing as the Great Balloon Race, but the Rush Hour Race is held during the rush-hour commute on the Friday morning before the Great Balloon Race. Individuals who are off that day or have a late starting work time can go and watch the balloons take off and land, but even those who have to work can watch the balloons float overhead as they drive to work.

Great Balloon Glow

© 2009 Michael Maupin

The Great Balloon Glow is an event held at the Kentucky Exposition Center that draws more than 50,000 people annually from Louisville and its surrounding cities and states. Visitors to the Great Balloon Glow can speak with the balloon owners about their balloons and see them up close--something that's not possible in the limited time before takeoff on the morning of the Great Balloon Race. The main highlight of the Great Balloon Glow, however, occurs when the balloons light up and rise a little off of the ground to music, creating a beautiful landscape of glowing balloons set against the night sky.

Great Balloon Race

The original and signature event of the Great Balloon Fest is the Great Balloon Race. The Great Balloon Race occurs on the Saturday before the Kentucky Derby and features dozens of colorful hot air balloons racing against the morning sky. The event occurs very early in the day, but it's definitely worth seeing at least once.

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