At the NJ Lottery Festival of Ballooning, Soar to Thrilling New Heights

The longstanding Garden State tradition in Readington boasts about 100 hot-air balloon ascensions—plus live music, rides, fireworks, food and a 5K.

New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning
The New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning attracts about 175,000 people each year. Photo courtesy of New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning

Howard Freeman’s mother always wanted him to become a doctor, so the longtime New Jersey resident enrolled as a premed student at SUNY Albany. But he ultimately took a different path in marketing and promotions, which led him to become the executive producer of the annual New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning 29 years ago.

The hot-air balloon festival, of which New Jersey Monthly has been a longtime sponsor, has attracted about 175,000 people in recent summers, a huge jump since it started. That growth earned Freeman the title of D.H.A., or Doctor of Hot Air. “It made my mother so proud,” Freeman says.

Now, the good doctor is preparing for the 2022 festival. Located at Solberg Airport in Readington, it soars from July 29-31.

A mass ascension of hot-air balloons at the New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning

A mass ascension of hot-air balloons steals the show every year. Photo courtesy of New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning

About 100 balloons take flight during twice-daily mass ascensions. Most balloons are a standard teardrop shape and boast bright colors—and are available for rides at $250-$315 per person (not including admission, which is $30 for adults, $12 for children 4-12, and free for kids under 4). Most tickets are available for purchase now. There will also be $20 tethered rides “for people who don’t want to go up, up and away,” Freeman says. Pilots—or balloonitics, as Freeman calls them—come from all over the world. In addition to the classic balloon shapes, this year’s new, special shapes include a unicorn, a tiger, a panda and a spaceship.

While it’s the balloons that pump this event up, the festival also features live music, rides, fireworks and food. The concert series is being headlined by Todd Rundgren, Kansas, Collective Soul, and children’s favorite Laurie Berkner. Freeman also notes one of the weekend’s overlooked events, Sunday’s Running With the Balloons 5K. Though the event is named after the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, Freeman promises that “no balloon has ever gored a runner.”

Whatever attractions inflate your interest, Freeman describes the festival as the perfect staycation activity, noting the outdoor setting is ideal in pandemic times. “You won’t believe your skies at the 2022 New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning,” he says.

Want a comprehensive guide to the best festivals happening statewide all summer? Click here.

Read more Arts & Entertainment, Things to Do articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.

Required not shown
Required not shown