ST. LOUIS – Next month is a St. Louis favorite – it’s the Great Forest Park Balloon Race.
The Balloon Glow starts Friday, Sept. 15, at 5:00 a.m. at the Emerson Central Fields in Forest Park. The Race happened on Saturday, September 16.
All this fun is totally free thanks to so many sponsors, including PNC Bank. Be sure to make plans for this St. Louis tradition.
A giant pink Energizer bunny coasting over Interstate 64. Scores of checkered balloons in every color of the rainbow dipping over the trees of Forest Park. Dozens of illuminated hot air balloons glowing against a dark blue sky, reflections shimmering in the waters of the Grand Basin below. For St. Louisans young and old, images of the Great Forest Park Balloon Race are a source of comfort and joy – and a testament to one of the city’s most-loved traditions.
The race, which celebrated 50 years this year, is widely considered one of the best in the country – it was even inducted into the Library of Congress and honored as a “Local Legacy” in 2000. But the event started as a small affair in 1973, featuring just seven balloons and about a dozen spectators on Cricket Field in the northern edge of Forest Park. Since then, it’s grown to new heights.
Now one of the longest-running balloon races in the country, the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, presented by PNC Bank, features between 50 and 60 balloons, from classic teardrop-shaped balloons to novelty ones resembling an elephant, an apple or, fittingly this year, a birthday cake. Each year, the race and the accompanying Balloon Glow, which features dozens of inflated hot air balloons lit up like giant, colorful lanterns, bring more than 100,000 spectators to Forest Park. The race even persevered through the challenging times of 2020; while circumstances prohibited any kind of large-scale event, the race was adapted to feature more than 50 “surprise and delight” flights over neighborhoods throughout St. Louis during the traditional race weekend to help honor frontline workers and to “Lift Up St. Louis.”
Over the years, a few things have changed – the event has moved through multiple locations across Forest Park, for instance – but one thing has remained a constant: it’s still free and open to the public. John Schettler, one of six organizers of the event and a son of one of the original founders, says that’s integral to the mission of the race, adding that the support of sponsors like PNC Bank make it possible to keep such a large event free.
“There’s less and less free events these days, especially of this size,” he says. “That’s something that the founders were set on doing: they wanted to make sure this was free. That’s something that my generation and the new partners 100% agree with. We’re here to make sure this stays free to the public for forever.”