7 things to enjoy at this weekend’s Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival

Activities added to celebrate 20th anniversary of big event in Middletown.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Thousands of spectators will join in celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival this weekend at Smith Park/Middletown Regional Airport.

“One thing I’m excited about this year is bringing the Kid’s Zone back. Every year, we try to add more things, and it really enhances the experience for families,” said Kathy Stites, event manager, The Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival.

Attendees may watch evening balloon glows, fireworks, skydiving demonstrations and check out a car show. There will be 20-25 food, craft and other vendors. Two tethered balloon rides will return this year (at an additional cost). Plus, there will be activities for children in the Kid’s Zone.

“There are a lot of great things going on in the City of Middletown and The Ohio Challenge helps to highlight that. Every year, there are new opportunities, and more things to do,” Stites said.

Sponsored by Selection.com/Start (Start Skydiving), the annual festival has grown into one of the area’s largest, signature summer events. More than 300 volunteers come together to support the festivities.

In the past, the event has drawn up to 50,000 spectators from Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and beyond.

Here are seven things you won’t want to miss at The Ohio Challenge this year:

Night balloon glows

Balloon glows are spectacular at night. This year, there will be more than 20 balloons on display including five special-shaped balloons. Balloon glows will take place on Friday and Saturday nights at dusk (starting around 8;30 p.m. each night.) This year’s featured special-shaped balloons will include Jerry the Mouse, Fire Dog, and Puddy Cat. The nightly balloon glows will be followed by pyrotechnics from the skydivers and fireworks.


This is always a highly-anticipated event each year. Skydivers from Team Fastrax will do several skydiving demonstrations throughout the event. They will return both nights for a Team Fastrax Pyrotechnic Skydiving Display. (The skydivers will jump several times each night and return right before the fireworks. In the past, there were three jumps and more jumps are planned for this year.) The 17′ x 10′ Jumbotron Video board will return this year and feature interviews, live events, and highlights from the festival. Festival skydiving content will also be streamed on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.


On both nights there will be fireworks beginning at dusk, following the nightly balloon glows. Saturday’s extravaganza is expected to have even more fireworks.

Pilot Trading Cards

This year’s Ohio Challenge will introduce a new tradition. The balloon pilots will distribute trading/baseball-style cards to attendees while supplies last.

Car show

The Ohio Valley Cruisers will host a car show on Saturday from 4-8 p.m. See old and new generation cars at The Ohio Challenge’s Car Show. The cost to register a car is $15 on-site. Awards will be presented. Registration for the car show will run from 2-4 p.m.

Tethered balloon rides

The tethered balloon rides are so popular that two tethered balloon rides will be available this year. Rides will cost $20 per person. Wind and weather permitting. (Paid helicopter rides and special plane flights will also be available during the festival.) Tethered rides will begin at 6 p.m.

Festival Fun

Beyond the balloons, there will be plenty of family fun to enjoy, including rides from Murray Brothers Inc. A Kid’s Zone will return this year from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. with face-painting and other free children’s activities. About 20-25 vendors will participate with a variety of food offerings as well as arts and crafts vendors.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

How to go

What: The Ohio Challenge

When: 5-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Gates will open at 4 p.m.

Where: Smith Park/Middletown Regional Airport, 2301 Wedekind Drive, Middletown

Admission: Walk-in admission is $5 per adult, ages 13 and up (children ages 12 and younger are free). $15 per vehicle, which includes parking, festival admission and a free shuttle service (good for everyone in the car).

Online: ohiochallenge.com

Want to volunteer?

Contact The Ohio Challenge via the festival website, send a message on Facebook, or email contact@ohiochallenge.com.

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