Each year during Labor Day Weekend, Callaway Gardens, holds a summer’s end festival. Sweltering August makes it’s exit as Georgians soar into September in baskets attached to flimsy, wibbily-wobbily nylon material. The Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival is a sight to behold. Enormous balloons lift towards the sky in a slow climb, as the cool lake beckons you to take a dip. Music from live bands and the smell of festival foods fill the air. Summer is coming to a close and this is it’s last blast.
Shane had to work…again (why does Atlanta think it is a good idea to schedule college football games for teams that aren’t even in the state of Georgia, Dragon Con and a pride parade all in one day?) Crowds in the city are insane and while I would love to go to Dragon Con, I decided to head south instead. My mama and my best friend Lana, joined me on this adventure.
The Event Low-down:
If you are wanting to see flowers, AND balloons, it isn’t going to happen. The flowers are no longer blooming during this time of year. However, if you want to hang at the beach all day as images of billowy balloons slowly undulate in the background, and have fireworks blast overhead at night, then this is right up your alley. It is a festival more than an event. There are car, bird and dog shows, face painting, zip lining, food & drink, paddle boating, water fun, and pyrotechnics galore. The lines are long but people are pretty nice ‘cus they are either borderline heat stroking or imbibed with adult beverages.
Before arriving I advise you check the festivals schedule. on Callaways Gardens website. Some nights there are not tethered balloon rides. These nights the balloon are set on the beach and all are set aglow at the same moment for a breath take view photographers love this picturesque shot. Note: not all balloons glow. I suppose it depends on how thin the material is. My mama was disappointed that they weren’t all glowing at once when we were there as we went on a day that there were tethered rides but we were able to see the balloons individually glow in the night as the pilots ignited the gas.
Here are a few more tips to help you if you are planning on attending the festival.
- The Festival is held at Robin Lake Beach – This is only documented on the website event page. There also weren’t any signs stating this inside the park. Follow the signs to Robin Lake Beach, you will see the cars and balloons as you approach.
- “Patience: Grasshopper” – A Long slow-moving line of cars makes it seem like forever to get through the gate. There are only 3 huts that collect the entrance fees for each person. To save time I recommend using cash or pay with one debit card. We saw one car hand over 6 different methods of payment to the attendant. (of course they were directly in front of us).
- We entered through the main entrance off of U.S. 27. The beach entrance line was horribly long.
- Entrance fee is higher on event days. It was $30.00/person, $25.00/Seniors, $15.00/Children
- Once inside the park, traffic is not bad. The park is so large that it feels like there really isn’t 40,000 other people there (until you get to the Butterfly House or Beach)
- The “Gardens” are actually trails. If you think it is going to look like the Palace of Versailles, you will feel deflated. (Did you see what I just did there? 😀 )
- There isn’t much in bloom in September so if you are here for the flowers, um yeah… don’t come.
- Walking the entire park isn’t feasible. But you can drive from each point of interest and park your vehicle. The park also has golf carts, canoes, and bikes for rent which is really nice.
- The beer and food lines (serving typical festival foods) are super long. Bring a picnic! We had a cheese & charcuterie (meat) board and fruit.
- If you want a bottle of water you can buy it at a little shop right on the beach (no line at all) My mama asked me to go purchase a cup of ice from a vendor selling fountain drinks. Instead my bestie and I went to the little shop and bought an entire bag of ice. WeRSmart!
- Everything is over priced. 3 bottles of vitamin water and a bag of ice cost me 12 bucks!
- Make sure you see the enormous bald eagle balloon on the beach. It is HUGE!
- Balloon rides are tethered but go up fairly high in my opinion. I am guessing 200 feet or so. High enough to make people happy, but low enough not to scare kids (or myself). You go up, hover for a few minutes, and then back down. The cost is $10.00/adults $5.00/children. CASH ONLY
- Inflating each balloon takes 30 minutes or more. It’s really neat to watch.
- The line for the balloon rides start forming early and gets very long. I am guessing at least a 2 hour wait in the sun, at the longest. TIP: Instead wait until the last hour of the festival where you can walk right up with less than a 15 minute wait. The downside to this is: it is dark, not much to see in the distance, but you get to see the balloon aglow.
- If you can’t stand not seeing your college football game, there are large TV’s at the beach bar showing the games.
- Take a blanket or chairs to sit on.
I urge you to visit the parks website do some research prior to arriving. There are clear signs but if you have no idea where the sites are you may aimlessly drive around saying:
- “OK bestie, I need you to look at the map and figure out where we need to go from here”
- “Where the $@^& is the stupid Festival? Cus I see no balloons, do you see balloons?
- “What the @#$% is that beach’s name again?”
- “Ok, I have decided that there is no Discovery Center at all, it is a hoax. (There really is a Discovery Center.. we just never found it.)
We did find the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, Hydrangea Garden, Medowlark Garden, Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl, the Pioneer Log Cabin, and Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel. But at summer’s end there wasn’t much in bloom. Keep in mind that this is not the best time to see flowers, but this is what you come to see:
Keep the Lust for Wandering Y’all!