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Every September, more than 120,000 spectators grab their lawn chairs and head north of downtown Reno to Rancho San Rafael Regional Park for the annual Great Reno Balloon Race. During this three-day event, more than 100 brightly colored hot air balloons fill the northern Nevada sky, making this the largest event of its kind in the nation. The balloon's pilots race against each other; the first balloon to make it to Truckee Meadows (several miles south of downtown) wins.
The race starts at 6:45 a.m. on opening day, and the balloons land as the sun sets on the third day. During the day, other competitions — including kid-friendly activities — take place at Rancho San Rafael and around the city. For the coolest photo ops, consider waking up early for the Glow Patrol (5 a.m.) and the Dawn Patrol (5:30 a.m.). During these early morning hours, balloons that have been certified for flying in the dark (thanks to their onboard lights) take to the skies, glowing against the dark landscape.
The event is free to attend, but parking will cost you, depending on where you decide to leave your car. If you want to park at Rancho San Rafael, plan to pay $10 per car. Even better, leave your car at the north lots at the University of Nevada, Reno, which is free. If you're staying in downtown Reno, event organizers suggest you walk to avoid the traffic. Recent spectators agree: walking to the event means you don't have to arrive in the wee hours of the morning to snag a parking spot. For more information, visit The Great Reno Balloon Race website.
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