The New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning: Reviews, Tips and Advice for Attending

Thursday, July 27, 2023
The New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning (formerly known as the Quick Chek Festival of Ballooning, but sometimes referred to by fans as the Readington Balloon Festival or the New Jersey Balloon Fest) is held every summer in Readington, New Jersey, usually at the end of July. There's a lot to read about in this post, but I designed it so you can skim for the information you need. Please be sure to read my tips at the bottom of the post if you plan on visiting with kids or if you are questioning what traffic will be like. 

*This post is updated every year to bring you the most accurate information about the festival! Currently updated for 2024!

PLEASE NOTE: The New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning has been put on hiatus until 2025. Please check back for more details, but sadly, there will be NO 2024 festival. 

Pin the below image so you'll be able to refer to this post later! I update the information every year so it's always accurate.

We are fortunate to live very close to the festival fairgrounds (Solberg Airport) so we sometimes see the balloons fly over after they launch.  Well, that's an understatement.  One year during my son's 2nd birthday party, this happened:

Can you imagine his face?  He thought we planned it!  And all of our guests were in awe!  Can you see the one on the far right?  It was shaped like a Pepsi can.  We had just moved into our house that very week.  It seemed like magic.

Balloons filled the sky above our house, and our guests later reported that they were able to stop and help fold up one of the balloons that had landed on their way home.  So the next summer, we decided to visit the festival for ourselves and see what it was like.

About the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning

Where Do I Buy Tickets?

I recommend following NJ Balloon Fest on their social channels (Instagram especially) because they sometimes give away tickets there. Some influencers also give away tickets every year, so search the #NJBalloonFest hashtag on instagram and facebook and see what comes up. Otherwise, general admission tickets start at $28 (for early bird online general admission) depending upon when and where you buy them (as of the publication of this entry, so be sure to check online prices for exact amount) and can go as high as $40 as you get closer to the date of the event. You can purchase tickets in advance online at the balloon festival site. The earlier you buy the tickets, the less expensive they are (meaning they are less expensive when purchased in June and the prices go up as you get closer to the festival date). There are also different prices for VIP passes and children's passes. Note, too, that attending any concert is a separate fee. Your general pass does not include a concert seat BUT you can still hear the concert from the festival and your general admission ticket DOES include a lawn seat for the concert.
PLEASE NOTE: The New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning has been put on hiatus until 2025. Please check back for more details, but sadly, there will be NO 2024 festival. 

When Can You See Balloons?

The balloons launch two times on Saturday and Sunday of the event, starting around 6:30am and 6:30pm (on Friday they launch only around 6:30pm, although there is a media event morning launch).  We were there for the evening launch on a Sunday, so I can't tell you much about the morning ones. Although I've had friends who attended the morning launches with no problems and loved their experience.  Here are the typical balloon ascension times (keep in mind this is weather permitting, always. Even on a sunny day, if the wind is too strong, the balloons might not fly):

Friday:      6:30 pm (*there is also usually a morning ascension on Fridays for press/media/and amateur photography - check website for info, but this is usually a smaller number of balloons - it varies)
Saturday:  6:30 am and 6:30 pm
Sunday:    6:30 am and 6:30 pm
     *ascensions are wind and weather permitting
*Times are estimated and I can tell you from personal experience that they rarely ascend at those exact times! Just be patient is all I can say.

PLEASE NOTE: The New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning has been put on hiatus until 2025. Please check back for more details, but sadly, there will be NO 2024 festival. 
I can also be honest and tell you that I have many, many friends who prefer to balloon chase. That means they don't go to the festival at all, but they stay in the area and see which way the wind is blowing, and then they try to catch a free vantage point from somewhere in the vicinity (and somewhere legal, people, I'm not promoting trespassing or anything like that here!!).  This is very different from seeing the balloons launch right in front of you, of course, but if you're not picky...

Someone told me they were tossing Kisses out of this balloon but I don't know if that's true.

The balloons do NOT go up at any other times other than scheduled ascension times (although there are tethered rides available, weather permitting). Meaning, don't go to the festival and expect to see tons of balloons floating around all day. This is not the case. And the balloons will only go up if weather conditions are right (meaning not too much wind, no threats of storms or rain). There are NO guarantees and NO refunds if you DON'T get to see an ascension. Your best bet might be to plan a morning visit. This way if they don't go up, you can use your ticket to try again in the evening (however, this is a very long day for little ones to endure, just sayin). As of 2023, you can exit the festival to return to your car ONLY but if you leave the parking lot area and try to come back in, you'd have to pay a re-entry fee. So don't do that. 

Parking and Getting to the Festival

Keep in mind that this event takes place in a giant field.  That means you park in a giant field and you walk to the action.  It was a bit of a hike for us, but all in all, manageable. Rain before/after/during the event equals mud, so plan accordingly!

Parking on site is about $10 per vehicle (as of the publication date of this entry). 

What Can You Do at the Festival of Ballooning?

Before you attend, I highly recommend that you check out the map of event on their website.  If they do not have this year's map posted, check out last year's map so you have a general idea of what to expect (note that if you are on mobile, the balloon fest site links might direct you all to their main page and you'll have to navigate from there). There's actually a lot going on at the festival if you check out their line-up of entertainment for the day you are attending.

The event mainly consists of:

- vendors (mostly advertisers)
-some craft tents
-small amusement rides (extra fee)
-pony rides (extra fee)
-bounce houses (extra fee- of course!)
-an open concert venue and more
-seated concert area (requires extra ticket purchase- this year's performances are Laurie Berkner (Friday, for the kids), Lit followed by Everclear (Friday evening),  KC and the Sunshine Band (Saturday evening, followed by balloon glow), Fitz and the Tantrums (Sunday afternoon). 
-Balloon Glow (Saturday, after the concert, weather permitting)
-hot air balloon ascension (see times above)
-hot air balloon rides (extra cost and reservation needed)
-daily entertainment
-no fireworks this year BUT they will have a Dazzling Drones Light Show on both Friday and Saturday nights (weather permitting). This show is included with your admission ticket. Haters gonna hate but I think the idea of a drone show is AWESOME and state of the art. It's also a great alternative to fireworks since there are so many horse farms and livestock near the festival site that are totally terrified of fireworks. I'm totally in support of drones!! 

Anyway, notice there are extra fees at the show? So if you want to participate in those add-ons, bring some extra cash! So now you have cost of ticket + parking + added fees within the festival. Just remember that.

A giant cow!  Giant ice cream!

There's a lot to see and do, so check out their website for all of the entertainment available, too.  You can sit on the lawn and hear the concert for free, or purchase tickets (for an extra fee) to have an actual seat near the stage for the show.  If you sit on the lawn you really can't see the performers, but you can hear them just fine.

Saturday nights they have a balloon glow (usually after the concert).  Check their website for all details, because everything is subject to change based on weather and there are NO REFUNDS. You can also purchase tethered balloon rides and an actual experience in a hot air balloon, so if you're interested (and brave enough!) check their site for details.

This was a shot of the shark balloon from years past.  See how the sky got really gray?  Remember, the balloons will NOT launch if there is a threat of bad weather, rain, or even wind.  So when you go, there is NO guarantee that you will see the balloons launch.  We were able to see them launch, but the shark, he stayed grounded. Check out the special balloon shapes to be featured at this year's festival.

This unusual shaped balloon took off but didn't make it far, landing in a yard near the exit!

My son was a bit fussy and skipped the rides and bounce houses because it was ridiculously hot, but he did go on a little pony ride, took his picture next to a monster truck, (free) and toured an RV (which was actually pretty cool, and free, too!). Later on we paid $1 to have him run around inside a giant hot air balloon that was on its side so the kids could see what it looked like.  He enjoyed that, but it was really hot in there! Activities vary each year so this was just what we experienced when we visited. 

A Note About Food

To read more about the food offered at the festival, as well as allergy concerns, please visit:
This year the food is being supplied by Dellano's Food Service (Greenlight Food Service). I have never attended when Dellano's was offering the concessions so I can't attest to what it's like or what will be available. I will try to update my social channels with food details during the festival!

Local Food Options:

Check out the locations of these local businesses on Google maps. You'll see that they are not far from the event site and I highly recommend all of them.

-Bridgewater Commons Mall is a short drive down Rt. 22. They offer a food court and restaurants like Chipotle, Shake Shack and Uncle Julio's outside the mall, just to name a few. In Flemington you'll find Chick-fil-A, Hooters, Starbucks and tons of other places to eat.

-Grandma's Hot Dogs (formerly Genie's Weenies), a local hot dog place on Rt. 22 in Branchburg, is delicious! They serve breakfast, too, so give them a try if you're curious.

-I also recommend Stony Brook Grille and Il Forno Pizzeria (look them up in Branchburg) for great food, too! On the Readington side, try Jerry's Brooklyn Grill, The Rail, or Sorella's (my favorite!! of Whitehouse Station, but FYI they are closed Sundays). You also have our famous ice cream joints such as Polar Cub (on Rt. 22) and my local fave, Rita's of Whitehouse Station. 

-a new cafe opened up on Main Street in Whitehouse called Good Days Cafe. Check them out! 

-Wendy's and 30 Burgers (all in Branchburg, Rt. 22) are also available if you prefer fast-er food. Need a drink after all that ballooning? Hit up The Royal Bar on Rt. 22 in Branchburg as well. Want fancy drinks? Check out The Bradford rooftop bar in Bridgewater or Kitchen American Grill in Readington.

-if you've visited in the past and shopped at the local Walmart in Whitehouse, know that it is permanently closed, which is so sad. I still haven't gotten over the loss!!! It's now a lovely medical marijuana production facility. Drive by at certain hours and you will most definitely smell it. I kid you not. 

The Balloon Launch

Eventually we made our way over to the field to watch where the balloons would launch.  It was pretty empty there but filled up quickly.  People seemed to know to bring blankets and chairs or things to sit on.  We just stood.  The balloons are beyond a fence and there is a DJ playing music and announcing their progress.  We were so hot and it seemed like it took forever, but eventually, the balloons started to fill and some of them started to float into the sky.

I have to be honest, it was an amazing sight to see.

Each year they have new shaped balloons.  These were some of ours that year.  But all of them are beautiful.

Eventually we decided to head towards the parking area, along with everyone else.  The sky was filled with balloons!


...And pretty soon the parking lot was filled with people.  Because we were there on the very last day of the festival, and now it was basically over (there wasn't even a concert scheduled that night), everyone was leaving at exactly the same time.  We live less than ten minutes from the festival grounds.  I kid you not that it took us over TWO HOURS to get home that night.  It was awful!  My son was hot and tired, crying in the back seat, and I'll never forget that one police officer directing traffic who just would not let us turn down the street we needed to get home.  "Please, officer, I have a little boy in the car, we just need to go down this road and we'll be home. We live here..."  Nope, no dice for him.  "You must turn that way," he ordered in a not-so-nice voice, sending us in the opposite direction with the rest of the traffic and dooming us to be stuck in a long line of cars for two hours. Oh well.  We made it home eventually.  But sadly, because of that traffic, (and that police officer!  Hmph!), we have yet to return to the festival.  It was enough to make us not want to try again another year! But I only live a few minutes from the site. I'm not saying not to attend this festival, I'm just saying that as a local, I have not attended more than once.

I have heard mixed reviews about morning traffic, too.  Some years people attend with no issues, and others they are stuck in traffic trying to get into the event, only to miss the launch. My best suggestion would be to go super early, especially if the weather is good, to avoid getting stuck in traffic lines. 

(If you've had a different experience with festival traffic, or if you have advice for future visits, please let me know in the comments section below!)

Some people prefer balloon chasing, which means they don't attend the festival but wait to see where the balloons will go based on wind direction, and then they try to locate them on their own. Last year, during one of the festival days, we were treated to this on our street:

There were so many balloons over our house that year, my son even got to help fold one of them up (in his pajamas, no less!).  So I guess we're a little spoiled in the balloon department!

Jersey Momma Tips for Attending the Festival of Ballooning

PLEASE NOTE: The New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning has been put on hiatus until 2025. Please check back for more details, but sadly, there will be NO 2024 festival. 
*I honestly don't recommend attending the festival on its final day for an evening launch if you have little ones in tow. The traffic was just too much. I have heard that the morning launches are very peaceful and then you have the rest of the day to wander around to the tents, but I have never gotten up that early for one myself! Or perhaps try an evening launch, but not on the final day. 

*scope out your map and food sources.  Like I said, we had trouble finding open food venues, but I think this was due to the day/time we attended.  But know ahead of time what food to look for and that should help. With the festival's new sponsor, I have high hopes that the food choices will be better this year. 

*as mentioned, there are some great local restaurants in Branchburg if you don't want to eat at the festival or tailgate. Check out Grandma's Hot Dogs (formerly Genie's Weenies) or some of the others I mentioned above. Stonybrook Grille is also yummy.

*I have heard they are very strict about bringing in outside food, including water bottles (which I find ridiculous- you should be allowed a water bottle!). So just be aware of this in advance. This year, some visitors said they had no issues with water bottles, yet others said they were not allowed.

*This balloon festival can be hot. It is in an open field with very little shade coverage, so keep that in mind if you are with kids or the elderly, or even if you have difficulty dealing with heat yourself. The festival could benefit from misting stations or multiple covered tent areas with fans to sit and rest.

*there are some paved areas at the entrance but most of the walking you do is over grass/dirt and unpaved areas. This can be difficult if you are in a wheelchair (they do not offer wheelchair or scooter rentals). If you're bringing a stroller, just make sure it's one that you can maneuver in all terrains.

*purchase your tickets in advance online 

*some people have told me they were able to tailgate in the parking lot and have their meals/snacks before they even went into the festival. Some people claimed they tailgated in the parking lot and watched the balloons from there without even entering the festival! I couldn't find any rules against doing this on their website. You do have to pay for parking, though.

*check out the FAQ section of their website for info on the balloon launches and purchasing balloon rides yourself.

*in all honesty, it's my experience that the balloon festival itself is not very good about updating their social channels throughout the event, nor are they very good about keeping their visitors informed about flight times and status. This has been my experience and maybe others feel differently, but it's one of the reasons why I do real-time updating on my Facebook page during the festival (evening) flight times when possible. I will update the morning launches if I happen to be awake. 

*bring your camera! It really is a sight to behold if you witness the launch.

*on a side note, there is another balloon festival in New Jersey, though on a much smaller scale (they launch about 30 balloons, on average). The Warren County Farmer's Fair has an evening balloon launch, usually around the same time as the NJ Lottery festival. Visit the Warren County Farmer's Fair website for more info.

On Balloon Festival days, I usually update my Facebook page to let readers know balloon flight status and which way balloons are headed. So be sure to follow The Jersey Momma Facebook page for the best (usually in real-time) info!

PLEASE NOTE: The New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning has been put on hiatus until 2025. Please check back for more details, but sadly, there will be NO 2024 festival. 

Happy Ballooning!


  1. You had me right up until the "it took 2 hours to drive 10 minutes" part. It's like going to see fireworks all over again!

  2. I know, but I hate to turn people away because of that! I don't know if that's the experience for everyone. I hope some other readers can chime in and let me know what their travels were like. I have heard good things about the shuttle, too.

  3. I love this! We have balloons floating over our home quite often. But, this tops it!

    1. Thanks, Rebecca! This is the ultimate in balloon watching!

  4. We went last year (2015) - a very long day - very hot! We got there early because my daughters wanted to see Sabrina Carpenter. Then we had to wait all day for the balloons to go up - and they almost didn't because it was too windy - no storms around - just windy. There are a lot of vendors there selling overpriced stuff and some lame entertainment. Yes, there are freebies - I guess that's exciting if you want a teeny tiny pack of potato chips or another tote bag. From now on we will only watch it from afar - not worth the price and heat!

    1. That's what many people seem to say, unfortunately. And it's true that the balloons won't take off if it's windy, even if there's no rain (sometimes they won't inflate them at all). I also wish they could do something to make the heat more bearable for their patrons- maybe misters or more shaded tent areas? Thanks for your input and for commenting!

  5. Have you ever been to the Warrens County Farmers Fair? Which seems to also host a hot air balloon festival at the same time? I thought they were the same one until realizing they had different addresses. Any advice on which is better?

  6. Have you ever been to the Warrens County Farmers Fair? Which seems to also host a hot air balloon festival at the same time? I thought they were the same one until realizing they had different addresses. Any advice on which is better?

    1. Hi Kevin- I have actually never been to the balloon launch at the Warren County Fair but I have heard good things! I've been to the fair itself, though, and it's very much a true county fair with tractor pulls and livestock and all that fun stuff! I can't imagine the traffic being as bad at the warren county one. Might be worth giving it a shot!

  7. We will be passing through town in an RV. Can you recommend a parking lot of a store or school nearby where we can park just to catch a glimpse of the balloons?

    1. Hi Mother66! Thanks for your comment. It all depends on which way the wind is blowing, because there is no one spot to park and clearly see them rise (not that I know of, anyway!). Some people have tried driving along Rt. 22 in Readington and Whitehouse (there is a walmart there where you can park and check which way the wind is blowing or check the festival Facebook page for updates on when/if the balloons are going up and which way they are going). Sometimes they fly in the opposite direction of rt. 22 (towards Rt. 202) and wind up going near White Oak Park in Branchburg. I will try to post updates on my own Facebook page which way they are headed!Police are very particular in town about parking on any of the incoming or outgoing roads to the festival, so they try to discourage you from doing that. I don't even think they would allow you to park at the closest school. Most local people try to see which way the wind is blowing and follow the balloons by car that way. Good luck!

  8. Sunday evening 2017 festival was perfect in every way with the exception of the parking. Total nightmare! Almost 2 hours to just get out of the lot. How is it possible that after 35 years they have NO visible system of directing traffic? Just inexcusable!
    IF and that's a giant IF we go again, we will be going via shuttle. Wondering if that has a system or if it is also run by amateurs. Anyone use it?
    Will try to put that part out of memory because seeing those balloons (74 in the sky at once) was magical!

    1. That sounds like exactly what happened to us when we visited a few years back, Peggy. I have never taken the shuttle so I can't vouch for it, but I do think the Sunday evening launch causes the biggest traffic problem afterwards. Sunday's launch is the last event for the whole festival- there are no concerts after it, and most of the stands are closing up shop, so EVERYONE visiting the festival is leaving at the same time. If you visit on a Friday or Saturday, guests can still stay after the launch for concerts, fireworks, etc. So that could be part of the problem, too! We live ten minutes away, maybe less, and we had to sit in that two hour traffic, too. It was so frustrating.

  9. Any idea what is a good time to get to the festival to watch the evening balloon launch?

  10. We attended the festival and we bought tickets for a ride. Tickets for balloon rides are not cheap! Our pilot never showed!! We sat there with another woman waiting while all the other balloons took off. And waited and waited and waited! Finally a pilot shows up that they called from home!! So we took off and flew for about 10 minutes and landed!! It was so beautiful and fun, but so so short when all the other balloons that left before us went sooo far!! I was very disappointed for what we paid!! I was glad to get the opportunity, but it was really ruined! There are so many other places to do this . Lancaster was wonderful. But please be careful here, we were royally screwed here


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