Enjoying the Helen to the Atlantic Hot Air Balloon Race and Festival (2024)

  • Posted on
About the 2024 Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race and Festival


Waking up in your cozy Blue Creek Cabin in north Georgia overlooking the Chattahoochee River, the crisp mountain air invigorates you – but your Helen, Georgia, getaway is about to take flight!

Imagine gazing up as dawn paints the sky, only to be greeted by a breathtaking spectacle – a mass ascension of hot air balloons. This iconic event promises unforgettable memories, thrilling competition, and a chance to witness the magic of hot air ballooning firsthand.

So, step out of your cabin and into an adventure! Let us be your guide to experiencing the best of the Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race and Festival.


The History of The Atlantic Hot Air Balloon Race

Photo Credit: Robert Lz via Flickr CC2.0

The very first Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race took place in 1974. Pete Hodkinson gets the credit for coming up with the unique race concept.

The Helen to the Atlantic Hot Air Balloon Race was inspired by the idea of Helen, Georgia, being the "center of the world," with the Atlantic Ocean as the "edge" (similar to how people viewed the world in Columbus's day).

Imagine a whimsical race that captures the spirit of adventure over some of the most scenic landscapes of Georgia, and you’ll have the annual Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race and Festival! The Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race is the oldest hot air balloon fiesta in the South and the only one in the US that goes for the long distance.

The race starts in Helen, Georgia, a beautiful Alpine Village that feels like Bavaria in the US. The finish line? Anywhere on the East Coast highway (I-95), from Maine all the way down to Miami. The race can take anywhere from one to four days, depending on the wind, with the shortest distance being 225 miles.


Hot Air Ballooning: Teamwork Takes Flight

Photo Credit: Robert Lz via Flickr CC2.0

This isn't just a pilot's race – it's a true team effort! The weather conditions determine the course as balloons travel with the wind, so pilots must become strategic air navigators. They must find the perfect altitude that offers the best speed and direction toward the finish line hundreds of miles away.

Balloons carry a limited amount of fuel, lasting about 4 hours on a single tank. This means the chase crew requires strategic landings for refueling. A delay here can be costly as the pilot and crew race to find each other, potentially losing valuable time.

The winner is the first balloon to cross the finish line (anywhere along I-95) or the one furthest ahead at sunset on the final day.


About the 2024 Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race and Festival

Photo Credit: Robert Lz via Flickr CC2.0

  • Website: helenballoon.com
  • Dates: May 30th to June 1st, 2024
  • Address: 1074 Edelweiss Strasse - Cool River Tubing & the City of Helen Riverside Park

The legendary 51st Annual Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race & Festival kicks off May 30th, 2024, and runs through June 1, transforming the charming Bavarian village into a vibrant festival filled with colorful balloons and infectious excitement.


Lift Off Schedule

Lift-Off is scheduled for 7:00 AM on Thursday, May 30th, weather permitting, at Edelweiss Strasse - Cool River Tubing & the City of Helen Riverside Park.

Keep up to date on festivities around town with a schedule of events on their Helen Balloon Facebook Page and Instagram.


Where To Watch

The launch site itself might be crowded with spectators and crew, so finding a scenic overlook point close by could offer a good viewing experience.

Since the balloons take off at dawn, finding a spot with a clear view of the launch field is ideal. The best views will likely be from Helen Riverside Park. Depending on the wind, you might get a great view from your Blue Creek Cabin.


Experiencing the Hot Air Balloon Race Like a Local

While the elite balloonists battle for the Atlantic, there's excitement for everyone. Witness the magic of hot air balloons ignite right before your eyes, or even take a tethered balloon ride!

  • Thursday: Local balloon events kick off at 6:00 pm on Thursday, setting the stage for a weekend of aerial wonder. There will be about 20 balloons flying locally.
  • Friday and Saturday: Flying events will also take place on Friday and Saturday. The balloons fly around 7:30 AM and 6:00 PM each day (weather permitting). Catch stunning views during their 1-2 hour flights.
  • Be Part of the Crew: If you want a more unique experience, you can help inflate the balloons or be a part of a chase crew and follow a balloon on its adventure. You can register to be part of a crew or just chill in the charming town of Helen, grab some food, and enjoy the whole festival atmosphere.


Things To Do During the Hot Air Balloon Race

After the exciting launch of the hot air balloon race, you’ll still have plenty of time to explore the surrounding area. Here are some must do’s to add to your Helen itinerary while you are in town!

Explore Downtown Helen

Photo Credit: PQK

Helen is a charming Bavarian-style village with a unique atmosphere. Stroll downtown Main Street and browse the many specialty shops, boutiques, and art galleries. Be sure to try some of the delicious German food at one of the many restaurants or grab a refreshing drink at a local pub.


Take A Hike

Photo Credit: Brenda Wiley via Flickr CC2.0

Helen is surrounded by beautiful mountains and forests, making it a great place for hiking. There are a couple of options to consider, depending on your difficulty preference.

The Raven Cliff Falls Trail is a very popular trail close to the launch site and is considered moderate. ​​

Catch views of the balloon race lift off from the Unicoi Lake Trail, which is a 2.5-mile loop around the lake. Unicoi State Park park offers a variety of hiking trails, from easy family-friendly walks to more challenging hikes with stunning views.


Go Tubing

Photo Credit: William McKeehan via Flickr CC2.0

If you're looking for an adventurous activity, tubing down the Chattahoochee River is a great option. There are several outfitters in town that offer tube rentals and shuttles. The cool water is a refreshing way to beat the heat on a summer day. Tubing season typically runs from May to September. Cool River Tubing, across the street from the launch site, offers tubing, zip lining, and more.


Grab A Bite In Town

Photo Credit: Eddie Rich

After all that adventure, you deserve a feast! Helen caters to every craving, from authentic German fare at Hofbrauhaus to juicy burgers at Bigg Daddy’s Restaurant & Tavern.


Stay In Helen And Soar Above The Georgia Mountains

With vibrant balloons dancing across the sky, the south’s oldest balloon event promises an unforgettable experience. So, don't miss this opportunity to be part of history as Helen celebrates one of its most beloved festivals.

Embrace the magic, capture breathtaking moments, and let the spirit of adventure take flight during your unforgettable Helen getaway with Blue Creek Cabins!