My 6 Favorite Travel Photos of My First Hot Air Balloon Festival

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Written by Jason Barnette
on August 26, 2017
| Last updated on July 29, 2018
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COVID is surging again across the United States. I continue to share articles to inspire travel – but please don’t travel at this time. Bookmark the articles, check local businesses and attractions to confirm hours and operation, and be safe.

Capturing some photos of a hot air balloon festival has been on my bucket list almost as long as I’ve been capturing photos. Every once in awhile I’d make plans to track one down but something else (aka a paid assignment) would come up and pull me away. But finally, after years of waiting, I finally happened to be in the right place at the right time: the first annual Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival.

I was staying in nearby Maryville, Tennessee for the weekend. The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse was on Monday so I was just kicking back and relaxing for a few days. I had known about the hot air balloon festival for a couple of months but really it wasn’t until that morning that I decided to make the trek into Townsend for the event. Actually it was more like that afternoon, but I wish I had decided first thing that morning to get into town.

I spent nearly 45 minutes sitting in traffic at the edge of town. I’d spent enough time in Townsend to know a back road to bypass the last mile or so of the traffic, but I had to sit through nearly three miles of slowly inching traffic first. I watched one person after another treat the center turn lane like a third lane, watched a few people just plain and simple drive on the opposite side of the road, and one guy in a pickup truck decided the grass looked good enough to drive across for about half a mile.

But after all the chaos and frustration I found a parking spot, grabbed my gear, and walked into the festival. They were just inflating the balloons and live music filled the air. I could smell some good BBQ somewhere and I kept seeing people rushing past with giant funnel cakes. I switched between two cameras and three lenses, set up the tripod once, changed position countless times, and about an hour later walked away with the photos below. It was my first hot air balloon festival but it won’t be my last!

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