Editor’s Note: This post on a visit to the Eyes to the Skies Festival first ran in 2015, but I have updated all dates, prices and information for 2017. – Tara
I love festivals and fairs, and one of my all-time favorites is the Eyes to the Skies Festival, which takes place in Lisle every year right around Independence Day. My family has gone four years now, and so I feel qualified to give you some “insider” advice if your family wants to check it out for the first time.
Why do I love Eyes to the Skies? Well, as the name indicates … it’s all about the balloons! The festival features about 20 hot air balloons that you can watch launch in the very early morning and again in the evening. But in my opinion, the best part is the “balloon glow.” I’ll tell you more about that in a moment, but first some basic details.
Eyes to the Skies has been taking place for more than 30 years now. It centers around Lisle Community Park at 1825 Short Street. There is an admission charge: $10 each for adults and children. Kids ages 8 and under are free. Admission is CASH ONLY at the gates although you can buy tickets in advance online here. There is also free parking at four “official” locations with shuttle buses taking visitors to the front of the festival, although I have an insider tip for that, as well!
For 2017, the dates of the air balloon festival are June 30, July 1 and July 2. In addition to the balloons, there are musical stages, a children’s area, craft fair and carnival. And there are fireworks at 9:45 p.m. on June 30, July 1 and July 2, 2017. The fireworks on Sunday night are the “grand show.”
Here are my eight tips for having a great time at the Eyes to the Skies Festival:
- ORIENTATION: Take a look at Festival Brochure and particularly the map inside before you head out. The festival covers a very large area, and I found it disorientating the first time we went. The FAQ page is good, too.
- THE GLOW: The don’t miss activity, in my opinion, is the “balloon glow” when the balloon’s owners turn on their burners all at once, lighting up the balloon field for up to 30 seconds at a time. During this time, you can wander amongst the balloons, seeing them up close. Or you can bring a blanket and relax on the balloon field and marvel at the sight. The balloon glow starts around 8 p.m. Visitors can wander the field for about 30 minutes before being ushered off so that fireworks can begin. Some balloon owners pass out cute trading cards that my daughter always loves collecting. Update from 2016: We went on Friday night, and even though the weather was gorgeous, it was too windy for the balloons to do their evening launch. The crowd was also kept from being amidst the actual balloons on the balloon field – I gathered that was because of the wind. (Crews were really having to work to keep the balloons steady.) Instead, we had to watch the “glow” from behind a waist-high fence set up around the circumference of the balloon field. (We kept walking around the field until we found a place where our daughter could be right at the front.) It was disappointing – I really love being so close to the balloons you can feel the heat from their burners! – but we still had fun. So this is a festival that is at its best when the weather cooperates. If the forecast is calling for rain or high winds, I would pick another evening to go – or even wait until the next year!
- ARRIVAL TIME: If you want to see the balloon glow, don’t get to the festival too early. A friend of mine made that mistake a few years ago — going to the festival in mid-afternoon, and her kids were exhausted before the balloon glow began and they had to head home. We usually arrive around 6 p.m. and let our daughter do a few carnival rides and eat dinner (see below) before heading to the area next to the balloon field to wait for the glow. The balloons launch each evening (weather permitting) at about 6:30 p.m. so take that into account on your arrival time, too.
- FOOD: The food at the festival, as expected, is expensive. And we’ve had to wait in some lengthy lines when we ate dinner there. So I recommend eating at home or at a restaurant before arriving, or depending on where you park (see below), bringing a picnic you can enjoy before heading inside. No outside food or beverage is allowed into the festival.
- LAUNCH: The balloons are inflated and launched at 5:30 a.m. each day and then again at 6:30 p.m. We’ve gotten there in time to see the evening liftoff, and it’s fun and beautiful to watch. Those balloons, once they’re bak on the ground, are the same ones you’ll see participate in the “balloon glow” at dusk. You can take a ride in a tethered balloon (up to about 50-100 feet in the air) in the morning and evening. The cost is $20 per person, and it’s up to the balloonist what age of visitors he will take up. This always has a very long line, and this year there is now a reservation system that looks complex and requires you to be on the balloon field at 1 p.m. I’d recommend telling your kids you are at the festival to see the balloons, not ride in them.
- WEATHER: This is a festival that is very weather-dependent. If it’s too windy or too rainy or threatening, the balloons won’t fly. And that can be quite disappointing! Plus, no refunds are given. So if the weather looks too iffy, better to try to go another night – or next year. The festival’s Facebook page or Twitter feed is probably the best way to keep up with any weather announcements.
- FIREWORKS: Eyes to the Skies features fireworks on all three nights of the balloon festival — in 2017, that’s June 30, July 1 and July 2, all starting around 9:45 p.m. The Sunday night show is the “grand show” and will be presented and timed with a musical score. You can watch the fireworks from the festival grounds or look to my next tip for perhaps the best advice at all!
- PARKING: Our first year to the festival, we got in some festival traffic and decided to just try one of the private lots rather than circle back to official festival parking. We ended up at Riedy’s Tee Time (a golf driving range) at 1400 Maple Avenue in Lisle. It’s cost $10 the last few years, and it looks like the same price for 2017. You do have to walk a bit to get to the festival (maybe 1/2 a mile) on a walking trail away from the streets. But after the balloon glow is over and you return to your car, you are in a prime spot to watch the fireworks. “Prime” as in I’ve never been that close to a major fireworks show! You’ll want to bring lawn chairs and bug spray and probably ear plugs for your kids. (If your kids are especially sensitive to sounds, this is not the place to watch the show.) And don’t forget cash for the ice cream truck that always circles the giant parking lot before the fireworks show. We’ve parked in this lot every year since, and we just find it an awesome spot to appreciate the fireworks and easier to get back on the road home after the show, opposed to staying on the festival grounds for fireworks and then having to hoof to the car. That said, Riedy’s is a big lot and we’ve certainly gotten stuck in some lines trying to exit after the fireworks. And the festival offers free parking at four locations, with free shuttle buses that take you to the festival gates. You can find more info about admission prices and festival-certified parking lots here.
If you go to the Eyes to the Skies Festival, you will likely be like me and return home with an album’s worth of photos of the beautiful balloons glowing against the dusky sky. (Some of them might even feature your kids, but the balloons are awfully photogenic on their own, too.) Let me know what you think of it – and if you enjoyed yourself as much as I do!