Travel an hour beyond Yakima heading south on Hwy 82 and you’ll find the town of Prosser, the heart of the Yakima Valley wine country and the home of The Great Prosser Balloon Rally.
Sitting on the Yakima River, nestled under the Horse Heaven Hills, the town of Prosser is a gem in the beautiful Yakima Valley.
The 2023 rally marks the 33rd year of the Prosser Balloon Rally; somehow, I had never heard of it. If you ever wanted to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival in New Mexico but the time and distance have held you back, the next best thing happens right here in our backyard.
This is one of Prosser’s largest 3-day festivals, and the town goes all out. In addition to the Balloon Rally, there is a Harvest Festival, a Street Painting Festival, a Farmers Market, and a free breakfast at the Fire Station on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. All of this is in the historic old town, within walking distance of the Prosser Airport where the balloons launch.
The Balloon Rally
The balloons launch at the Prosser Airport on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings. The pilots and crews arrive around 6:00 a.m. to unpack and set up their balloons.
There are no barriers between the balloon crews and the crowd. The crews are friendly and encourage questions. It’s not uncommon to be asked to help. It’s thrilling to hear the burners fire off and watch the balloons inflate. You can't know how huge these are until you are standing beneath a fully inflated balloon. Very impressive.
While the airport is the place to be for all pre-flight activities, the best place to see the Balloons in flight is a short walk south down Wine Country Road to the Yakima River Bridge.
The Balloons lift off and float out over the river as they head off to the east. A few of the very skilled pilots drop down to the river, touching the surface, floating yet still flying across the river until they hit their burners and lift off again. It is a sight to see.
As the Balloons float off into the distance, continue walking south on Wine Country Road. As you leave the bridge, just a short distance to your left is the Benton County fire station where they serve up free breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Since that was a sunrise Balloon launch the timing will be perfect for a hearty Biscuits and Gravy breakfast with a cup of coffee.
The Harvest Festival
Just beyond the fire station, in the next block, you will find the Harvest Festival. The town closes eight blocks of its historic downtown to traffic allowing people to wander amongst dozens of arts and crafts booths.
One block is set aside for food trucks where I counted ten vendors selling everything from Kettle Corn to BBQ. Just behind the food area was a stage set up with tables and chairs where you could enjoy your food while listening to live music.
The Street Painting Festival
The Street Painting Festival is on the block directly behind the Harvest Festival. On Friday you can watch the artists line out their drawings.
Throughout the weekend, they transform their outlines into beautiful multicolored chalk art. We stopped by multiple times over the weekend to see the progress of each painting. As you can see this festival attracts some very talented artists.
All the events I have mentioned so far are within easy walking distance of the airport where the balloons are launched and there is no charge for attendance or parking.
The Night Burn
If you attend the Balloon Rally experiencing the Night Burn is a must. The Night Burn takes place at the Prosser High School football stadium. Five balloons line up across the football field.
When it gets dark, all the lights in the stadium are turned off and the balloons fire their burners lighting up their beautiful balloons against the black night sky. It was fun to hear the crowd of several thousand let out a simultaneous “Awe!” followed by a “Whoop!” that turned into a loud cheer.
It is an awe-inducing sight. This event gets crowded. The grandstands were full, with additional festival-type seating all around the field. We arrived at about 6:30 p.m. and found plenty of parking spaces within three blocks of the stadium.
As with the other events of the weekend attendance and parking are free.
Although not truly a part of the festival weekend, if you enjoy a good glass of wine, a visit to some of the wine-tasting rooms in the Prosser area is a must.
According to the “Tour Prosser” literature, there are 32 wineries in the greater Prosser area. Breaking away from the festival for an afternoon we chose three winery tasting rooms to visit. We started at Daven Lore, which is a smaller winery located 3 miles outside of Prosser up in the Horse Heaven Hills.
The view of the Yakima Valley from our Adirondack chairs as my wife (*) sampled their wine was beautiful. The next two wineries were back in town at Airfield Estate and Witt Cellars. Both wineries spared no expense in building their tasting rooms and grounds.
Airfield Estate is built like an airplane hanger with a lot of outside seating and the Witt Cellars building and grounds were beautiful. In the spirit of the weekend, Witt had a stage set up with live music on the festival Saturday.
(*) I am the designated driver
It's All About the Food...
The restaurant scene in Prosser is small but very good. Our dinner Thursday night was at The Prosser House. Everything at our table was delicious but the consensus entrée winner was the crispy chicken and grits with chorizo gravy.
As good as that was the real debate was over the Mexican street corn ribs and the churro Fries. If you like Mexican street corn these ribs will blow your mind. They quarter an ear of corn lengthwise and smother them in street corn seasoned lime-butter. Amazing!
The churro fries are what you would expect. Crunchy outside, soft doughy and delicious on the inside covered in honey and cinnamon sugar. When they set a big bowl of these on the table, we thought we couldn’t possibly eat all of them and asked for a box. They were gone in no time. Brilliant!
Luckily, we went to Whitstran Steak and Spirits for dinner on Friday. The lucky part was that Friday night is smoked prime rib night. Yes, smoked! and we were early enough to get an end cut.
Lean, seasoned to perfection, and served over a bed of tasty, mashed potatoes and honey-roasted carrots. Easily one of the best meals I’ve had anywhere.
There were other things at the table, but I was so engrossed in my prime rib that nothing else mattered. I did share though...
Brewminatti is an eclectic coffee shop in the morning and a Tap House for local beers in the evening. When out on adventures we always try to bypass the large corporate coffee houses for the smaller locally owned baristas which offer more character, greater opportunity to mingle with locals, and tasty coffee.
Go For A Drive!
The Yakima Valley and the Horse Heaven Hills are beautiful. We drove south out of town on S. Ward Gap Road which winds up to a ridge atop the Horse Heaven Hills and beyond.
Stop at the top and marvel at the unobstructed valley view. This would be a good spot to turn back if you choose but we decided to explore further continuing south, winding through the dry wheat fields and farms. Eventually, you’ll come to a tee at Sellards Road.
Either way will take you back to Prosser, but we turned right then turned right again on McKinley Spring / Township Road which runs along the ridge top providing peek-a-boo views of the valley below.
Eventually this Tees at the Mabton-Bickleton Road. We turned right and drove back down into the Valley. If you want to search for Bluebirds, turn left and head for the town of Bickleton.
This was a wonderful weekend getaway. If it sounds like fun mark your calendar for 9/27 – 9/29 2024 for the 34th annual Great Prosser Balloon Rally.
We’ll see you there.