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It’s hard to compete with the handiwork of mother nature — especially in the rocky mountains.  Steamboat in the summertime is definitely one of her artistic masterpieces.  But every summer, this verdant valley, with cobalt blue skies, gets a big splattering of colors that could rival any jumbo crayon set or paint swatch selection.  It’s the annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo and Art in the Park weekend.  And it’s an eye candy weekend not to be missed.

Yes, you can easily see the sky dotted with these colorful hot air balloons from your condo or hotel balconies, but one of the coolest things about the balloon festival is getting to watch the balloons launch.  Yes, you’ve got to set the alarm pretty early, but, who are we kidding, most days our kids don’t let us sleep late, anyway.

So rise and shine sleepy heads, take the short shuttle bus excursion to Bald Eagle Lake and watch these behemoth balloons take flight.  And this isn’t just a fly by kind of snooze cruise, Steamboat upped the balloon festival ante by creating contests for the pilots to show off their skills, hence the “rodeo” part of the event.  Our family favorite is the “basket dip”, where the pilots have to skim their balloon baskets into the lake.

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After it’s over, head downtown and then cruise on the Yampa River Core Trail to the 40th annual Steamboat Arts Council’s Art in the Park.  It might seem like bringing your kids to a fine arts festival is the worst idea in the world, but it’s actually a very kid friendly, wildly creative and fun event.  Live music entertains the crowds throughout the day.  And if you haven’t indulged in a funnel cake in a very long time, well, this is your sugar coated opportunity.  And there’s a great kids’ area with hands on creations like spin art, face painting, sand stacking and the (completely random and very fun) hot potato race car course.

After you’ve hung up your smock, you might want to sneak in a quick siesta by the river as the non-stop festivities are, well, non-stop.  On Saturday evening, the mountain base area hosts the Hot Air Balloon Glow.  A chance to see a handful of balloons floating around in the night sky.  It doesn’t get dark until 9pm in the summer, so this could be a bit of a long day for little ones, but well worth staying up past bedtime in our family.

- Lizzie Larock