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Hot air balloons fill Helen on first June weekend

44th Annual Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race

When: Mornings and evenings June 1, 2 and 3. The race will begin at 7 a.m. Thursday, June 1.
Where: Downtown Helen. Stop at the Helendorf River Inn on 33 Munich Strasse in Helen for directions and more information.
Cost: Free for spectators
More info: 706-878-2271 or

If you’ve ever wished to fly in a hot air balloon, the first weekend in June may be your chance as colorful balloons fill the city of Helen.

Tethered rides will be primarily offered on Saturday evening, June 3, during the Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race that starts early June 1. Free flight rides are also given but have been booked.

“It’s really an amazing feeling because you’re standing in a basket,” Catherine Gay Cleiman, the event coordinator, said. “So you have a solid floor that you’re standing on, almost like standing on your front porch, (but) you’re moving.”

She said the inspiration for the entire annual event simply came from a love of ballooning.

“Years ago, several men here in town loved ballooning, and they thought it would be a very unique and interesting way to let people know about the city of Helen and what a unique, fun place it is to be here, so they started the event,” she said. 

The event is now in its 44th year and includes balloon displays and local flying events in addition to the race toward the ocean, which starts at 7 a.m. June 1. The winner is the first to cross or get closest to Interstate 95 by sunset on June 2.

“We’ll have about 25 pilots here, but not all of them will be flying toward the coast because that is a very grueling event for pilots and crews,” Cleiman said. “It (the race) is a long distance endurance event. The other pilots will be staying in the local area and doing local flights in the mornings and evenings.”

Pilots have a briefing each morning at about 6 a.m. at the Helendorf River Inn.

“And then weather permitting, they’ll head out to the launch field to begin spreading out the balloons and beginning inflation,” Cleiman said.

Parking and admission is free, but Cleiman noted that if things get crowded, “folks can see the balloons lift off from anywhere in Helen, from down around the outlet mall area, near the Helen welcome center (or) near Habersham Winery. If they’re in any of those areas, they should be able to see the balloons if they are able to go aloft.”