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The New Mexico Outdoor Center and our family of outdoor adventure travel companies welcome you to Albuquerque for the 48th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, October 5 – 13, 2019!

There are so many unique ways to view the most photographed event in the world — but have you ever thought about checking it out from the nearby Rio Grande?  We did!

Starting in 2008, New Mexico Kayak Instruction, Inc. (NMKI) began leading small groups of paddlers down the Rio Grande as a way to say “Thanks!” to our best customers and sharing our love for the river with the broader community.  After a few stunning photos and a few thousand social media shares, and our well-kept secret got out.

In 2009, we started offering our trips to the general public  — and 7 of our 9 trips sold out.

In 2010, we were virtually sold out every day.  We knew we could have purchased more kayaks and brought on more staff, but we made a strategic decision that was true to our core values; Quality over Quantity.  NMKI maintains a strict guide-to-guest ratio of 1:6.  The industry standard is 1:10, and some groups will be as large as 1:20; that’s one guide to 20 paddlers.

We noticed an unusual trend in 2010.  One of our most frequently asked questions was “What is there to do in the middle of the day?  We know all about the morning flights and the evening glows, but what do people do in the middle of the day?!”  Our answer: “Kayaking!” of course!

In 2011, NMKI began running mid-day Rio Grande Nature Tours between the morning and evening ballooning activities on the field.  The Rio Grande ‘Bosque‘ (‘forest‘ in Spanish) is full of wildlife and color when the leaves change from green to yellow to gold to orange and red in the fall.  The Rio Grande Bosque is one of the largest urban forests in the United States.  Levees and irrigation canals prohibit development in the bosque, meaning stunning views of the river, surrounding forest and Sandia Mountains in the background.  You’ll feel like you’re miles away from civilization when you’re paddling on the Rio Grande.  While balloon sightings are rare in the afternoon, it’s not uncommon to see coyotes, blue herons, snowy egrets, and sandhill cranes and other wildlife, especially as the migrating birds travel south for the winter. This trip starts at noon and is typically off the river by 5pm, with plenty of time to make it back to the field before the evening glow activities.

In 2017, after the adding of Kokopelli Rafting Adventures to the New Mexico Outdoor Center’s family of companies, we began offering our half-day class II-III whitewater rafting trip during the week of the Balloon Fiesta. This trip provides round-trip transportation from Santa Fe to Pilar, NM (about 1hr northwest of Santa Fe), a full lunch and some of the best fun, playful whitewater in the Southwest.

In the News! Check it out!

Choose from three GREAT activities during the Balloon Fiesta!

Balloon Fiesta Kayak Tours (6 – 11am)

Balloon Fiesta Kayak Tours

Enjoy the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta from the best seat in the house!  No crowds or traffic jams. Limited availability keeps group sizes small and efficient on and off the river.  Click here for Balloon Fiesta Kayak Tour FAQs, including minimum ages, October weather forecasts and more! Click the “Balloon Fiesta Kayak Tour” tab below for availability and online registration!

Rio Grande Nature Tours
(1 – 6pm)

Rio Grande Nature Tours

If you’re looking for something fun to do between the morning flights and evening balloon glow, check out our Rio Grande Nature Tours! Click here for Rio Grande Nature Tour FAQs, including minimum ages, October weather forecasts and more! Click the “Rio Grande Nature Tours” tab below for availability, online registration and more!

Half-day Whitewater Rafting
(11:45am – 5pm)

Rio Grande Half-day Whitewater Rafting

We offer whitewater rafting trips on the Rio Grande “Racecourse” through our sister company Kokopelli Rafting Adventures. This half-day trip includes 7 class III rapids, including Albert’s Falls, The Narrows, Rock Garden, Big Rock and Souse Hole, and numerous class I-II rapids, making it fun, playful and beginner friendly. Minimum age is 7. This trip includes a sandwich buffet lunch (vegetarian options available upon request) and transportation from Santa Fe. Click the “Balloon Fiesta Whitewater Rafting Special” tab below to learn more!

Testimonials & Reviews

  • “We had a great time today. The Balloon Fiesta guided tour was breathe taking. We totally lucked out! We saw 7 splash n dashes! We will do it again every year!”

    Valerie Muldez (Allstate Insurance, Durango, CO)
  • “I high-fived one of the pilots!  It was awesome!”

    Jane Bales (Rio Rancho, NM)
  • “WOW! If you ever wanted to visualize yourself in a piece of artwork, this is the way to do it! The balloons were floating overhead while their reflections rippled across the river. A panorama of bliss! Add to that the elbow-room of the scene and the expertise of the guides and you have the perfect means to enjoy Albuquerque’s earmark celebration!”

    Marianne Sal-donald (world-traveler)
  • “This was an experience of a lifetime!!  Watching the Splash & Dash was awesome.  Talking with pilots was great fun..one wanted to race me!  Well worth getting up at 5:00 am.  We got some great photos and videos too. I will remember this day for the rest of my life!” 

    Janet Stokes (Corrales, NM – 73 yrs young!)
  • “An amazing way for locals and visitors alike to enjoy the fiesta! You’ll experience the sight of a lifetime as the balloons soar over the river and the New Mexico sunrise bursts with color from behind the mountain. Kelly & his team are brimming with knowledge. Their expertise and love of kayaking will make it well worth your time and money!”

    Rachel Whitt (Albuquerque, NM – KOAT 7 News)
  • “THIS was an EXPERIENCE. The Rio Grande is an amazing river… being able to float it at dawn just to find yourself surrounded by one of the Southwest’s most amazing man-made spectacles borders on unreal.  It was like having a private stage for a 600 balloon Mass Ascension (let that sink in for a minute) but with added perspective on how amazing the river is and without the crowds and traffic! The trip was guided in a superb manner. The staff were cordial and safety was always forefront.  I can’t recommend this enough. Bring a camera… you’re going to want to document it.” 

    Damon Salceies (Albuquerque, NM – writer, professional photographer)
  • “I grew up in Albuquerque and have attended many a balloon fiestas but never on kayak! Balloon Fiesta Kayak Tours by Kayak Albuquerque offers a unique and spectacular way to enjoy the balloons on the water. From the early morning crisp air, to the misty waters of the river, being out in nature to catch the balloons is a once in a lifetime experience. I highly recommend joining Kelly and his crew for an unforgettable NM style adventure!” 

    Ele Radoslovich (Albuquerque, NM – Life Coach)
  • “I have taken two Balloon Fiesta kayak tours with Kelly Gossett and his company (New Mexico Kayak Instruction, Inc). Kelly, the owner, gives very clear instructions and is extremely patient with new paddlers. In fact my experience led me to take up whitewater and sea kayaking I loved it so much. The Rio Grande is magical in the morning as the river and the trees that line the way open up to awe-inspring views of the Sandia Mountains and the balloons drifting overhead. A beautiful day becomes a quietly spectacular experience when you combine paddling and balloons.”

    David Millican (CFO – City of Santa Fe (retired), Santa Fe, NM)
  • “Add this to your Bucket List. The Balloon Fiesta is always spectacular in and of itself — but to see and hear the hot air balloons and balloonists just above you in the setting of the beautiful and serene Rio Grande — is like no other experience. Not a lot of people know about this truly unique opportunity to experience the Fiesta.” 

    Tracy Davis, MD (Albuquerque, NM)
  • “The Balloon Fiesta Kayak Tour was undoubtedly the most surreal kayaking experience I’ve ever had! All these massive orbs of bright colors descending around us and blasting the early morning river silence with their roaring burners. Unbelievable!” 

    Rem Smith (US Navy (retired), Albuquerque, NM)
  • “With very little kayaking experience, I nervously but eagerly joined Kelly Gossett and a group of kayakers on an early morning excursion down the Rio Grande during the balloon fiesta. It was an amazing experience and with Kelly’s patience, clear direction, and encouragement I had a brilliant outdoor adventure. I met some really great people along on the trip and I look forward to repeating the adventure this fall. Thank you Kelly for such a memorable experience.” 

    Genevieve Sanchez (Albuquerque, NM – athlete & fitness model)

Frequently Asked Questions

We know you have questions; we’ve got answers!  Check out our most frequently asked questions as well as our should be most frequently asked questions!

Meet Your Guides!

See what sets Kayak Albuquerque apart from other guides, outfitters and liveries in New Mexico. The difference will surprise you!

About Kayak Albuquerque

Kayak Albuquerque has been leading Kayak Tours during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta under the name of New Mexico Kayak Instruction since 2008. Owner Kelly Gossett started leading Balloon Fiesta kayak tours as a way to say “Thank you!!” to NMKI’s best clients. Word spread quickly in the years that followed, including numerous news stories from local news stations, and publications like Local Flavor and Local IQ. In 2014, Trailer Life magazine published our story and drew national attention to our quietly kept secret. “Let us share our love for the Rio Grande with you too! If you’re a visitor to our city, or a life-long resident, we’re certain to show you a side of Albuquerque that few have ever seen before. The Rio Grande is a beautiful river, add to it the Fall colors, hundreds of balloons in every direction, wildlife from the Corrales Nature Preserve and dozens of species of migrating bird, and you have a unique New Mexico “True!” experience that you’ll never forget.” – Kelly Gossett, Owner – New Mexico Kayak Instruction, Inc.