News Release

Smokey Bear Balloon will welcome eclipse viewers at Big Spring

Smokey Bear hot air balloon lighted up inside and glowing during the night with a crew and support vehicles below it.
The Smokey Bear Hot Air Balloon will glow at Big Spring on the evening of April 6, weather permitting.

Photo courtesy of Friends of Smokey Bear Balloon

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News Release Date: February 23, 2024

Contact: Dena Matteson, (573) 323-4236

VAN BUREN, Mo - Experience two rare events at once on April 8 when the Smokey Bear Balloon and a total solar eclipse will both be visible in the sky above Big Spring —and visitors can get much, much closer to the Smokey Bear Balloon than the sun or moon!


How about some solar eclipse trivia? The sun is roughly 865,000 miles in diameter and 91,411,000 miles from Earth. The moon is 2,159 miles across and 238,900 miles away. At a much more tangible size is the Smokey Bear Balloon— it is 97 feet tall and 72 feet across its hat brim and will be within arm’s reach as it prepares to ascend about 50 feet above the ground.


This unique hot air balloon will be traveling to Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR) in early April from Albuquerque, New Mexico, courtesy of Mark Twain National Forest and the National Park Service. Its destination will be Big Spring, the largest spring in Missouri, located approximately three miles south of Van Buren down State Highway 103.


Weather permitting, the Smokey Bear Balloon will be set up in the field near Big Spring for about two hours on the mornings of Saturday, April 6, Sunday, April 7, and Monday, April 8.  While fuel lasts, some visitors will get a chance for a short ride, approximately 50 feet in the air and back, in the balloon’s basket. Because hot air balloon inflation is heavily dependent on temperature, humidity, rain, and wind, exact times and duration of rides is variable. 


In addition, as dusk fades to dark on Saturday, April 6, the balloon will glow majestically for about an hour while tethered to the ground. At the same time, park rangers will provide telescopes and other equipment to help visitors explore and enjoy the night sky. ONSR is located under some of the darkest skies in Missouri and west of the Mississippi, which makes stargazing – and balloon glowing – even more spectacular!


Smokey isn’t here to steal the cosmic show, though! His presence is always to educate people to prevent wildfires. Often, April is a time when wildfires can occur in the Ozarks. With tens of thousands of visitors (possibly hundreds of thousands) coming to the parks and forests of south and east Missouri, ensuring they get the message to take care of the land while they are here is an important job, and one Smokey Bear has been doing for years. Along with fire prevention, important things for visitors to think about are preparedness, ensuring public safety, and using Leave No Trace principles while visiting the Ozarks.


“We thought this was the perfect opportunity to work with our partners at the National Park Service to use something fun and iconic to share this important message,” stated Lenore Lamb, Acting Forest Supervisor for Mark Twain National Forest.


In conjunction with the Smokey Bear Balloon, ONSR will be hosting a special event at Big Spring on April 8 to celebrate and view the total solar eclipse. Join us at “The ‘Zark Side of the Moon” for fun and educational activities, information booths, Junior Eclipse Explorer badges, celebrity photo opportunities (Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl!), food vendors, and free eclipse glasses


Though the total eclipse won’t occur until 1:55 pm CST at Big Spring and lasts just under four minutes, plan to arrive early to beat the traffic, view the Smokey Bear Balloon while inflated, snag your eclipse glasses, and enjoy activities on the grounds. Pack lawn chairs or blankets so you can grab a spot to watch the sky when the partial eclipse begins at 12:39 pm.


“We’re excited to host the Smokey Bear Balloon, as well as a fun eclipse event for everyone to enjoy. It’s a rare opportunity to catch both in one special place!” added ONSR Superintendent Jason Lott. “We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Mark Twain National Forest to offer this unique experience to our visitors.”


Additional event details will be posted and updated in the coming weeks, including information about the Smokey Bear Hot Air Balloon, specific program times, camping availability, and parking and traffic instructions on the park’s eclipse webpage at Eclipse - Ozark National Scenic Riverways ( and ONSR Facebook page. For more information, call (573) 323-4236.


Mark Twain National Forest welcomes visitors to view the eclipse from locations on the Forest and its surrounding communities. Go to the Forest’s eclipse web page to learn more, found at  Mark Twain National Forest (


To learn more about the Smokey Bear Balloon, visit Friends of Smokey Bear Balloon online at Friends of Smokey Bear Balloon (


For more information about viewing the total eclipse in Missouri, visit Missouri Eclipse website (


Ozark National Scenic Riverways preserves 134 miles of the free-flowing Current and Jacks Fork rivers, the surrounding resources, and the unique cultural heritage of the Ozark people.  Learn more at  Find us on Facebook @ozarkriverways and on Instagram @ozarkriverwaysnps.

About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America's 425 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at, and on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Last updated: February 23, 2024

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Van Buren, MO 63965


573 323-4236

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