Discover Austin: Trail of Lights - Episode 28
In this episode of Discover Austin, I visit in the long-running Trail of Lights. For a couple weeks each December, Zilker Park is transformed into a spectacular light display. In addition to the lights, you can visit with Santa, enjoy live (often local) entertainment, food trucks, and more. If you’d prefer to read about the Trail of Lights, instead of watching the video, the transcript can be found below.
The Trail of Lights is one of the largest events in Austin each year. The trail is 1 ¼ miles long with more than 65 displays and over 2 million lights. It began in 1965 under the name of Yule Fest and has grown to become one of the city’s signature events.
Clearly, the main attraction is the lights. As you walk along the trail, you’ll find dozens of different displays sponsored by Central Texas businesses and organizations. New ones debut and classics stand the test of time. There are animated characters, storybook scenes, and, of course, a host of Austin recreations including the Pennybacker Bridge, Greetings From Austin mural, and the bats.
The Zilker Christmas Tree wasn’t part of the original Yule Fest, but has been a mainstay since 1967. If you recall the Moonlight Towers from episode 12, you’ll notice that the center of the tree is a moonlight tower. It is adorned with over 3,300 lights and two stars at the top. You are able to walk underneath the tree which makes for a pretty cool viewing point.
Beyond the lights you’ll find a variety of other things to do. There’s usually a carnival ride or two. And it wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa Claus so be sure to stop by Santa’s House and let St. Nick know what you want to find under your tree on Christmas morning. Still need to buy a few gifts? Then head over to the Holiday Market to find local vendors selling unique items. Being Austin you’ll certainly find live music and other entertainers.
As you’d expect, there’s plenty of food available. There are several dozen vendors in a few different food courts that satisfy your hunger. Whether your looking for a quick dinner, some dessert, or a warm cup of hot chocolate, there’s sure to be something you’ll find appealing.
If you’d like to be a bit more luxurious with your Trail of Lights, you can opt to upgrade to a VIP ticket which gives you a host of perks including early access to the trail and access to the Platinum Lounge which is heated and has plenty of comfortable seating.
Let me offer you a few practical tips. Parking at the event is available only if you purchase a parking pass online ahead of time. There is not much in the way of public parking nearby during the event, so you can also take advantage of the shuttle service which has two remote parking lots. Be sure to check the website for parking and shuttle information before you go as it may vary on different nights. Even if you have a parking ticket, arriving for the opening at 7:00 will cause you to navigate through rush hour traffic. Since the Trail of Lights runs through 10:00pm, you can arrive at 8:00, miss the heaviest traffic, and still have plenty of time to take it all in.
For many years the Trail of Lights was fully funded by the city. But with a cost exceeding $1 million, the city canceled Trail of Lights for several years during the recession. The event was revamped and reopened in 2012. It is now run by the non-profit Trail of Lights Foundation whose sole purpose is to raise funds to ensure that Trail of Lights is financially viable and able to continue year after year.