Holiday Survival Guide

The Trail of Lights: Your complete guide to Austin's favorite holiday tradition

Your complete guide to the 50th season of Trail of Lights

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This year marks the return of the traditional Yule Long, a Trail of Lights staple for four decades. Photo by Jessica Pages
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Take the kids to visit Santa, explore his workshop and mail a letter to the North Pole. Photo by Jessica Pages
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The Trail of Lights is celebrating 50 years of holidays traditions with food, fun, friends and family. Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: Pages_trail of lights_dec 2012_12
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This weekend marks the advent of the 50th season of Trail of Lights, a two-week long holiday spectacle in the heart of downtown Austin. This Zilker Park tradition will have a plethora of performances and festivities that are perfect for family fun, a friendly outing or a memorable date night.

The Trail of Lights Foundation announced earlier this year that they will be charging an entrance fee on the weekends. Though weeknights are still free, admission on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings will cost $3 for individuals age 12 and up. The fee was approved by the Austin City Council to help pay for security and staffing, as well as encourage people to go throughout the week when the event is less crowded.

To help you pick a night and navigate the park, we've put together a little guide highlighting the fun (and the facts) of Trail of Lights.

When to go:

Friday, December 5 — Preview Party
Enjoy a special performance from Quiet Company, ice carving, a snow machine, a live art display and one free ride on the Ferris Wheel during this sneak peek of the Trail of Lights.

Saturday, December 6 — Fun Run
The two-mile run will start at the Zilker Tree and end in the Trail of Lights display. Runners of all ages and levels are welcome and costumes are highly encouraged. You can register to participate, volunteer or simply watch.

Sunday, December 7Grand Opening
Holiday spirit will be out in full force during the Grand Opening celebration, which is free for all. Revel in music from Audic Empire, Courtney Sanders and enjoy other fun activities.

Tuesday, December 9Heroes Night
The Trail of Lights Foundation will honor service men and women with this special evening, including performances from Scott Collins and Anslee + Guitarist.

Tuesday, December 16UT Night
Watch the trail turn burnt orange while enjoying special entertainment from UT choruses, dance companies and more.

What to do:

This year the Yule Log returns! For those new to the Trail of Lights experience, the Yule Log was originally the centerpiece of the festival for nearly four decades until the City of Austin stopped the tradition due to burn bans and Zilker Park’s newly installed irrigation systems. Now the Yule Log will be positioned in the sand volleyball courts with members of the Austin Fire Department stationed on-site during event hours to keep the holiday blaze safe and secured.

There's no better way to check out Trail of Lights than from atop the 90-foot Ferris Wheel. For only $6 a person, this is the perfect little treat to finish — or start — your experience.

Got kids? Make sure to spend some time in Armadillo Alley where you can drop off your letter for Santa, visit the arts and crafts tent and grab a bite to eat. After that, say hi to Santa Claus and take a tour of his new interactive workshop at The North Pole.

If you're looking for some Instagram-worthy photo opportunities, Trail of Lights has a list of suggestions for you. (We recommend a visit to the Jackelope or a group pic in the Rainbow Tunnel.)

What to eat:

There will be a ton of Austin food trucks stationed around the park. For sweet treats we suggest Little Lucy's, Funtastic Funnel Cakes, Crepe Crazy or Amy's Ice Creams.

If you need something savory, there's Burro Cheese Kitchen, Chi'LantroLa Fantabulous Taqueria, Hat Creek Burger Co. and Firefly Pizza Pies. Stop by As Good As It Gets Kettle Corn and grab a bag of popcorn for the family (or just get one for yourself). And don't forget a pick-me-up at Lucky Lab Coffee Co.

How to get there:

Parking — If you want to park, you'll have to pay. Parking at Zilker is $15 a night and can be purchased online ahead of time. Invest in a ZIP Fast Pass for an additional $15 and get entry to the park 45 minutes before the gates open.

Shuttles — Take a round-trip shuttle to Zilker Park for $4 on the weekdays and $5 on the weekends. There's limited seating on the shuttles,though, so get there earlier or purchase tickets ahead of time. The first shuttle departs at 5:30 pm and the last returns at 10:30 pm. The locations include Republic Park (422 Guadalupe Street) and the Toney Burger Activity Center (3200 Jones Road).

Bus —  Capital Metro bus routes #3 Burnet/Manchaca, #4 Montopolis, #30 Barton Creek Square and #338 Lamar/45th Street get you within a hop, skip and a jump of the park. The Cap Metro website will have bus schedules and can help you plan your trip.

Bike — If you plan on biking down to the park, you'll be happy to know that there are bike checks at the entrance of Trail of Lights

Taxi — A special taxi drop-off zones will be located at Barton Springs Road and Stratford Drive.

Uber or Lyft — Please note the Trail of Lights Foundation has stated that Uber and Lyft drivers will not be allowed in the taxi zones.

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The Trail of Lights runs from Sunday, December 7 until Sunday, December 21.