Holiday Happenings

Beloved Trail of Lights returns to make Austin merry and bright

Beloved Trail of Lights returns to make Austin merry and bright

Trail of Lights Austin skyline
The Trail of Lights runs December 10-23, 2016. Photo by Maggie Boyd

This year, the iconic Zilker Christmas tree at Austin's Trail of Lights celebrates its half-century anniversary of being lit each holiday season. Starting November 27, all 155 feet of the tree will once again sparkle with more than 3,300 lights, topped by a double star measuring 10 feet wide.

The Trail of Lights itself celebrates a landmark 52 years in 2016. What began as a small gathering in 1965 known as Yule Fest, a gift to the city of Austin from Austin Parks and Recreation Department, has grown to be a community-wide celebration of the unique spirit of Austin.

This season, the public opening of the Trail of Lights takes place on December 10, as main sponsor H-E-B leads the countdown to flip the switch that will turn on the 2 million lights that illuminate 50-plus displays. By the time this unique holiday experience closes, more than 400,000 attendees will have walked its trails.

Mayor Steve Adler spoke at a press conference about the Trail of Lights as an Austin tradition, recalling the first moment when he arrives at the trail each year to see the smiles on kids' faces, the gorgeous illuminations, and smell the yule log burning.

"One of the things that is magical about this event is that it is community driven," Mayor Adler said.

If you want to beat the crowds and get in early, check out the Zip Fast Pass and Platinum access that allow priority entry beginning at 6 pm. Zip pricing is $10-20; Platinum pricing starts at $80 and includes priority entry, rides on the Ferris wheel or carousel, private restrooms, refreshments, and more. You can also purchase general admission tickets online to avoid a line at the gate. 

Parking passes are only available for purchase online. Shuttles are also available from the Tony Burger Center and Republic Square Park. In addition, Capital Metro bus routes 3, 4, 30, and 338 will pick up and drop off riders within walking distance of the Trail of Lights entry. Schedules and maps will be posted on the TOL website, or visit Bike racks are also available.

Important Dates for the Trail of Lights include:

  • December 3: Trail of Lights Fun Run
  • December 4-6: STARS at the Trail (private nights for area nonprofits)
  • December 9: Night Lights, preview party benefiting the Trail of Lights Foundation
  • December 10-16: Trail open to public from 7-10 pm nightly with free admission
  • December 17– 23: Trail open to public from 7-10 pm nightly ($3 per person age 12 and up)

Other special nights include UT Night (December 11), Heroes Night (December 13) and a brand-new Movie Night (December 16). Long-time traditions like the North Pole, Santa’s Workshop, and the Yule Log remain as fan favorites.