The holidays are marked by fun traditions and memory-making outings. Here in Central Texas, one of the must-dos on many of our holiday lists is the Austin Trail of Lights. Strolling through two million twinkling lights and 40 incredible light displays can get even the Grinchiest member of your crew into the holiday spirit.
If you have never been to the Austin Trail of Lights, 2017 is the year to see what everyone’s been talking about. Whether you are a first-timer or a seasoned pro, you’ll want to read our complete guide to this year’s Trail of Lights to know what to expect, what’s new this year and how to make the most of your time at the trail.
Trail of Lights Austin 2017: What’s In Store This Year
The 53rd year of the light show, sponsored by H-E-B, will run Saturday, December 9 through Saturday, December 23. This year’s Trail will include updated displays, as well as the lights, live music, food trucks, movies and local merchants which make the Trail of Lights a favorite for Austinites every year.
ABC Home & Commercial Services is excited to be involved in the Trail of Lights for the third year in a row as a Trailblazer sponsor. Look for our logo at Pooh’s Corner, where you can see Winnie the Pooh, already gearing up for next year’s Zilker Kite Festival!
Austin Trail of Lights Tickets
The fun gets started at the Grand Opening on December 9th. No admission fee will be charged on opening night.
General admission for children under 12 is free every night, and there will be a general admission charge for other visitors on December 10th through the 23rd. Gates open at 7 p.m. each night and an admission will be charged on seven of the 14 nights. On select nights, early entry ZiP Fast Pass, VIP Platinum, parking and shuttle passes will also be available for purchase.
ZiP Fast Passes get you into the park an hour early, starting at 6 p.m., plus access to the Lounge in Zilker Village, which has restrooms, cookies, hot chocolate and seating so you can take a break from the festivities. Children under six years of age receive free entry into the Lounge with a ZiP Pass-ticketed adult. Tickets are $15-$20 on every night except the Grand Opening.
VIP Platinum packages include valet parking, passes to the trail, early access to the park, starting at 6 p.m. In addition, Platinum pass members receive drink tickets which can be used at bars throughout the park, ride passes for the Ferris wheel or carousel and access to the Lounge in Zilker Village. Tickets start at $80 per person and are available in 2-packs and 4-packs. Tickets are not available every night, so you’ll want to check the calendar for more information.
Online ticket information will be available in early November, but you can sign up on the website to receive an alert when they go on sale.
Tickets are nonrefundable. The Trail is open rain or shine.
Trail of Lights Austin: Dates To Remember
In addition to the normal activities each night, the Trail has some additional special events, some of which are open to the public and some which are not. More details will be made available as the event approaches. Be sure to consult the schedule before you venture out so you know what to expect.
November 26th: Annual Zilker Tree Lighting
To kick off the holiday season, the largest man-made holiday tree will light up for the 51st time. Take a traditional spin under the tree for a unique Austin experience and enjoy performances and special guest appearances. Trust us, it’s fun!
December 2nd: 6th Annual Trail of Lights Fun Run
Combine exercise with merriment as you see the displays as you participate in a 2.1-mile fun run. You can run or walk with family and friends in this annual tradition which starts at the Zilker Tree near Barton Springs Pool, goes through the trail of lights, and concludes at the Finish Line Festival in the middle of the park.
There are two waves: the first which starts at 6:30 p.m. and the second begins at 8 p.m. The festival includes a DJ, dance party, local food trucks, a free post-run beer or hot chocolate and a costume contest. Registration opens in mid-September.
December 3rd, 4th and 6th: STARS Night
The Trail hosts up to 20 nonprofits for private tours to provide children, teens, families, veterans, mentors and mentees and chronically ill patients with an opportunity to enjoy this holiday tradition. These nights are closed to the public.
December 5th: Spirit Night
Hosted by Spirit 105.9 and several churches, the night starts with worship before exploring the trail. Although this night is closed to the public, tickets can be purchased online.
December 8th: Night Lights
Tickets to this preview party, which benefits the Trail of Lights Foundation, start at $75 per person. Ticketholders will be treated to special entertainment, food and activities not available other nights.
December 10th: UT Night
This evening is free to the public, although parking, shuttle, Zip Fast Pass and VIP Platinum tickets are available for purchase. On this day, the lights turn burnt orange in recognition of the University of Texas, and you can take advantage of special programming, entertainment and private hospitality tickets for UT students, faculty, staff and alumni.
December 12th: Heroes Night
In honor of our military and first responders, these special guests can bring a military ID or first responder verification or wear a uniform and receive ZiP Fast Pass perks. If you bring a toy donation to support the Austin Police Department’s Blue Santa program, you can enter the Trail early at 6:30 p.m. Guests will also have the opportunity to write holiday letters to send to our troops.
Enjoying The Trail of Lights
The Trail is the third largest event in Austin, attracting over 400,000 people annually. Be prepared for lines and allow for extra time to navigate through the crowds to enjoy the displays. Arrive as early as possible and give yourself time so you won’t feel rushed.
Weekends tend to be the busiest nights at the Trail, so crowds are smaller during the week, but that means dealing with rush hour traffic. Be prepared to navigate the traffic with some holiday cheer and patience. Consider heading down before rush hour and spending time exploring downtown, finding parking or getting a snack so you spend less time in your car.
There is a limited amount of parking available in Zilker Park for online and advanced purchase. Parking costs $15 per car and is not sold on-site. Traffic getting in and out of the event can be significant.
Austin High School Parking
In the past, parking has been available for $10 in the east and west parking lots to benefit school organizations. Parking remains limited. If you choose this option, keep in mind you’ll need to take the footbridge across Lady Bird Lake to get to the Trail entrance. Be prepared for a long walk and consider bringing a stroller or wearing comfortable shoes. Another option is to use a rideshare service to get to this area and walk from there.
Tickets are $5 per rider (lap children are free) and depart from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., with the last return shuttle leaving at 10:30 p.m. There is a limited capacity each night and each lot will stop selling tickets when they reach capacity or at 8:30 p.m. The shuttles drop you off at the front gate.
Pick up locations are:
- Burger Center, 3200 Jones Rd.
- Republic Square Park, 422 Guadalupe St.
Keep in mind that lines to ride the shuttle can be long. Shuttles are ADA accessible and foldable strollers are permitted.
Take the #3, 4, 30 or 338 bus lines to get near the lights. You will still have a short walk to the park.
Ride Share or Taxi
You can always take a ride share or taxi and get dropped off at the entrance. Keep in mind that parking in neighborhoods is not permitted.
Walk or Bike
Bike racks are available across from the entrance on Barton Springs Road. If you live close by or can get dropped off, walking is the easiest way to get to the Trail.
Taking the Family to the Trail
There’s lots to see and do at the Trail. In addition to the lights and displays, enjoy live music on two stages, movies, local merchants, 20 food trucks and lots of other activities.
There are Activity Zones, such as Candy Cane Lane, where kids can meet Santa or participate in hands-on activities, ride the carousel or Ferris wheel. H-E-B also offers a free children’s book. Some of these attractions are more popular than others, so you may need to prepare your little ones to wait in line.
There are 20 food trailers and vendors to allow you to purchase food, drinks or souvenirs. Keep in mind that some food trucks may be more popular, with longer lines than others. If you are bringing the family, you may want to eat beforehand or bring along snacks or food. Although outside drinks and food are allowed, coolers, glass containers and alcohol are prohibited.
The trail is exciting and there is lots to see, so you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes. Strollers and wagons are allowed, but can be difficult to navigate in the crowds. You may want to leave bulky items at home and bring a baby carrier, come early during the week, or purchase a VIP pass to make things easier. If you do bring a stroller, you can store snacks, drinks, blankets and coats underneath.
Remember that evenings can get cold once the sun goes down and Austin is known for sudden temperature changes. It’s easy to get caught off guard when a long sleeve shirt or sweater works while the sun is up. Walking around outside for a few hours can get cold. Be sure to check the forecast before heading out and dress accordingly. Layering is always a safe bet.
There are port-a-potties along the trail. But again, since there are sometimes big crowds, remember that getting from one to the other can take a while, especially for little ones. If you want to be extra safe, you can upgrade your ticket to either the ZiP or VIP to take advantage of the restrooms in the Lounge. Either way, make sure to use the restroom before you leave so you can spend all your time enjoying the lights.
As with any large event in Austin, being prepared and bringing your patience will help make your experience more enjoyable and less stressful. Once you’re there, you can focus on the magic of the season and seeing the sparkling lights against the backdrop of the city’s skyline.
ABC Helps You Get Ready for the Holidays
The holidays are often the busiest time of year for Austin homeowners. ABC Home & Commercial Services offers many services to help get ready for the holidays. Afraid of heights? Put away that extension ladder and skip the trouble of putting up your Christmas lights by having ABC’s expert installers take care of the job. Help your yard look its best by trusting ABC’s lawn care experts to handle mowing, edging and putting in some extra flowers before your guests arrive. Make sure that pests don’t ruin your potluck by relying on our pest pros to take care of any problems. ABC is here for Austin homeowners to make their lives easier, both during the holidays and the rest of the year.
Photo by Kyle Barnes & Dear Wesleyann Photography, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights