Navigating the Austin Trail of Lights

Austin Trail of LightsWhat has more than two million light bulbs, takes 15,000 man hours to assemble, and was visited by approximately 400,000 people last year? It’s the Austin Trail of Lights–a community wide celebration of the holiday season that’s been delighting Austinites for 52 years.

If the thought of navigating traffic and crowds to visit the Trail of Lights makes your head spin like a toddler under the Zilker Holiday Tree, fear not. We’ve gathered all the info you need to plan a magical, minimally stressful, trip to the Trail of Lights. There are a few changes this year, so even seasoned Trail-goers will want to take a peek at the when, how, and how much of this year’s Trail.

The Trail of Lights will be open Saturday, December 10 through Friday, December 23, 2016, with the front gates open from 7-10:00 p.m. each evening.

Austin Trail of Lights

Free Admission for the First Week

The official grand opening ceremony of this year’s Trail is Saturday, December 10, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. and is FREE for guests of all ages. Beyond opening night, the Trail remains FREE nightly through Friday, December 16. To celebrate the last free admission night, December 16 will be a movie night featuring both the classic and new versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Austin Trail of Lights

Ticket Options for the Trail of Lights

For the last seven nights of the festival, Saturday, December 17 through Friday, December 23, a gate fee of $3 is required for individuals 12 and older. Tickets may be purchased at the onsite box office, however, it is highly recommended that you purchase tickets in advance online to avoid long admission lines at the gate.

ZiP Fast Pass tickets are available for $15 per person (December 11-16) and $20 per person (December 17-23) for ages 6 and over. These tickets provide access to the event at 6:00 p.m., one hour before gates open for general admission, and front of the line gate entry at any time of the evening. ZiP Fast Pass tickets also receive access to the Lounge in Zilker Village featuring heaters, seating, cookies, hot cocoa, and private restrooms. ZiP Fast Pass tickets can also be purchased online.

Platinum Packages are available December 11, December 15-18 and December 20-23 for those with more extravagant taste. $225/package (4-pack), $150/package (2-pack) or $80/package (individual) includes valet parking, hot cocoa up arrival, drink and ride coupons, plus all the benefits of a ZiP pass. Platinum packages can be purchased online.

IMG_1029Trail of Lights Shuttles

Avoid Trail traffic and get dropped off at the front gate by starting from one of these shuttle locations:
1. Republic Park (422 Guadalupe St, Austin 78701)
2. Burger Center (3200 Jones Rd, Austin 78745)

Last year, lines for the shuttles were quite long, so it is advisable to arrive as early as possible. Shuttle lots open and start selling tickets at 5:00 p.m. The shuttle costs $5 per person (lap children are FREE) and tickets may be purchased in advance online. There is a limited capacity per night and each lot will stop selling tickets when capacity is reached or at 8:30 p.m. — whichever occurs first.

Shuttles are only available Saturday, December 10 – Sunday, December 11 and Friday, December 16 – Friday, December 23. On nights with a gate charge, shuttle tickets include the gate fee.

The first shuttle departs shuttle stops at 5:30 p.m. The last shuttle departs shuttle stops at 8:30 p.m. Return shuttles from Zilker will run until 10:30 p.m.

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Parking Options

Paid Parking in Zilker Park – A limited number of parking places will be available in Zilker Park each night. This parking must be purchased online in advance and a printed copy presented to a parking attendant. Parking is $15 per car. No parking will be sold on-site. If you do not have a pre-purchased parking ticket, you will not be permitted to park at Zilker Park. Parking is prohibited in surrounding neighborhoods.

Here is a map of the parking lot in Zilker Park, which also shows the location of the entrance to the Trail and nearby road closures. Traffic on the way to the parking lot will be frustrating, so bring your patience, or plan to arrive early (remember, you can visit the free Zilker Holiday Tree while you wait for the Trail to open).

Paid Parking at Austin High School – Consider using the parking lots at Austin High School for convenient access to the Trail via the footbridge across Lady Bird Lake. It’s a bit of a hike to the Trail entrance (and there is some rugged terrain, which isn’t great for umbrella strollers), but you miss much of the traffic congestion this way, which is definitely a plus.

Parking will be available for $10 at Austin High School beginning at 6:00 p.m., Saturday, December 10 through Friday, December 23, 2016 (excluding Sunday, December 11 and Sunday, December 18), in both the east and west parking lots. The first week, the money will benefit the theatre program. The second week, it will benefit the orchestra.

Other transportation options – Bike, walk, take a bus, take a cab, or try a ride share. Bike racks and an Austin B-Cycle station are located on Barton Springs across from the entrance. CapMetro can get you close. Take the #3, #4, #30 or #338 bus lines to drop you a short walk to the park or hop on the rail which runs until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. Hop in a taxi and get dropped off and picked up next to Zilker Playground. Grab a ride share and get dropped off/picked up at Austin High School.

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A few extra tidbits – Once you have survived the getting there, you will find plenty of FREE fun at the Trail of Lights. There will be crafts for kids, letters to Santa, community performances, FREE candy in Candy Land, photo ops aplenty, FREE books from H-E-B, and FREE photos with Santa (although, of course, the line will be long). There will also be splurge-worthy fun, including a classic carousel ($4 per person), a 90′ Ferris wheel ($6 per person), and 30+ food vendors both near the Zilker Holiday Tree and along the Trail.

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For much more information, be sure to check out the Austin Trail of Lights FAQs.

Additional details:

  • ADA parking must be purchased online in advance for $15 per car. More info on ADA access can be found here.
  • Tickets are non-refundable. The Trail will be open rain or shine barring extreme weather conditions.
  • Strollers and small wagons are allowed, but be prepared for the challenge of maneuvering through crowds.
  • Outside food and drinks are allowed, but coolers, glass containers, and alcohol are prohibited.
  • No pets are allowed (except service dogs with tags)
  • For real-time updates, like Austin Trail of Lights on Facebook and follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Austin Trail of Lights
Zilker Park
Barton Springs Road
Austin, Texas

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