Navigating the Austin Trail of Lights 2017

What has more than two million light bulbs, takes 15,000 man hours to assemble, and was visited by approximately 400,000 people last year (making it the second most visited event in Austin)? It’s the Austin Trail of Lights–a community wide celebration of the holiday season that’s been delighting Austinites for more than 50 years.

Photo by Casey Chapman Ross, courtesy of Trail of Lights.

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.

We’re also giving away a family four-pack of Zip Passes, which lets you enter the trail early for an even smoother experience (plus a few other awesome perks like access to the hot cocoa filled Zilker Lounge). Be sure to scroll to the bottom to enter.

The Trail of Lights will be open Saturday, December 9 through Saturday, December 23, 2017, with the front gates open from 7 to 10:00 p.m. each evening. Just can’t wait for opening day? Snag tickets to the Night Lights Preview Party on Friday, December 8 from 7 to 10 p.m, benefiting the Trail of Lights Foundation.

Photo by Andrew Bennett, courtesy of Trail of Lights.

 

Free Admission for the First Week

The official grand opening ceremony of this year’s Trail is Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. and is FREE for guests of all ages. Beyond opening night, the Trail remains FREE nightly through Thursday, December 14, as well as December 18 & 19. To celebrate the last free admission night, December 19 will be a movie night featuring Elf at 8 p.m.

Photo by Casey Chapman Ross, courtesy of Trail of Lights.

 

Ticket Options for the Trail of Lights

A gate fee of $3 is required for individuals 12 and older from December 15-17 and again December 20-23. 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 10-14, 18-19) and $20 per person (December 15-17, 20-23) for ages 6 and over (children 5 and under are free with a ticketed adult). These tickets provide access to the event at 6:00 p.m., one hour before gates open for general admission, and can access the Trail through a special Zip entrance 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 for those with more extravagant taste. $260/package (4-pack), $150/package (2-pack) or $80/package (individual) includes valet parking, hot cocoa up arrival, drink and ride coupons, golf cart shuttle access to the Platinum Lounge and Trailhead, plus all the benefits of a ZiP pass. Platinum packages can be purchased online.

Photo by Dear Weslyann, courtesy of Trail of Lights.

Trail 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. Shuttle tickets include your admission price on paid nights. 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 will operate on December 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23, 2017

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

Photo by Casey Chapman Ross, courtesy of Trail of Lights.

 

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, a 90′ Ferris wheel, and 30+ food vendors both near the Zilker Holiday Tree and along the Trail.

You also won’t want to miss some of the special event nights at the Trail, including Heroes Night, Cap City Music Night, the Night Lights Preview Party, and much more — learn more about all of the events here.

 

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

Featured photo by Andrew Bennett, courtesy of Trail of Lights. 

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About the Author

Laurie Lyons-Makaimoku
As a long time Austin resident, Laurie is a big fan of dive bars, the Spurs, and low-key celebrity stalking. She's also a UT grad with a master's in New Media Journalism, and has never met a pug that she didn't like.