The Trail of Lights begins to spark up the holiday spirit


Quinn Wilkinson

GLEAMING BRIGHTLY: Hundreds of people wait in line to ride the famous 90-foot Ferris wheel that arrives in Austin every Christmas, to accompany the Trail of Lights. The trail also has two stages with performers, food trucks, and multiple displays of lights for viewers to enjoy.

Fiona Padalino, Print Staff

The Austin Trail of Lights is an annual festive holiday event that will brighten any family’s spirits. It is held at Zilker Park downtown off of Lady Bird Lake. This city-wide tradition is one that is kept near and dear to residents’ hearts, as this is the 58th year that the Trail of Lights is open. 

The Trail of Lights is open from December 8-23, 2022. The lights are powered by HEB as their official sponsor. The trail now features more than two million lights illuminating the park, 90 lighted holiday trees, and more than 70 other holiday displays and lighted tunnels.

The Trail of Lights is a perfect and romantic way to spend a night in the brisk air of Texas winters. In my experience I always loved preparing to spend a good and thoughtful night with my family. You can walk through the trails and see magnificent displays of lights and the smell of hot chocolate and various foods through your nose. 

Food vendor’s sign up so they can display and sell their products to the public. There are various food vendors for 2022, such as Bohemian Barbecue, Burro Cheese Kitchen, Coco’s Eats and Sweets, Amy’s Ice Creams, T-LOC’S, Tiff’s Treats, etc. Not only are there food opportunities, but there are many chances to get familiar with local vendors. They sell a variety of things from jewelry to dog treats. 

Many small businesses can make their name as well as big corporations as they have the chance to present their new hot item for a sampler. Water bottles are allowed for visitors to bring, but they are only allowed one factory sealed bottle, such as Dasani, otherwise all food, drinks, etc. are sold within the grounds. 

Getting to the venue, in my experience, is something that is well-planned but as always there can be traffic. Close-in parking at Trail of Lights is available only with a pre-paid parking pass. There are a limited number available each night and all parking must be purchased in advance Online. 

Parking will not be sold on-site. If Trail of Lights Parking is sold out, other nearby parking options are available. Although, parking is prohibited in surrounding neighborhoods. Visitors are asked to respect the residents of the Zilker Park area and Rollingwood. Public safety personnel will enforce parking regulations against those who are disruptive. 

Rain or shine the Trail of Lights is active unless there is extreme weather. Getting prepared for a night’s adventure is one of the most important parts of having a good time. There is a list of items that are okay to wear and bring to the trail, so make sure to check in advance so you can fully experience the winterland joy. 

Dogs aren’t allowed unless they are service animals, and no motorized personal vehicles are allowed. Electric bikes are allowed, but must be parked at the bike racks outside of the grounds, so be sure to bring a lock. 

Not only is the aroma of peppermint and gingerbread are present, but there is the loving warmth of your family or significant other. 

Tickets are free, and general admission is available Dec. 13-15 and 18 from 7:00-10:00 pm. No advance tickets are required for general admission, just show up, enter and enjoy. 

On the other hand, if you are wanting to beat the general crowd or get more free perks, buying ZIP Passes are a favorite of families and small groups, especially on busier nights at the trail. The ZIP passes range from $20-$25 although children five and under receive free ZIP access with a ticketed ZIP adult. ZIP guests also receive access to the ZIP Lounge Area with a new location in Candy Cane Lane near the beginning of the trail. At the Lounge you will find complimentary holiday cookies, cocoa, comfortable seating, heated washrooms, a bar, and ideal proximity to the first group of food trucks.

Not only is there a sense of community with the food, the music is a huge part of Austin, as the Trail of Lights organizers make an effort to include this signature event with live music. There is a musical lineup for just about every night that the Trail of Lights is open. Through December 9-23 there is a local music artist that brings in the taste of community. The Motts, The Waynebillies, Heroes night, Calder Allen, The BrosFresh, Tomar and the FC’s, Ley line, Band Aid School of Music, Mellisa Carper, Los Coast, and the Peterson Brothers. There is one night where a Christmas movie will be shown.

The feeling of live music brings people together especially when everyone is listening to the same beat and melody. I get a sense of joy, which is a perfect festival feeling. 

While on the topic of a specific night for the Christmas movie, there are nights which are specialty nights. This includes Zilker Tree lighting, Night lights preview party, Grand Opening, UT night, Heroes night, Movie night, and Pride night. Each night is something that can illuminate any grouches spirit as the first Sunday, November 27, after Thanksgiving was the annual Zilker Tree lighting. Seeing the glowing bulbs come to life is truly an exciting experience that is unique to Austin.

 UT night is something that is truly special as they light the bulbs bright burnt orange to enlighten any sports fans hopes for the local school pride. Pride night includes the honoring of the diversity that we have in our special town. 

Not only do they honor our diversity but they honor our hardworking veterans, military, first responders etc. I love that the Trail of Lights is so inclusive because they make the environment truly feel open and safe towards the public. 

In my personal opinion the Trail of Lights is a fun and festive way to celebrate Christmas spirit. I love the overall feeling of joy when you arrive in the main center with a huge lit up tree greeting you. 

Having the classic items of the holidays such as peppermints, candy canes, hot chocolate, and even writing a letter to Santa is a joyful experience that the family and friends can enjoy. I love how it is not only a place for kids but it is a place for everyone in Austin to collectively enjoy a holiday to give us a sense of community to take our minds away from everything negative that is happening for a split moment in time.