Trail of Lights 2017: Everything you need to know about Austin's favorite holiday tradition

By Deborah Hamilton-Lynne

For many Austinites, the holidays would be nothing without an annual visit to the Trail of Lights. One of Austin’s oldest and largest holiday events began in 1965 as a small gathering and has grown to become a nationally recognized phenomenon.

Though it is now a cherished family tradition, glittering with over two million lights across 50 displays, there were several years when the Trail was dark due to city budget constraints. Thanks to a group of enterprising Austinites determined to keep the Trail of Lights shining, this celebration continues now in its 53rd year, drawing young and old alike.

The Trail of Lights Foundation, a local nonprofit, now produces the event each year in collaboration with community partners, volunteers, and with support from individual and business donors to keep the event thriving.

“When the Trail of Lights was dark, the there was a hole in the holidays throughout Austin. The Trail of Lights Foundation came together to ensure that this tradition can continue for years to come,” says Leah Davies, president of the Trail of Lights board. “We are proud to offer an event that is accessible and affordable for the entire community, and it's an honor to celebrate all that we love about Austin with 400,000 friends and neighbors during the holiday season."

If you're one of the 400,000 friends and neighbors planning to take part in the festivities this year, this handy guide will help you make the most of your night at the Trail of Lights.

Planning your evening

The Trail of Lights takes place from December 9-23, and kicks off with Night Lights, a gala party on December 8 benefiting the Trail of Lights Foundation. The event features live entertainment, bites from local restaurants, drinks, and an opportunity to get a first glimpse of everything the Trail has to offer.

December 9 marks the public opening of the Trail with gates opening at 7 pm each evening through December 23. In addition to the displays, Ferris wheel, carousel, a local marketplace, and food trucks, the festivities also include choirs, dance troupes, storytellers, and musicians featured nightly. For the full event schedule, visit this website.

Getting to the Trail

Pre-paid parking passes are available for $15 and must be purchased online before your visit.

Don't want to deal with parking? Shuttles are available from two locations: Republic Square at 422 Guadalupe St. and Toney Burger Center at 3200 Jones Rd. Shuttles run December 9, 10, 15-17 and 19-23 and the $5 fare includes general admission access. Shuttle passengers may also enter the Trail through the pre-paid admission entrance.

Free nights at the Trail of Lights

Having a memorable evening at the Trail of Lights doesn't need to break the bank. Nights with free general admission: December 9-14 and December 18-19.

Speaking of admission...

On all other nights, general admission is $3 with children under 12 free. Purchase tickets online to skip the long lines at the park and gain admission via a designated pre-paid admission gate.

Early entry ZIP Fast Pass, Platinum passes, parking and shuttle tickets are also available for purchase on select nights. Calendars for ticket availability and online ticket purchases are available here. ZIP passes allow you access to the Trail an hour early via a special entrance, as well as access to the ZIP Lobby and the Zilker Lounge where you can enjoy cookies and hot cocoa.

Platinum Passes provide valet parking, early entrance, concierge service including golf cart shuttle to the Platinum Lounge, drink tickets, ride pass for the Ferris wheel or carousel, access to the Zilker Lounge and heated washrooms.

Trail of Lights special events 2017

UT Night at the Trail of Lights — December 10

See the Trail in all its burnt orange glory as the city celebrates all things Longhorn

Heroes Night — December 12

This special night honors our Central Texas heroes including veterans, active military, first responders, and disaster relief workers. Wear your uniform and you and your family will receive a complimentary ZIP pack perks for the evening. Guests will also create letters to send to the troops and participate in other activities that pay tribute to our first responders’ service.

Cap City Music Night — December 14

A salute to the musicians and nonprofits that support them in the Live Music Capital of the World. The stages will be rocking to the sounds of Mother Falcon and the Ephraim Owens Quartet.

Movie Night — December 19

Come early. Enjoy the trail and then settle in with your blankets and popcorn to enjoy a family favorite film – Elf – under the stars.

And don't forget that every night supports the Central Texas Food Bank. Bring a canned food to donate in support of your neighbors and help feed the hungry this holiday season.