It seems like ages since we’ve been able to walk the famous Austin Trail of Lights. But it is finally back! After last night, I am trying to remember if it was always this fun, or if they added some new things. Regardless, check out all the tips and tricks we wish we knew before attending the Trail of Lights
The Trail of Lights is a free event. You do not need to buy tickets. But to make life easier on yourself and your little ones, you might want to consider it. The Trail of Lights has Zip Passes that allow you to get into the park at 6pm before the public opening at 7pm. This is perfect for the under four crowd! You can avoid the rush, still see all the lights, and get home before the inevitable meltdown. There are lots of other VIP and platinum passes which get you into nice, private areas. But there is so much to do and see regardless, it feels unnecessary.
If it is in your budget, buy parking passes! Yes they are expensive, but it will make life so much easier, especially if you have little ones in strollers. Parking passes allow you to park in a gravel parking lot by the event, or at Austin High School. Austin High School parking is very easy to drive to, but it is still a bit of a walk to Zilker park from the school.
Traffic will always be crazy no matter what day or what time you will go. Give yourself at least 30 more minutes than you think you will need. If you decide to forgo the parking pass at the event, some of the local churches or businesses may let you park for cheap. Be wary of parking in the neighborhoods around Zilker. While some neighbors may be okay with it, no one wants to find out it wasn’t allowed and discover their car has been towed at the end of a long night. You can find more parking information HERE.
This is Austin, so you can count on one thing at every event and that is AMAZING food. The first area you will come across is Candy Cane Lane which is the location of all the food trucks. This is not the only food stop, but it is the best one if you are eating dinner at the trail. If you have little ones who suffer from hanger (hungry +anger), this should be your first stop. The lines will be long no matter which food truck you pick. Have the kids pick out what food they want, let one parent stand in line, and go find a table with the kids. The tables are all picnic benches and it can be tough to snatch one up before another hungry family does.
Once you pass the food trucks, there a lots of snack stops to get kettle corn, hot chocolate and other treats. One new treat stop we found was the s’mores station. This was fantastic! Each s’mores package contains enough for two s’mores. If you have more than one child, it is more than enough to split between two. Don’t feel like each child needs their own smores kit. I promise you, it is too much food! We then traveled to some lovely firepits to roast our marshmallows and scarf them down in the traditional, savage manner.
The festival has also added several drink tents for adults. The drinks are really good and a nice reprieve from the chaos of event. But in true event form, the drinks are heinously overpriced. Personally I’d recommend putting my money toward the spiced apple cider in the Napa Valley Tent. Alcoholic beverages can not be taken out of the eating and drinking areas. If the kids need a small break to sit, this is the time to enjoy the adult beverage!
Things to do
Obviously the main attraction is the lights! There are amazing light displays through the entire park. There are so many fun tunnels to walk through with the kids. They even added bubble machines to certain areas! Be picky where to take that family photo. By the time we got to the last tunnel, there were a lot of exasperated kiddos who were done smiling for the camera. My personal recommendations are to get a picture at the grand entrance and a picture in the blue bat cave later in the walk!
As you move along you will come to the North Pole. This is the section of the trail where you can meet Santa, mail letters to Santa, and see his workshop. It is as adorable as you think it is! Once again, expect long lines. They seemed to be moving fairly quickly, though. This is another great spot to take pictures! It was very cute watching all the kids with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Past the North Pole you have Zilker Square where the amazing ferris wheel and carousel are located. More lines to contend with, but again they have a system and are good at keeping the lines moving. The ferris wheel and carousel are fun to watch so it can be a nice distraction for a bit.
The last section you will pass is the Holiday Village. This is the point where all the kids are burnt out, which is a shame because this is where all the live music and movies are located. If they have the energy definitely stop by. But if you have gotten a few “How much longer” questions, you can skip it.
There is the final stop of the large Christmas Tree. It is a time honored tradition to head over the the tree, look straight up, and spin until you get dizzy. It is very easy to get to, but could be tough with strollers. While it is a fun tradition, it is not a priority. If the little ones aren’t interested, it will be there next year!
This event is a lot of fun, but can also lead to a meltdown quickly if you haven’t planned ahead. If your kids are under five, bringing a stroller or a wagon is a must! It’s going to be a long night even if you skip some of the areas. No matter when you go, there will be crowds to contend with. Having your littlest ones in a singular spot where you can keep an eye on them is a big help. For the older kids, have a plan in case you get separated. We always say, if you get separated, head to the ferris wheel. It is the biggest and easiest location to find in the whole trail.
Make sure you check the weather! We arrived at the event with a lovely 60 degree breeze. We were wondering if we should’ve left all our jackets in the car. As the night went on the, the temperature slowly but surely began to drop all the way to a crisp 40 degrees. We were very happy to have our coats and very grateful to our friends who thought to bring hand warmers!
There are porta potties located throughout the trail and they are very easy to find. Shockingly it was one of the few areas that did not have lines! We did use them and they are what you’d expect. They did have hand washing stations, but of course they were out of soap and towels once we got to them. It would be very beneficial to bring some flushable wipes and hand sanitizer. We did not see any area that had a changing station. You will most likely to find a nice spot in the grass to change your little ones. Be sure to bring a changing pad with you!
We hope you and your family has an amazing time at the Trail of Lights. Happy Holidays from our family to yours!