We just love the Trail of Lights, and it’s something we always recommend doing at least once! We usually go every year or every other year. We just love riding the Ferris Wheel, sitting on Santa’s lap, dancing to live music, and looking up while standing inside a tunnel of lights. Here are some helpful tips you need if you plan on going to the Austin Trail of Lights with kids.
Getting There/ Parking
Zilker Park is 2100 Barton Springs Rd, Austin
Parking is available for purchase ($25) off Stratford Dr. ahead of time based on the day you go. Here’s where you can select your day and buy parking with instructions on how to get there. If you want to do the free parking across the street, you can park over by the Zilker Holiday Tree off Barton Springs Rd. Keep in mind there is limited parking on this side and you will walk farther.
Here’s where you can find info on the shuttles.
Hours vary depending on when you go and what tickets type you have. Free and GA tickets get you in at 7 p.m. ZIP and Platinum passes get you in at 6 p.m.
There are 4 different ways to see the lights. Tickets purchased in advance will not be refunded for inclement weather. The event is rain or shine. Here’s the breakdown:
- FREE! The Trail of Lights is free on select nights. See them for free on December 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, & 18. No tickets required.
- General Admission tickets are $8. This gets you in at 7 p.m. on the nights that are not free. Kids 11 and under are free with an adult GA ticket.
- ZIP Passes are $25 per person, ages 6 and up. Kids 5 and under get in free with an adult ZIP Pass. These get you in at 6 p.m. (an hour early) and you also get access to ZIP Lounge area with heated washrooms, adjacent bar, cocoa & cookies.
- Platinum Passes are $95 per person, ages 6 and up. Kids 5 and under get in free with an adult Platinum Pass. These get you in at 6 p.m. (an hour early) and you also get valet parking for one vehicle, golf cart shuttle access to Trailhead, access to a private, heated Platinum Lounge with comfortable seating and exclusive bar, one drink ticket valid at bars throughout the park per Platinum Pass, one ride ticket for expedited entry to the Ferris wheel or carousel.
The Ferris Wheel is a must-do. You have to purchase tickets separately to ride both rides. You can see the Austin skyline all lit up from the top of the Ferris Wheel and it is magical. Skip the carousel if you have to choose between the 2 rides.
The TOL accepts both cash and credit cards.
You can find Santa at his house in the North Pole section of the trail nightly from 6-9:30 p.m.
- No pets allowed.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. You will be walking and some of it will mostly likely be through a dirty field that could be wet or muddy.
- Bring glowsticks or glow necklaces for the kids to wear to make them easier to spot in the dark/crowds.
- Lines for food/drinks will be long so plan accordingly. Eat beforehand or try to bring your own food in.
- Purchase a s’mores kit and stop by the fires station to roast marshmallows. This was a highlight for us!
- Make sure and find the stages with the bands playing live music. They are so fun and talented! It’s such a joy to watch the kids dancing to Christmas tunes.
Outside Food/Drinks & Bag Policy
We brought a backpack that they searched, but the size didn’t matter and it doesn’t have to be clear. Inside we had water bottles (not factory sealed) and snacks and no one said anything. The website policy states you can bring only one factory sealed water bottle and that food is available for purchase inside, but it does not specifically state that outside food is prohibited. Use you own best judgement here (but I bet they won’t care if you bring your own snacks). The lines for food will be very long.
If you have kids, you know what it’s like walking long distances with them. You are going to want a stroller or wagon for this event. That said, the crowds will be the most dense on the free days and times, so I highly recommend purchasing a ZIP pass if you plan on bringing a stroller or wagon. It will be much easier to navigate through the crowds if you get in an hour early.
How Long Does It Take
It’s hard to say how long it will take. Some kids (mine are “some kids”) will want to ride the Ferris Wheel over and over. Lines can be long for rides, food, and Santa. Kids will be up past their bedtimes and will get tired and cranky. If you want to rush through and not stop for anything, you could do the whole thing in an hour. It also depends on how crowded it is on the night that you go. I’d say to plan on being there for 2-3 hours.
Zilker Holiday Tree
This is a free experience that’s across Barton Springs Rd from the Trail of Lights. You can park for free over on this side. Take a spin under the big lit up tree. There are porta-potties and vendors on site here.