The Trail of Lights holds a special place in my heart. In 2014, during a rare moment of quiet on the trail, I asked my wife to marry me under a light-drenched tree. Cliché, perhaps, but an amazing moment nonetheless. Every year since, we walk the trail, find our tree, and smile.
When COVID hit in 2020, Trail of Lights went vehicular out of necessity. What normally takes an hour to walk was distilled into a 15-minute drive through Zilker. All the hallmarks were there and it was a lovely experience, but it just didn’t ring the same. It was as good as anybody could reasonably expect, but it still felt off.
Not anymore. This year, the drive is once again a walk and I couldn’t be happier. And after taking a spin around the trail with my wife and three kids in tow, I can personally confirm what everyone is secretly hoping: the Trail of Lights is back and better than ever.
Austin Trail of Lights 2022 – The Zilker tree and other favorites make a triumphant return!
If you’ve traveled the trail in the past, you’ll be happy to learn all your favorites are still in attendance. From the towering Santa-saurus to the Jackalope to the random displays of Spongebob, cacti, and Disney properties, the weirdness is still here after all these years. Same for the five gorgeous light canopies and the world-famous Zilker Tree. Watching my son and daughter take their first spin underneath this light-covered moon tower was an incredible moment.
And if 2 million lights, 90-holiday trees, and 70 unique displays aren’t enough, kids and adults can ride the massive Ferris wheel and the classic carousel, both in the new Zilker Square section. The Square is also home to the Zilker Stage where attendees can take a break from walking and enjoy local music. Artists include Austinot favorites like Croy and the Boys (12/8), Tomar and the FCs (12/17), Ley Line (12/18), Los Coast (12/22), and the Peterson Brothers (12/23).
While the trail is lovely for adults, it’s pure magic for kids. To give them a break from the barrage of lights, be sure to swing by many of the off-trail attractions. I highly recommend the Santa’s Workshop for a chance to win toys, the H-E-B Read 3 Train, and the toasty Yule Log. And for eating and drinks, there are three designated areas that offer everything you need from lite bites for the kiddies and alcoholic beverages for mom and dad.
Pro tips to enjoy the Austin Trail of Lights 2022 – Tickets, Parking, and more!
Thoughtfully designed to be as straightforward as possible, navigating the Trail of Lights is simple. With three kids and 2 parents, it took us 90 minutes to get from entrance to exit. This included snacks/water, a wait for the carousel, and dozens of “get over here!” shouts as if I was Scorpion from Mortal Kombat. Entrance for the preview party was a breeze, but expect long lines as we get closer to the 25th.
Austin Trail of Lights 2022 Dates
Austin Trail of Lights for 2022 will open on Thursday the 8th of December and the closing night will be on Friday the 23rd of December. There are various themed nights planned for 2022 including UT Night, Heroes Night, Movie Night, and Pride Night. For more details check out their calendar.
Trail of Lights Austin 2022 – Tickets
Ticketing is straightforward as well. There are three ticket types depending on the day:
- General Admission: GA runs from free to $5 depending on the night. That’s right – free! Children 11 and under are always free with a ticketed adult for the $5 evenings. With this tier, you get admission to the park and free photos with Santa. Doors open at 7:00 PM most nights.
- ZIP passes: Remember what I said about lines? This is how you can reduce them. ZIP passes cost between $20 and $25 per person depending on the day. Kids 5 and under get a free ZIP pass with a ticketed ZIP adult. This tier gets you:
- 6:00 PM Early access with a special entrance.
- Access to the ZIP Lounge Area located in Candy Cane Lane. Close to the entrance, this is a great place to grab complimentary holiday cookies, cocoa, force the kids to use the heated bathroom, and snag an adult beverage.
- Platinum Passes: Ranging anywhere from $90 to $320 a person depending on the size of your group, this level gets you:
- Valet parking for one vehicle.
- Exclusive concierge on site.
- 6:00 PM early entry.
- Golf cart shuttle access to the Trailhead.
- Access to a private lounge.
- One drink and one ride ticket per person.
Austin Trail of Lights 2022 – Transportation, Parking
Parking is another thing you must be made aware of. If you can avoid it, do so. Rideshare will be your best friend as there’s a designated drop-off and pickup area close to the park. And like anything else in Austin, biking and scooting are wonderful ways of getting to the event. But I get it. I have a mini-van. Sometimes, kids need to be carted and driving is a must. Close in parking will run you $15 – $25 depending on the night and is dang near required. These will sell out, so grab them early.
Another option is the Trail of Lights shuttle. Available only on select days, this convenient option picks up from Republic Square Park and the Toney Burger Event Center. These shuttle tickets include your general admission, infants ride free.
- The Zilker Tree is free to everyone and does not require a ticket. Because spinning under the tree should be free to all Austinites.
- If you’re going General Admission on a free night, you do not need a ticket for entry. Just show up!
- Water is available at any info booth scattered around the trail for a suggested donation of $2.
- Trail of Lights is open from 12/8 – 12/23, closed on Mondays.
- Photos with Santa are free and are taken at “Santa’s House” in the North Pole section.
- If you need to choose between carousel and Ferris wheel, do the wheel. The view is spectacular.
- Special nights include UT Night (12/11), Heroes Night (12/13), Movie Night (12/15), Pride Night (12/21), and Closing Night (12/23).
Trail of Lights – A Magical Austin Tradition
Ever since moving to Austin in 2013, the Trail of Lights became a holiday tradition. Strolling Zilker Park, surrounded by a galaxy twinkling lights, is a December highlight. In a city where few things feel unique anymore, the trail maintains its sense of weird while continuing to change and grow with the times. It’s a charming and enchanting throwback to the days when things were a touch simpler.
And this year, experiencing it with two six-year-olds and a two-year-old for the first time was special. My son spun under the Zilker Tree for the first time. My daughter shouted “what’s that!” at every illuminated tree, character, and display we walked past. And yes, my wife visited our spot for the first time in three years and shared a moment. If you’ve never been to the Trail of Lights, make 2022 your year to check that box on your ATX bucket list. Good holiday vibes are guaranteed!
Stay up to date on the events, activities, and entertainment in the Austin area through our weekly updates to Things to do in Austin this Week, Things to do in Austin this Weekend, and Things to do in Austin with Kids this Weekend!
And to get these updates delivered directly to your feed, give us a follow on Facebook by clicking the …next to the search lens icon.