Hear, hear, the sparkly season is near! From now through the end of the season, festive holiday light trails adorn Texas Hill Country, and we’ve discovered the best and brightest dazzlers around.
We love love love the Trail of Lights at Zilker Park, yet if you want to set forth on an illuminated adventure beyond Austin’s most famous light trail, follow these shining beacons signaling from across Texas Hill Country.
These holiday light trails go above and beyond for those of us beguiled by the night and mesmerized by shiny objects. Yeah, I’m waaay into it. If you crave holiday glitz and are up for a quick road trip, then these nine Hill Country destinations will satisfy your quest to shine on.
One exciting new trend I’ve noticed this year is that some of these light trails have added even more events, attractions, and/or lights, and most of them are open longer than before. This gives you extra time to make the short road trip to experience these twinkly trails.
Note: I’ve added the distances to each trail from the Texas State Capitol this year to better help you plan your trip. Happy lights-gazing!
1/ Santa’s Ranch in New Braunfels
Dinosaurs, space shuttles, and monster pickup trucks, oh my! Those whimsical lighted exhibits alone should make the trip to New Braunfels worth it. Drive through Santa’s Ranch along a mile or so of winding country roads. Animated, custom-made displays feature more than 1.5 million lights a-glowing.
It’s an absolute blast! You never know what light display will be around the next curve. A nativity scene? A choir of angels? An alien? A cowboy? Anything is possible at Santa’s Ranch.
It’s obvious this family, staff, and even the neighbors love this winter tradition. There’s so much added fun with less traditional exhibits that make us giddy with glee.
Andre Lenartowicz, a.k.a. The Austin Spotter, notes, “As Tom Petty would have sung, the waiting is the hardest part…Unless you pack a patient crew and/or snacks (and your favorite Christmas tunes), your best bet is to go during the work week.”
The wait is worth it and the added few days this year should help spread out the crowds. Once you’re in, stop by the concession stand for traditional treats like hot cocoa and kettle corn.
Santa’s Ranch is open now through Jan. 4, 2020. Visit from 6-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6-11 p.m. Friday through Saturday. Cost is $30 per car or $60 for a one-car season pass. Trailers, limos, RVs, and buses are not allowed because they wouldn’t be able to navigate the winding turns.
Distance from Texas State Capitol: 38 miles
9561 IH 35 North, New Braunfels, TX – Website
2/ San Saba Christmas Park
Nestled at the top of Texas Hill Country, San Saba goes all out with its Mill Pond Christmas Extravaganza. Who needs the Bellagio fountain when you have 30 acres of dancing shimmer and glimmer right here in the Hill Country?
San Saba flashes more than one million lights in time to music. You know you’re going to hear Christmas standards along with popular hits.
Visitors can walk or drive through the light display. The wintry wonderland is full of fun visual goodies, including tunnels and digitally-animated scenes. San Saba holiday-themed events include a big night on Dec. 14, 2019, with these attractions:
- Sip & Stroll: Taste Texas wines and shop the local square from 2-6 p.m. Your $30 ticket gets you a wine glass, tote bag for your shopping haul, and 10 tasting pours.
- Caroling: The River City Holiday band sings carols in the square from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
- Christmas Parade: After the caroling comes the parade of local vehicles decked out in their holiday best.
Walking through the San Saba light trail at Mill Pond Park is free, leashed pet-friendly, and open nightly from 6-10 p.m. Visit the lights from Nov. 28, 2019 through Jan. 5, 2020.
Distance from Texas State Capitol: 89 miles.
110 Thomas Stewart Dr., San Saba, TX – Website
3/ Bastrop River of Lights and Lost Pines Christmas
Bastrop, aka The Little Town That Loves Christmas, is gearing up for another festive season. Lost Pines Christmas highlights include:
- Tree lighting (Nov. 29)
- Wassail Festival and Small Business Saturday (Nov. 30)
- Country Christmas Farm Street Opry (Dec. 5)
- Twisted Christmas Krampus Haunts (Dec. 6-7, 13-14, 20-21)
- Holiday Homes Tour (Dec. 6)
- Letters to Santa (Nov. 29 through Dec. 24)
- Famous Lighted Christmas Parade (Dec. 14)
The library, opera house, and several small businesses embrace the season with special events throughout the month of December. And then there’s the actual light trail, the River of Lights. Local groups and businesses decorate this half-mile walking trail for the season.
Bastrop River of Lights runs Nov. 30, 2019 through Jan. 3, 2020 from 6-10 p.m. The trail and parade are free and open to the public.
Distance from Texas State Capitol: 33 miles.
Historic Downtown Bastrop – Website
4/ Johnson City Lights Spectacular
The Lights Spectacular people in Johnson City don’t play when it comes to Christmas lights. The proof these lights are out of this world lies in actual images from NASA–the Johnson City Lights Spectacular can be seen from space.
Holy holiday spirit, Batman! Johnson City turns into a proper holiday village during the free Lights Spectacular. This year should be another brilliant season, as the event turns 30.
The dramatic tree lighting takes place on Nov. 29, 2019. The courthouse wears a draped array of thousands of lights, while Pedernales Electric Cooperative wraps more than one million lights around a large stand of oak trees. Almost every home and business in town dresses up for December.
On Nov. 30, 2019, swing by before 6:30 p.m. to catch the Lighted Hooves & Wheels Parade. Visiting the Lights Spectacular is free and leashed pet-friendly.
Those wanting the full-on Christmas movie moment can splurge on a horse-drawn carriage ride, provided by the Buggy Barn Museum. The Lights Spectacular event runs Nov. 29, 2019 through Jan. 5, 2020.
Distance from Texas State Capitol: 48 miles.
Downtown Johnson City – Website
5/ Old West Christmas Light Fest
In its sixth year, this holiday haven is at Enchanted Springs Ranch in Boerne, northwest of San Antonio. If you love the Old West, then this one’s for you. Old West Christmas Light Fest has more than 40 Old West buildings decorated with more than 3 million Christmas lights.
Upon entering Old West Christmas Light Fest, you drive through some lights, including a tunnel. They didn’t have cars in the Old West, though, so the Christmasy town is an in-person experience. Walk through and see all of the lights and special decorations up close!
Plus, Old West Christmas Light Fest has many other activities, including new attractions this year like Christmas escape rooms, cookie decorating classes, and even laser tag. Yes, you heard me, LASER TAG among the Christmas lights. Giddy up!
Tickets are $15/adult, $10/military and first responder, and $10/children age six and up. Children five and under are free. Family packs for five people are $60. Laser tag sessions start at $5.21 and escape rooms start at $35.
Old West Lights Fest is open Thursday through Sunday from Nov. 28 through Dec. 15, 2019. Starting Dec. 19 and running through Christmas Day, the event will be open nightly. Hours are 6-10 p.m.
Distance from Texas State Capitol: 99 miles.
242 State Hwy. 46 W, Boerne, TX – Facebook
6/ Wimberley Holiday Trail of Lights
EmilyAnn Theatre & Gardens in Wimberley hosts this celebration of the season. The eight-acre Wimberley Trail of Lights winds up with a traditional marshmallow roast around a yule log. Don’t forget the free hot chocolate.
Santa makes an appearance on Nov. 30, 2019. Other nightly entertainment is TBD, but we know there will be a Chocolate Festival on Dec. 14, 2019.
This glittery gorgeousness is a true community effort. Numerous local businesses and community members come together each year to decorate the trail. It is interactive with character cutouts for fun photos, a musical garden, and a life-sized chess/checker board. I hope they bring back their human snow globe from last year, too!
Wimberley Trail of Lights runs Nov. 30 through Dec. 28, 2019, and is free. Donations are welcome, though, as this is the town’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
Distance from Texas State Capitol: 40 miles.
1101 Ranch Road 2325, Wimberley, Texas – Website
7/ Marble Falls Walkway of Lights
More than two million lights and 400 lighted sculptures sparkle on the banks of Lake Marble Falls. The annual Walkway of Lights is a free event in Lakeside Park, but donations are welcome. Dogs are welcome on-leash.
Santa Land is open nightly with lots of Christmas photo ops. Santa himself makes an appearnce on the weekends. Local nonprofit organizations sell holiday goodies and Polaroid Santa photos (cash only) at the park.
Marble Falls Walkway of Lights is open nightly from 6-10 p.m., Nov. 22, 2019 through Jan. 1, 2020.
Distance from Texas State Capitol: 48 miles.
305 Buena Vista Dr., Marble Falls, TX – Facebook
8/ San Antonio River Walk Holiday Lights
San Antonio’s popular River Walk lights, illuminated from dusk to dawn through Jan. 13, 2020, are a classic. Stroll along the River Walk for free, or book a boat to maximize your sparkly glee. Admire the lights over chips and salsa, and perhaps a margarita at one of the riverside restaurants.
The City of San Antonio and Paseo del Rio Association sponsor the free, season-long light show every year. The Ford Fiesta de Luminarias sees 2,000 luminarias lighting the way along the River Walk for the first three weekends in December. The San Antonio River Authority has added lights to the Pearl District, too, for bonus sparkle.
Special events that may require tickets include the Ford Holiday River Parade, Holiday Light Cruises, Holiday Boat Caroling, and Holiday Artisan Market (buy tickets and get details at website link below).
The Ford Holiday River Parade is the only day from the lighting on Nov. 28, 2019 to closing on Jan. 13, 2020 when access to the River Walk is for ticket holders only. However, the lineup is truly Texas-sized.
Billy Gibbons is the parade Grand Marshal, which makes this ZZ Top fan smile. The legendary accordion genius Flaco Jiminez is playing, which is always a treat. The roster also includes Austin musicians Van Wilks, Patricia Vonne, Jimmie Vaughan, Rosia Flores, Marcia Ball, Lou Ann Barton, and several other accomplished musicians.
Distance from Texas State Capitol: 79 miles.
849 E. Commerce St., San Antonio, Texas – Website
9/ 37th Street Lights
Okay, this one isn’t technically a trail, but it is an entire street where nearly every house participates. And it’s right here in town, north of UT and south of Hyde Park. This is free, but the neighborhood accepts donations to keep this beloved Austin tradition alive.
37th St. off Guadalupe – Facebook
Magical Moments for One and All
December is the sparkliest month of all with lights, colors, and pretty little packages. Plenty of local courthouses and downtown areas have holiday light events throughout the season.
Crank up your cell phone camera, explore Texas Hill Country, and Instagram your heart away! Or simply enjoy the show and sip hot cocoa with loved ones. Your call. Ho ho ho!
@theAustinot wants to know:
What is your favorite Texas Hill Country holiday lights tradition?