Take a short trip to area zoos for a memorable holiday lights experience
Many of our favorite zoos near Champaign-Urbana will be having holiday lights in 2021
We’ve found holiday lights at zoos large and small, within a reasonable driving distance of Champaign-Urbana. Perhaps you’ll make it a weekend getaway if you go!
Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington
Wild Lights at the Zoo – Sponsored by T-Mobile. Enjoy hundreds of luminaries around the entire zoo. Face painting provided by the ZooLady.
- Tickets: On sale at the Zoo or call (309) 434-2250.
- Cost: $8/non-members, $3/members. Ages 3 and under are free.
- Dates and times: Dec. 3, 4, 10 & 11, 5-8 p.m.
Christmas at the Zoo Presented by CareSource has been an Indianapolis Zoo tradition for 53 years, and has been voted in the top five of USA Today’s 10 Best Zoo Lights for three years in a row. Many of the animals that favor cold weather will be more active. Select indoor buildings will also be open. Hear local carolers, see Santa, and warm up by the campfire.
- Tickets: Can be purchased online or at the gate. Zoo members do not need advance reservations.
- Cost: Christmas at the Zoo is included in the regular admission price. Children 2-12/$21.75, Adults 13+/$25.75, Seniors/$23.75. Children under 2 are free.
- Parking is an additional $8 (free for members).
- Extra experiences, such as the White River Junction Train and the Carousel, may have extra fees.
- Be sure to budget for snacks, drinks (hot cocoa and seasonal cocktails), and holiday shopping.
- Dates and times: Select dates Nov. 20–Dec. 30. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve Day, Christmas Day. Open 5-9 p.m. weeknights, 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago
Lincoln Park ZooLights Presented By ComEd and Invesco QQQ is a cheerful, family-friendly holiday event in the heart of the city. This year’s ZooLights will again feature hundreds of luminous LED displays and seasonal experiences, all under the glow of millions of lights. Most outdoor and indoor habitats will be open for viewing during ZooLights. 2021 brings the new Pepper Family Wildlife Center open to guests, a new holiday lights experience on the Main Mall, and an exciting new light show on the South Lawn.
- Tickets: Tickets with a 30-minute entrance window required for all guests, including infants, children, and members, even on free nights — in order to maintain limited capacity again this year. All ZooLights tickets must be purchased in advance and will not be available at the gate. Guests may stay until closing time regardless of entry time.
- Cost: $5/person on Wednesday-Sunday; FREE on Monday-Tuesday
- Parking is not included
- Holiday experiences are also ticketed and cost extra. They include the Light Maze, Enchanted Forest, Endangered Species Carousel, and Lionel Train Adventure. These tickets can be purchased on zoo grounds during your visit or at the Member Center.
- Be sure to budget for snacks, drinks, and holiday shopping.
- Dates and times: Select dates Nov. 19–Jan. 2. Members and guests get exclusive, free access to ZooLights on Nov. 19 and Dec. 13. Open from 4-10 p.m.
- NEW Sensory Friendly Times: Nov. 30 & Dec. 15 from 4-6 p.m.
Brookfield Zoo, Chicago (suburbs)
As Chicagoland’s longest-running lights festival, Holiday Magic® presented by ComEd and Meijer features over two million twinkling LED lights in its 40th year. Visitors can experience the “Sea of Lights,” the “Tunnel of Lights” synchronized to music, the 41-foot tree with lights choreographed to seasonal tunes, over 700 community and corporate decorated trees, and larger-than-life illuminated animal sculptures throughout the zoo.
Enter a 3D 16-foot-tall gingerbread house that guests can walk through and is the perfect backdrop for a family snapshot. Additional photo opportunities await inside the ever-popular luminous 20-foot-tall orb aglow with thousands of sparkling lights, a holiday-themed festive frame, and even a Santa Claus cutout. Several indoor and outdoor animal habitats will be open, and guests of all ages can drop off letters for Santa and participate in the Game of Gnomes scavenger hunt.
- Tickets: In order to limit capacity, advance admission and parking tickets are required and available online. Reservation times for Holiday Magic are available in 15-minute increments
- Cost: Admission is $24.95/adults, $17.95/children ages 3-11, and $19.95/seniors 65 and over.
- Parking is $15 and must be reserved in advance.
- Dolphin show is an extra charge
- Be sure to budget for snacks, drinks, and holiday shopping.
- A skating rink with synthetic surface (!) is available with an additional charge for entry and for optional skate rental
- Dates and times: Select dates from Nov. 26 to Dec. 31 from 3-9 p.m.
Saint Louis Zoo
U.S. Bank Wild Lights at the Saint Louis Zoo features brand-new light displays and themed areas. In addition to brilliant light displays, warm up with winter-themed treats, and say hello to the animals at Penguin & Puffin Coast and the Insectarium.
- Tickets: Online advance purchase is recommended as demand is expected to be high. Two admission time slots are available for each evening of Wild Lights:
- 5-6:30 p.m.
- 6:30-8 p.m. (event ends at 8:30 p.m. Last admittance is at 8 p.m.)
- Cost: This event has a fee (although the zoo is usually free). Fees vary; on peak nights from Dec. 15 – 23 admission is $12/member; $13/non-member.
- Children under age 2 are free
- Parking in North and South lots is free
- Admission includes entrance to Wild Lights, Conservation Carousel and 4D Theater
- Dates and times: Select dates between Nov. 26 and Dec. 30, from 5-8:30 p.m.
- Sensory Friendly Night: Dec. 13. Admission: $10/member; $11/non-member
Everything Holiday Season In and Around Champaign-Urbana
- Where to Find Santa Claus in the Champaign-Urbana Area
- 50+ Experience Gift Ideas for Kids in Champaign-Urbana
- Amazing Christmas Lights Around Champaign-Urbana and Beyond
- Live Nativity Displays in Champaign-Urbana
- Holiday Lights at the Zoo: Where to Drive From Champaign-Urbana
- How to Chop Down Your Own Christmas Tree in the Shawnee National Forest – For $5 (or Less)
- Home for the Holidays: Shopping and Eating Locally in Champaign-Urbana
- Botanical Garden at Lake of the Woods to Illuminate during Holidays for First Time
- 8+ Great Places to See Holiday Lights in Central Illinois
- All Aboard: Polar Express Fun (Beyond the Train) in Champaign-Urbana
- Champaign-Urbana Area Holiday Events and Activities
- Where to Buy a Live Christmas Tree Near Champaign-Urbana
- Christmas Parades near Champaign-Urbana
- German Christmas Market Returns to Riggs Beer Company in Urbana
- What You Need to Know About the Walk-Through Holiday Lights at Allerton Park