When I was in grad school at The University of Texas in the mid-1990s, I let my roommate talk me in to going to the Trail of Lights. I remember being grouchy most of the night, smooshed in a heaving mass of humanity shuffling slowly through the cold winter night. It wasn’t my favorite thing ever. I kind of wondered why everyone else in Austin loved the Trail of Lights so much.
This Austin holiday tradition in the heart of the city started in 1965 and has grown into a much-beloved event by generations of Austinites. The annual transformation of Zilker Park into the illuminated trail is as must-do for some families each December as any other holiday tradition. Despite my family calling Austin home for the last 11 years, we had never been to The Trail of Lights. Truth be told: my disdain for cold and crowds had kept us away.
Until this year….
With a glorious weather forecast (mid-50s) and an invitation to a blogger’s preview night, I decided it was time to make my long-awaited return and introduce my family to the Trail of Lights.
That photo was taken by a volunteer, whose job is to be a “photo helper.” How great is that? (But how sad is it that this is one of only two photos of our family of five from ALL YEAR?!) I was impressed by the friendly, helpful, and festively dressed volunteers throughout the Trail.
All it took was that one opening tunnel for my kids to decide this was going to be cooooool! They loved the freedom of being outside and able to run from scene to scene. I was thankful we were having a festive night out that didn’t involve eating sugary treats (and we even got some exercise!).
As a family, we were impressed by the bursts of color, the wrapped trees, and the creative displays. Each vignette was sponsored by a business or organization, such as:
UT Austin (What starts here changes the world):
Maudie’s Tex-Mex’s Jackalope:
Our family’s favorite stretch of the trail was the City of Austin’s Bat Cave:
There were also some fun giveaways along The Trail, which is something rare (but appreciated) at events like this.
Big Top Candy Shop had some cute candy machines the delivered peppermints and were staffed by sweet high school students:
And HEB had a super cute book train where each child received an age-appropriate book from a friendly HEB employee:
The food vendors weren’t open during our preview, but the token machines were humming with folks who wanted to ride the rides. We didn’t ride the ferris wheel or carousel. Honestly, the kids were enjoying the lights so much they didn’t even beg or complain. Score!
And now I must admit something: I was wrong about the Trail of Lights! I now understand why so many Austinites love the Trail. It is an honest-to-goodness fun family night out. We enjoyed a beautiful, festive evening. The Trail was just the right length– even The Stowaway (age 4) walked the whole thing (including to and from the car) without complaining. What a treat to have a family activity that people of all ability levels can enjoy.
Mea culpa! If the good people of Austin Parks & Recreation and Trail of Lights Foundation and the presenting-sponsor HEB will forgive me for staying away so long, I’d love to come back with my family again next year.
How about you? Want to go to the Trail of Lights?
GIVEAWAY (NOW CLOSED): Congratulations, Amy! You are the winner!
I have one FREE ZiP Fast Pass entry into the Trail of Lights, good for any night of the 2015 Trail of Lights. The ZiP Fast Pass allows access to the trail starting at 6pm (before regular entry at 7pm) and access to the Home Away VIP lounge with cookies and hot cocoa.
If you’d like to be entered into the GIVEAWAY for the ZiP Fast Pass, leave a comment telling me what your favorite part of the Trail is, or what looks like the most fun to you.
This giveaway is open through Tuesday at 9am Austin time. I’ll contact the winner and arrange delivery of the ZiP Fast Pass to you. Good luck!
Thanks to HomeAway for sponsoring the giveaway and the blogger preview event I attended last night.