In a year of cancellations, 56th annual Trail of Lights still beams as Austin tradition


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Organizers of the 56th annual Austin Trail of Lights are beaming to deliver on their promise of tradition and a joyful signal of the holidays in the year of cancellations.

“It’s important to have the tradition this year in the year of cancellations, so we’re happy to be able to provide that,” said James Russell, executive director of the Trail of Lights Foundation. The event, as many others have had to do in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has transformed into a drive-thru experience.

Those involved in planning knew they wanted to move forward with the traditional picturesque displays offered to Austin annually, but also in a way to keep to those attending as safe as possible.

Though that may have seemed like a tall order for some, it was something Russell was familiar with.

“I went way back into my memory bank as a kid and remembered this is how I used to enjoy the trail, was driving through,” he said. “So we knew it was do-able.”

They started working toward that in partnership Austin Public Health in mid-summer.

“Our entrance is our exit, and our exit is our entrance,” explained Russell.

As in previous years, the trail will not be accessible from Barton Springs Road. The new entrance will be at Stratford Drive and Lou Neff Road.

“We made a lot of changes for our traffic mitigation, for health and safety purposes and for no person-to-person contact.”

Those changes also meant COVID-19 antigen and antibody tests for their staff and working with Ascension Seton for contract tracing.

Also, no open Jeeps or convertibles of any kind will be permitted on the trail, and there will be no food vendors, carousel or ferris wheel in an effort to follow CDC guidelines and protect the public.

Though they aren’t expecting as many attendees as in previous years, they extended the time it will be open in an effort to give people more opportunity to enjoy it.

“This is a year when it’s not about the bottom line,” said Russell.

Passes for opening night on Saturday, Nov. 28 are sold out, but general admission and dash passes are available starting Sunday, Nov. 29. You can purchase those online.

The Austin Trail of Lights opens the weekend after Thanksgiving and will remain open through Jan. 3, 2021.

  • 56th annual Trail of Lights (KXAN/Todd Bynum)
  • 56th Austin Trail of Lights (KXAN/Todd Bynum)
  • 56th annual Trail of Lights (KXAN/Todd Bynum)
  • 56th annual Trail of Lights (KXAN/Todd Bynum)
  • 56th annual Trail of Lights (KXAN/Chelsea Moreno)
  • 56th annual Trail of Lights (KXAN/Chelsea Moreno)

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