AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s Trail of Lights at Zilker Park in south Austin has become a staple in the area for locals as well as holiday travelers, but the festive lights display was not always a part of the tradition.

According to organizers, the event began as a small gathering in 1965, previously known as Yule Fest, and it was a gift to the city from the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

“In the 58 years since the first Yule Log was lit, the Trail now features more than 2 million lights illuminating the park, 90 lighted holiday trees and more than 70 other holiday displays and lighted tunnels,” organizers said of the annual Trail of Lights.

The Trail of Lights is also known for its specialty nights, most notably the Zilker tree lighting.

Though the token Zilker Park Tree Lighting Ceremony has become a tradition in and of itself, the festive ceremony is meant as an introduction to the Trail of Lights.

Other specialty nights include:

The trail during the COVID-19 pandemic was temporarily modified from a walking trail to a drive-thru event.

The trail is now hosted by the Trail of Lights Foundation, an independent nonprofit corporation dedicated to the production of the Austin Trail of Lights as an authentically Austin community celebration.

“The Austin Trail of Lights has remained in the top three largest Austin events since the Trail of Lights Foundation adopted the event in 2012,” organizers said.

Foundation volunteers help support the community-built light display, which has received national recognition while also remaining a cherished community-wide celebration and tradition.

The trail opens and runs through select dates in December, but make sure to check the calendar because some nights are closed for private events.

Organizers said the official first night at the trail begins with a ceremonial flipping of the switch by Austin ISD students.

“One lucky student winner of our Austin Trail of Lights Holiday Writing Contest will be invited to flip the switch, turning on the front entry lights and opening the Austin Trail of Lights to the public for the first time of the season,” organizers said.

The trail is open to the public and admission is free on seven out of the 14 nights. Other tickets are available for purchase at Austin Trail of Lights.


  • General Admission: $0-$5
  • ZIP passes: $20-$25
  • Platinum passes: $90-$320
  • Parking passes: $15-$25
  • Shuttle passes: $7 (includes your General Admission entry fee)
  • Children 11 and under are always free to enter with a ticketed adult

Parking for the event is limited and must be purchased online in advance because it will not be sold at the event; however, free parking is available at the Toney Burger Activity Center for south Austin shuttle riders, according to organizers.