Zoo Lights has lit up 70 acres of Denver Zoo’s campus since 1990, and it’s still one of the best holiday displays in town, with more than two million lights, illuminated animal sculptures, and plenty of nightly entertainment. Use these tips and tricks to maximize the experience during one perfect night.
Take advantage of timed entry
New this year, timed entry tickets allow families to enter Zoo Lights on the hour, at 5:30, 6:30, or 7:30 p.m. “You don’t have to leave at a certain time, but this, along with capped attendance, should end the bottleneck that occurs when everyone shows up around the same time,” explains Denver Zoo spokesperson Carlie McGuire. Tickets are still available for purchase at the gate, but the best bet is to buy them online in advance to guarantee your preferred admission time isn’t sold out.
Most families instinctively head right after entering the zoo. “If you want to avoid crowds, try going left,” suggests McGuire.
Get in the holiday spirit early
Why not visit Zoo Lights during the first half of December? In addition to avoiding the crowds, you’ll save money. Tickets purchased online for Value Nights, offered Monday through Thursday, December 3 to 13, are $13 for guests 12 and up, and $8 for children ages three to 11. For two parents and two children under 12, picking an early-December weeknight could mean a savings of $18.
Don’t miss new 2018 attractions
Located between the Toyota Elephant Passage and The Edge, this year’s most anticipated offering is a new 4D theater, where the holiday short Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas comes to life through 3D glasses and sensory elements such as water. Nearby, a festival of lanterns illuminates the Toyota Elephant Passage, with floating origami-style lanterns and a pop-up Asian street market.
See some animals
Amur tigers love the cold, and there’s a good chance they’ll be roaming around The Edge during Zoo Lights. “The giraffe barn will likely be open, too,” McGuire says, so families can see Denver Zoo’s long-necked herd.
Take a picture with Santa
Denver Zoo reimagined its Santa’s Workshop by adding storytime with Mrs. Claus. While waiting in line to see the jolly old elf, the missus entertains families with her unique backstory, including the tale of how she met Santa. Santa’s Workshop is set up near the cheetahs, in the Conoco Zoo Gardens event space.
Snag an Instagram-worthy family photo
The key to a great photo is good lighting. “The more light you can utilize around you, the less you’ll have to depend on flash, which can wash out the light sculptures,” says McGuire. The brightest places in the zoo are around the carousel and the train. Stage your group selfie in one of these spots, and you’ll have a shot at seeing everyone’s happy faces, as well as the amazing lights in the background.
Warm up in Tropical Discovery
Denver Zoo’s mini-aquarium, Tropical Discovery, will be open during Zoo Lights, and it’s a great place to warm up while viewing some of Denver Zoo’s lesser-seen species, including bats, frogs, snakes, and several varieties of fish. “We’ll have keeper talks in Tropical Discovery, so families can learn about these animals directly from the experts,” adds McGuire.
Let Denver Zoo worry about dinner
Parked near Bird World, Denver Zoo’s food truck will be serving seasonal comfort food, such as mac and cheese and hearty soups. Across from the carousel, Brown Bear BBQ and Smokehouse delivers premium barbecue. In addition to stands selling cookie-flavored cocoa, parents can grab a craft brew at one of the on-site beer carts. For an end-of-the-evening dessert, purchase a s’mores kit at the Conoco Zoo Gardens event space, and roast the marshmallows together over a toasty fire pit.
- Check it Out:
- 2300 Steele St., Denver
- Need to Know:
- Zoo Lights runs through January 6, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Denver Zoo is closed on Christmas Day.
- $18 for adults age 12 and up and $12 for children ages three to 11 when purchased online; prices increase $2 at the gate. Free for children age two and under. Special rates are available for seniors and members.