Midwest Zoo Holiday Lights Events

Christmas festivals at zoos have become huge holiday attractions. In the Midwest alone, at least eighteen zoos celebrate with holiday lights, carols, animal shows, and even ice skating rinks. Brookfield Zoo, Chicago’s oldest holiday zoo event, is celebrating its 42nd year in 2023. But the very first zoo holiday lights event in the nation was Indianapolis Zoo’s Christmas at the Zoo, which dates back to 1967!

Many other zoos have hopped aboard the holiday festival train over the years. Here are a few highlights of eighteen Midwest zoo holiday lights events for 2023, listed by state:

Lighted zebra sculptures


Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield: Holiday Magic

  • Be dazzled by over 2 million lights, including a 600-foot long “Tunnel of Lights”
  • Walk through a 3-D 16-foot-tall gingerbread house and more
  • Enjoy special entertainment, including juggling elves, roaming carolers and Those Funny Little People
  • Ride the carousel (extra fee and weather permitting)
  • Zoo opens at 3 p.m. and closes at 9 p.m. on Holiday Magic days
  • Holiday Magic 2023 dates: November 24-26, 30 and December 1-3, 7-10, 14-17, 21-23, 26-31

NOTE: Advanced reservations required for South Gate entry; no advance tickets needed for North Gate entry.

Holiday Magic details

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago: ZooLights

  • Wind your way through a shimmering light maze
  • Ride the 65-foot Ferris wheel for a gorgeous view of the lights from above
  • Stroll through the Grant Light Tunnel
  • Watch ice sculptors carve magical creations on
  • Be mesmerized by the Garden Glow Light Show

NOTE: Monday nights are free, other nights $7 to $10. Tickets are required even on free nights, with entry available in 30-minute increments. Extra fee for special events.

ZooLights details

Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington: Wild Lights at the Zoo

  • Meander through the zoo lit up with hundreds of luminaries
  • Activities for the kids, hot chocolate and make-your-own s’mores (extra fee for s’mores)

NOTE: Open December 1, 2, 8, and 9 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Call for tickets

Wild Lights at the Zoo details


Indianapolis Zoo, Indianapolis: Christmas at the Zoo

  • Meet Santa in two places (the Kris Kringle and Vacation Santa)
  • Help Mrs. Claus decorate cookies
  • Visit the barn to see Santa’s sleigh and reindeer
  • Be surrounded in glowing lights inside the glittering Polar Pathway
  • Meet a penguin up close
  • Have fun finding your way through the Mirror Maze

Note: Open November 18 to December 30, 5-9 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day

Christmas at the Zoo details


Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita: Wild Lights

  • Larger-than-life Asian lantern sculptures light the paths through the zoo

NOTE: Advance tickets required. Wild Lights runs October 11 through December 17, 2023.

Wild Lights details

Topeka Zoo, Topeka: Zoo Lights

  • Be dazzled by the twinkling lights as you stroll through the zoo
  • Visit with Santa Claus

NOTE: November 17 to December 30, 2023, EXCEPT November 20, December 3, 4, 7, 10. Ticket fee $9 to $14. Purchase tickets online.

Zoo Lights details


Detroit Zoo, Royal Oak: Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo

  • Listen to holiday music as you stroll through the zoo, twinkling in thousands of lights
  • See lights change color and move to the sound of holiday music at the Field of Light
  • Visit the Environmental Impact II art exhibition

Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo details

Potter Park Zoo, Lansing: Wonderland of Lights

  • Thousands of shimmering lights and holiday displays
  • Cookies, crafts, and animal encounters for kids
  • See Santa on Fridays and Saturdays through December 23

Note: Thursdays through Sundays, November 17 to December 31, 2023, plus December 19, 20, 26, 27

Wonderland of Lights details


Saint Louis Zoo, Saint Louis: U.S. Bank Wild Lights

  • Meander through dazzling lights displays
  • Meet the animals at the Penguin & Puffin Coast and Insectarium
  • Take a spin on the carousel
  • Enjoy “The Polar Express” in the 4D Theater

Note: Select nights through December 30, 2023. Recommend purchase tickets in advance, as they may sell out.

Wild Lights Details

North Dakota

Red River Zoo, Fargo: Holiday Nights

  • Ride the carousel
  • Take in the festive decorations
  • Warm up around a campfire while enjoying a s’more (extra fee)
  • Search for elves on a scavenger hunt
  • Decorate cookies (extra fee)

Note: 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on November 25, 26; December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16. 17. Tickets are $4 to $6.

Holiday Nights details


Akron Zoo, Akron: Wild Lights

  • Twinkling lights synchronized to holiday music
  • Hear choirs from local high schools and organizations (select dates)
  • Visit with Santa through December 23
  • Take a photo with the zoo’s penguin or red panda mascot (select dates)

Note: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on November 24-26; December 1-3, 8-10, 15-23, 26-29

Wild Lights details

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: PNC Festival of Lights

  • Be bedazzled by 4 million twinkling lights throughout the zoo
  • Search for Fiona fairy statues
  • See the blacklight puppet show
  • Roast marshmallows for delicious s’mores
  • Help light the zoo using a mobile phone app
  • Visit with Santa (through December 23)
  • See animals in heated buildings

Note: November 17, 2023 to January 7, 2024 (Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). Festival of Lights included in zoo admission.

PNC Festival of Lights details

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland: Wild Winter Lights

  • Stroll through the zoo, bedecked in over a million dazzling lights
  • Take photos with Santa
  • Musical light shows include a 50-foot tree
  • Both walk-through and drive-through nights available

Note: Purchase advance tickets online to save money

Wild Winter Lights details

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Powell: Wildlights

  • Be mesmerized by animated lights displays set to holiday music
  • Hop aboard the magical train ride to experience the 12 Day of Christmas
  • Take a photo with Santa
  • Stroll through an indoor display of decorated Christmas trees
  • Visit Santa’s reindeer
  • Experience Rudolph in 4D
  • Take a spin on the carousel

Note: Wildlights is included with zoo admission. Reservations are strongly recommended. Additional fee for some experiences

Wildlights details

Toledo Zoo & Aquarium, Toledo: Lights Before Christmas

  • Stroll through the zoo, taking in over a million lights, including over 200 illuminated animal images
  • Zip down the ice slide
  • Take a spin on the indoor African Animal Carousel or ride the holiday train through Africa
  • Admire the model railroad from the Swanton Model Train Railroad Club
  • Be amazed at the ice carving demo

Note: Extra charge for some activities. Reservations required.

Lights before Christmas details


Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison: Zoo Lights

  • Meander among almost a million lights throughout the zoo
  • Ride the carousel to your heart’s content (unlimited rides included in admission)
  • Visit with Santa through December 23

Note: Advance ticket purchase required, with specific entry times

Zoo Lights details

Lincoln Park Zoo, Manitowoc: Lights in the Park

  • Drive-through lights display
  • One walk-through nights: November 21 and December 30 (5-8 p.m.)
  • Visit with Santa on select dates

Lights in the Park details

Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee: Wild Lights

  • Stroll along a one-mile path of animal-themed lights displays
  • Drive-thru dates: December 3, 10, 17, 18, 19
  • Several animal buildings open on select nights

Wild Lights details

If you go to a Midwest zoo holiday lights event

Disclaimer: If you plan to attend a Midwest zoo holiday lights event, check the website of the zoo you plan to visit first. Many require advanced reservations. Details may vary and schedules may change.

More Midwest holiday lights events

Some of our favorite Midwest holiday lights events, other than zoos, include the interactive Illumination at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, and the drive-through Folepi’s Winter Wonderland in East Peoria, Illinois. What’s your favorite Midwest holiday lights event? Let us know in the Comments section below.

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