Winter Holidays at Wild Lights With the Columbus Zoo
Welcome to an LED Wonderland
The Columbus Zoological Gardens and Aquarium was one of the first American zoos to decorate with lights for the Christmas and Winter Holiday Season.
Each year forward, officials have approved increasing numbers of energy-saving lights, including LED bulbs; as well as additional exhibits, events, and family-friendly activities for the cold weather season.
Number One Zoo in the USA
The Columbus Zoo was names best zoo in 2009 by the USA Travel Guide and the top zoo in the country in 2012 by Besties Readers Choice. During 2011, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums named the zoo the winner of the North American Conservation Award. In 2018, the zoo was named Best Corporation of the Year by Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council.
Bright Winter Nights for the Family
As of November 2018, the Wild Lights festival at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium reached the age of 30! Since 1988, the light shows have become bigger and better, accompanied by more music and events.
I am always excited to see the new magical venue on Riverside Drive in Powell, Ohio. The background music playing throughout the zoological gardens ranges from classic carols to Rock 'n Roll Christmas tunes to Elvis's lesser known ballads for the holiday season.
The electricity used for the event illuminates all-LED lights and is donated without cost by the City of Columbus through American Electric Power and other sponsors, the same folks who provide the lighting for city hall during the same holiday time period.
The price of entrance is only that of zoo admittance and members of the zoo enter free of charge.
Decades of Animal Fun
For three decades, this zoo program has entertained families through most of the major winter holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year's and other cultural favorites.
Safe bonfires in large barrels provide warmth, as do heated indoor exhibits and an auditorium for holiday productions. One favorite is a show put on with a happy team of dogs, cats, and other animals rescued from animal shelters.
Animals that sleep early are cordoned off from the event and never disturbed, while nocturnal animals awaken and watch us watching them.
Many American and International zoos also hold festivals of lights, so such an event may be occurring soon in your area. Our zoo in one of a collaboration of facilities that offer reciprocal memberships, so your zoo membership elsewhere may gain you entrance to Wild Lights here for free!
I have visited behind the scenes at the zoo several times - once when dear departed Colo the Gorilla was an infant. I have also visited with big cat cubs and pythons! Every department treats their animals with care and compassion, as if they were part of a family.
My Favorite Merry-Go-Round
The restored 1914 Mangels-Illions Carousel was created for Coney Island in New York City, and then operated at Olentangy Trolley Park in Columbus, but moved to the Gooding Amusement Park attached to the zoo from 1938 through the 1960s.
The wonderful carousel now provides rides to thousand of guests right in the zoo proper, including during Wild Lights.
Holiday Encounters Village
An entire village opens up from November through early January. This village includes a performance stage and auditorium for family and child-related musical and comedy acts; and offers a Reindeer Corral for you to meet Santa's sleigh-pullers.
In addition to light shows, animal performances are also entertaining throughout most evenings.
Environmental concerns are presented in an interesting "green" house open for touring, and visitors can board a holiday train for a ride.
Displays for Christmas and other holidays and special events occur in all of the zoo's habitats and the famous restored 1914 Mangels-Illions Carousel will be open for rides. It the same one I rode as a child, with the horses so tall I could not climb on by myself. Each time I see the horses I rode back then, I feel eight years old!
One thing I particularly like is that the gorillas and bonobos are on display only until 5 PM during festival evenings, so they can get a good night's sleep. Near their zoo home is a gift tree full of suggestions for gifts that the animals of the zoo would like to have, if you are inclined to help.
Festival Nights Information
For 2018 - 2019, the event will cover November 16 through January 06, to include days before Thanksgiving through Orthodox (Greek, Ukrainian, other) Christmas.
Hours for Wild Lights:
- Sundays through Thursday, 5 - 9 PM
- Friday and Saturday, 5 - 10 PM
- Closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day
Special presentations will be given during daytime hours as well as nighttime hours, including lectures with animals present, the 4D theater films, and more.
Wild Lights is a safe and entertaining place to spend a portion of New Year's Eve., so consider that option.
- Senior Days are Tuesdays: Adults ages 60+ receive half off.
- Franklin County Days: Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Franklin County residents receive half off with proof of residence.
- Military Discount: Active and Non-active duty military personnel receive a $2 discount on up to 6 tickets with a valid military ID.
- Groups of 15 or more people and school groups receive discounts as well.
- Additional special discount nights may also occur!
Distance From Major Cities to the Zoo
Distance in Miles
Columbus is served by well maintained major highways I-71, I-70, I-75, I-77, and US-23 from the large cities listed above.
John Glenn International Airport is located on the east side of our city and has added several lights per day.
Greyhound Bus routes also extend into Columbus, but Amtrac trains no longer serve our city. Many taxi cab companies, Uber, and Lyft are available quickly here as well.
Local Transportation to the Zoo is Easy
The Columbus Zoo is not on a regular daily COTA bus route, but special seasonal service is provided from November through New Year's Day, just as it is during the summer season when school is out for most youth and children in Central Ohio (Approximately mid-May though Labor Day).
COTA buses are decorated for Christmas for more fun and to be instantly recognized, but riders are given a discount for their zoo ticket, too.
If you drive to the facilities, you will find ample parking in well maintained, well lighted parking lots at a reduced rate for the light show. Tour buses are admitted free of charge.
I have visited the Wild Lights festival several times and accompanied friends and taken school groups and clubs to the event. There was always fun and a safe good time to be had.
We have always enjoyed the family-oriented activities: great music, light shows, and crafts for the kids, as well as visiting animals in their well maintained enclosures for winter or natural habitats for cold-weather. Other animals are cozy indoors.
Santa's wife, Mrs. Claus, has always set up a kitchen with tables at which children may decorate their own cookie to take home and they love it. Folks can have their picture taken with Santa or his reindeer as well.
© 2010 Patty Inglish MS