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Winter Holidays at Wild Lights With the Columbus Zoo

Updated on December 5, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has spent 30 years working in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.


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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
One of the newer light sculptures at our zoo.
One of the newer light sculptures at our zoo.
One of the newer light sculptures at our zoo. | Source

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.

Exhibit added in 2012.
Exhibit added in 2012. | Source

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.

An old friend, this is the horse that was my favorite to ride years ago.
An old friend, this is the horse that was my favorite to ride years ago. | Source

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.

Admission Discounts and Specials

  • 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!

O'Shaughnessey Dam :
O'Shaughnessy Dam, Ohio, USA

get directions

Columbus Zoo & Aquarium and Zoombezi Bay and The Water Hole (African Animals):
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, 9990 Riverside Dr, Powell, OH 43065, USA

get directions

Distance From Major Cities to the Zoo

City Name
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.

The entire landscape fo the zoo is covered in lights such as these.
The entire landscape fo the zoo is covered in lights such as these. | Source


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


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    • profile image


      23 months ago

      Hi Patty,

      This is a Great Hub for the Season! Having the LED Lights is a Genius idea and we can all appreciate the Beauty of them. I love the theme...Wild Lights, like Wild Life.

      I can feel the love and adoration that you have for this place here. I'm sure it's full of nostalgia...that's a blessing to still have such a happy place around for you and yours.

      Thanks for sharing your story and enlightening us about the zoo.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      2 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      @Patricia Scott - You remind me of the 1/4 size holiday train near Frankenmuth, Michigan! It is a shorter ride, but fun; and I'd like to ride that train in Georgia. The zoo exhibit is huge this year, with different music playing in the sections of the zoo park. The administration is kind and closes off the great apes exhibits at dusk so the inhabitants can sleep in peace.

      Merry Christmas to you!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      2 years ago from North Central Florida

      It sounds like a spectacular event. I travel to some light displays in nearby towns here and adore them every year. When I was still living in Georgia we would travel about 2 hours away to ride through on a small train to view miles and miles of amazing lights set to music. There is just something so very special about the whole experience. Angels are on the way to you today ps pinned

    • stars439 profile image


      8 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Wonderful hub. Maybe Joann, and Becky, and I will visit a zoo again one day. We love animals a whole lot. I especially love the colors on Bengal Tigers. Beautiful cats. God Bless You, and your hubs are interesting, and educational.

    • natures47friend profile image


      8 years ago from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand.

      Amazing in a zoo....great photos...up, awesome. Merry Xmas.

    • IntimatEvolution profile image

      Julie Grimes 

      9 years ago from Columbia, MO USA

      What great fun I bet.

    • Support Med. profile image

      Support Med. 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      Beautiful and looks like lots of fun while serving a good purpose. Hope ours will be one of the cities the Wild Life Festival comes to, but Ohio is not that far away, Hmmm. I'll have to keep that in mind. Voted and rated.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I think they are all LED now.

    • glowires profile image


      9 years ago

      Very cool. Was that just LED Lights, or did they use EL Wire in there as well?

    • Trinsick profile image


      9 years ago from Cali

      I've never seen anything like this before, very creative. I'll have to suggest this to our local Zoo!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      It is a fabulous sight! I think they do a very effective job caring for the animals, too. Katie, and am glad you were able to attend; thanks for posting.

      dobo700 - It's one of the best winter attractions, I think. Does your local zoo do light shows? Perhaps they will in the future. Happy New Year!

    • dobo700 profile image


      9 years ago from Australia

      Looks like a fantastic sight. Wish I could get there.

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      9 years ago from Westerville

      We were just there last night and it was wonderful. We saw several animals in hibernation. I'm so proud of our Zoo! GREAT review of one of our many qualities here in Columbus Ohio! :) Katie

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      It is beautiful and awesome and they add new lights every year. I will be attending soon!

    • eLightSpot profile image


      9 years ago from Enid

      That is so creative! I wish all zoos would be this festive around the holidays! They definitely went above and beyond making their christmas lights into animals! Great job guys! Keep it up!

    • Albertttt profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow, nice.

    • Lauretta123 profile image


      9 years ago from Ukr

      great party, thanks for sharingg

    • PatrickNormandin profile image


      9 years ago from New York

      These lights are amazing! I love your shots as well as your hub :)

    • SJKSJK profile image


      9 years ago from delray beach, florida

      Great lights. Love christmas linhts.

    • cookibuq profile image


      9 years ago from Ireland / Hong Kong

      Voted this up and the photos :)

    • profile image


      9 years ago from Right Here

      Wow! My wife would be in heaven! She would love to see something like that.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      The pictures are wonderful and it must be a real experience to see it in reality. Thank you for sharing.

    • daydreamer13 profile image


      9 years ago

      Very cool! Thanx for sharing this!

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      9 years ago from TEXAS

      Makes me wish I lived nearer. Well, my daughter and her family live in Indiana, not too far from Columbus. I must mention it to her, in case she's not aware of it! Thank you for a beautiful and valuable piece of information!

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      Wow! This looks so beautiful!

      I always love looking at lights! I love it especially during Christmas time because that's when all the lights are lit!

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      This zoo adds more features every year and has 100s of acres yet to fill. The lights are beautiful and bring many people out to see the animals, which helps support the important endangered-species work the zoo does.

      I think Jack Hanna's wife and daughter are working more closely with him on and off screen since Steve Irwin died, spending more time together as family and giving that family spirit to the zoo. It wsa heartwarming to see them visit Terri, Bindi and Bob Irwin not too long ago and the energy is infectious. Wild Lights is a happy festival.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      9 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I am glad to know this, Patty. I'll put this zoo on my travel list, especially in winter. I love snow. Good information from you. Rating up.


    • Kim Lynn profile image

      Kim Lynn 

      9 years ago

      Looks beautiful, makes me want to visit the Columbus Zoo. Thanks!

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 

      9 years ago from Central Oregon

      Beautiful and enjoyable. Voted up as well. Support your local Zoo! Thanks for sharing this with us

    • carrie450 profile image


      9 years ago from Winnipeg, Canada

      Very nice hub Patty. Such pretty lights. Must be so nice to see in person.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      9 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      up and beautiful. Those lights are really nice.


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