December's Park of the Month: The Trail of Lights

Dec 13, 2012 - 11:04 am

This weekend, Austin’s beloved Trail of Lights will ignite in all its splendor for the first time in four years. The Trail of Lights, a free festival at Zilker Park, takes visitors on a spirited, 1.25-mile holiday hike through illuminated trees, shining shapes and spotlighted displays.

The 43-year-old Austin Tradition faded in 2009 and disappeared due to City budget cuts the following year, said Jason Maurer, Sales and Events manager for the Parks and Recreation Department.

This year it was revived thanks to a co-sponsorship from the RunTex Foundation. The Foundation will cover all costs – including City staff time – and the City will waive all fees associated with the event, Maurer said. 

The fun kicks off Dec. 15 with a 5K run ($35 for adults and $15 for kids), and the festival opens for slower-moving visitors Dec. 16 to 23 (free admission!).

Also present at the festivities is the Zilker Holiday Tree – a 155-foot-tall, 180-foot-diameter lighted man-made tree. The tree consists of 3,309 bulbs on 39 streamers that are strung from one of Austin's historical Moonlight Towers. It will be on display through New Year’s Day.

“It was really the mission to be just like it was in 2008 - the traditional, remembered Trail of Lights,” Maurer said.

Parking is extremely limited at Zilker during this event, and the wait for a parking spot can be up to 45 minutes, Maurer said. Visitors can avoid this easily by biking into the park or taking advantage of shuttle routes from Barton Creek Square Mall, Krieg Softball Complex and Republic Square Park (5:30 to 10:30 p.m. daily).

The festival, originally known as Yule Fest, began in 1965 as a holiday gift from the Parks and Recreation Department to the citizens of Austin and its visitors.

The first festival lasted four days and consisted of a candlelight path, dance performances, a live nativity scene and the Yule log. The first display, "The Twelve Days of Christmas", was initially set up in Zilker Park and still holds a prominent location on the Trail every year.

In 1992, the festival was renamed the Trail of Lights.

“It’s a wildly popular event for the community, because it’s family friendly,” Maurer said. “It would meet the requirements to have what you would call a beloved tradition.”