30 Great Places to See Holiday Lights | Midwest Living
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30 Great Places to See Holiday Lights

Brighten the season with a walking or driving tour of Midwest holiday light displays. Things to do at holiday light events can include taking carriage rides, shopping and getting your photo taken with Santa.
  • The Scioto Mile-Grand Illumination, Columbus

    Ohio

    The Scioto Mile, Columbus (pictured) Along the Scioto River, golden orbs hang from open pavilions and tree branches, and circles of color dance across the base of the fountains. The recently renovated riverfront has 250,000-plus LED lights, and a curved video screen by the interactive fountain shows images synched to music, including a chorus line of dancing gingerbread men that kids can't resist joining. Free. November 17-January 31. sciotomile.com

    PNC Festival of Lights, Cincinnati Roam through the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden to see the 3 million twinkling LED lights, a puppet show, strolling entertainment and the zoo’s playful cold-climate animals. Admission charged. November 18–January 1 (closed December 25). cincinnatizoo.org

    Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill, Clifton At one of the largest water-powered gristmills, 3.5 million lights illuminate the mill, gorge, riverbanks, trees and bridges. Don’t miss the light-and-music show at the covered bridge. Admission charged. November 24–December 31. cliftonmill.com

  • Christmas at Crossroads Holiday Magic, Flint

    Michigan

    Christmas at Crossroads Holiday MagicFlint (pictured) Ride on the Huckleberry Railroad past lighted displays, then listen to costumed carolers, have a picture taken with Santa Claus and shop for crafts. Advance purchase of train tickets recommended. Weekends and selected other dates November 24–December 30. geneseecountyparks.org

    Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village, Dearborn Experience Christmas straight from a history book, including roasted chestnuts, Model T rides, lantern-lit paths and live reindeer. Advance ticket purchase is recommended. Weekends and selected other dates December 1-30. thehenryford.org

    The Big, Bright Light Show, Rochester You'll need several drives through downtown Rochester to fully appreciate the more than 1 million lights that blanket the fronts of businesses. Enjoy music and carriage rides at the opening light ceremony at Lagniappe (Creole for something given gratuitously), an event where Rochester businesses show gratitude for customer support. Free. November 21–January 7. downtownrochestermi.com 

  • Country Club Plaza Lights, Kansas City

    Missouri

    Country Club Plaza Lights, Kansas City (pictured) For generations, Kansas Citians have gathered on Thanksgiving night to watch the holiday lights flick on for the season. It's a decorating touch that lends even more romance to the beautiful Spanish-inspired architecture in this 15-block mecca of shopping and dining. Free. November 23–January 14. countryclubplaza.com

    An Old Time Christmas at Silver Dollar City, Branson The centerpiece of this 5-million-light spectacle: a 5-story Christmas tree covered in LED lights choreographed to a holiday playlist. And that's just one of 1,000 Christmas trees scattered around the park. Stick around for lighted floats at the evening Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade. Admission charged. November 4–December 30. silverdollarcity.com

    Celebration of Lights, O’Fallon Fort Zumwalt Park is merry and bright with more than a million lights. Visitors can drive through the park or, on designated nights, take carriage, train and sleigh rides. During the Old-Fashioned Holiday Stroll on December 8, walk along the illuminated route and enjoy holiday music, fireworks and foods. Admission charged. November 24–December 30 (closed Christmas). ofallon.mo.us/col

  • Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle

    Illinois

    Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle (pictured) Hug a tree to make it grow brighter, or sing to a tree and watch it change colors at this dazzling walk-through light show, which also showcases local music ensembles. Admission charged. Advance ticket purchase recommended. November 17–January 1. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas. mortonarb.org

    ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago Dazzling lights thread among animal enclosures and food stands at this free event at Lincoln Park Zoo. Skate past ponies and glide next to goats on the rink at Farm-in-the-Zoo (additional fee) before warming up in the Helen Brach Primate House to meet Santa. Select dates Nov. 24-Jan. 7. lpzoo.org

    East Peoria Festival of Lights, East Peoria Among the best drive-through holiday light displays in the Midwest, this winter wonderland enchants with huge, brilliantly colored displays that range from dinosaurs to Star Wars spaceships to horses pulling carriages. Nov. 23-Dec. 31. Admission charged. cityofeastpeoria.com

  • Bentleyville Tour of Lights, Duluth
    Courtesy of Northern Images Photography

    Minnesota

    Bentleyville Tour of Lights, Duluth (pictured) A 12-story-tall animated Christmas tree towers over one of the country’s largest free walk-through light shows (over 4 million lights) at Bayfront Festival Park. Donations of nonperishable foods and new toys suggested. November 18–December 26. bentleyvilleusa.org

    Taylors Falls Lighting Festival, Taylors Falls At 6 p.m. November 24, the village lights switch on and the parade steps off. Throughout the weekend, enjoy Christmas at the Folsom House and other decorated homes; the event also includes multiple craft fairs, a concert and a theatrical performance. Admission charged to some events. November 24–26. http://lightingfestival.com

    Kiwanis Holiday Lights, Mankato On opening night, a 6 p.m. illuminated parade leads to Sibley Park for the lighting of more than 1.5 million LED lights. Walk or drive past the display and glide on the skating rink. On weekends, take horse-drawn rides and visit with Santa. Money and canned-good donations encouraged. November 24–December 31. kiwanisholidaylights.com

  • Omaha Holiday Lights Festival, Omaha
    Courtesy of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau

    Nebraska

    Omaha Holiday Lights Festival, Omaha (pictured) Dozens of volunteers string lights to illuminate 40 blocks of downtown Omaha. Watch the lights flick on at the Thanksgiving Day lighting ceremony, then stop by the ConAgra Foods Ice Skating Rink to drop off nonperishable food donations for the Food Bank for the Heartland. Admission charged for ice skating. November 23-January 1. holidaylightsfestival.org

    Shining Light Celebration, Gothenburg More than 10,000 lights wind through the KOA campgrounds. Visit with Santa, hop on a hay ride and drink some steaming apple cider. Free. December 15–31. gothenburgdelivers.com

  • Courtesy of Alan Culley.

    Indiana

    Christmas City Walkway of Lights, Marion (pictured) “Christmas City USA” lives up to its name with this electrifying exhibit of 2.5 million lights and 120 displays, stretching nearly 4 miles along the Mississinewa Riverwalk to Matter Park. Admission charged. November 18–December 31. cityofmarion.in.gov

    Washington Park Festival of Lights, Michigan City Washington Park shines along Lake Michigan with one of the Midwest’s largest free drive-through exhibits, with 5 million lights and 50 lighted displays. Opening-night festivities include horse and buggy rides, hot chocolate and the official lighting. December 2–January 7. michigancitylaporte.com

  • Oshkosh Celebration of Lights, Oshkosh
    Courtesy of VisitOshkosh.com.

    Wisconsin

    Oshkosh Celebration of Lights, Oshkosh (pictured) Cruise the mile-long drive through Menominee Park on Lake Winnebago to see more than a million lights, animated displays and a 100-foot-tall holiday tree. Check out live reindeer at Santa’s Workshop. Admission charged. November 24–December 31. oshkoshcelebrationoflights.org

    Wisconsin Christmas Carnival of Lights, Caledonia Drive through Jellystone Park Camp-Resort (20 minutes south of Milwaukee) to observe hand-crafted displays of forest creatures, elves and Santa. The mile-long route decked with more than 1.5 million lights ends at Santa's Workshop, where you can enjoy a warming beverage and get a picture with the big man himself. Admission charged. November 25–December 31. Closed Christmas Day. (262) 835-2565; facebook.com

  • City of Christmas Display of Lights, Keokuk
    Courtesy of Noel Brown.

    Iowa

    City of Christmas Display of Lights, Keokuk (pictured) See 100 displays illuminated by 1 million lights in Rand Park. Watch for the blooming rose and poinsettia, gingerbread house, a riverboat afloat in lights and deer leaping over the road. Donations accepted. November 23–December 26. cityofchristmas.org

    Jolly Holiday Lights, Altoona Explore 2.5 miles of lighted displays as you drive along the winding roads of Adventureland Park's campgrounds while tuning into holiday music on 104.1 FM. A gift shop and Santa wait at the end. Admission proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. November 24–December 30. iowa.wish.org

  • Illuminations, Wichita
    Courtesy of Thane Rogers Photography.

    Kansas

    Illuminations, Wichita (pictured) Wander the 17 acres of Botanica, The Wichita Gardens, where luminarias line the pathways and nearly a million lights highlight the gardens, trees and musical displays in the meadows. Admission charged. November 24–December 31. botanica.org

    Isle of Lights, Winfield Thousands of lights illuminate Zooland, Toyland, Reindeer Road, Oz, Candyland and other shimmering scenes in Island Park. Horse and carriage rides are also available on Saturdays and Sundays. Donations accepted. November 19–December 30. (620) 221-2420; isleoflights.org

    Holiday Trail of Lights, Great Bend Follow the glow to Brit Spaugh Park’s Wild Lights and Veteran’s Memorial Park’s Twelve Days of Christmas drive-through displays. The trail also leads past a lighted Nativity scene. Free. November 25–December 30. greatbendks.net

  • Courtesy of South Dakota Tourism.

    South Dakota

    Christmas at the Capitol, Pierre (pictured) The 100-year-old capitol becomes a monthlong indoor forest of more than 100 trees decked by community groups. Free. November 22-December 26. (800) 962-2034; christmasatthecapitol.sd.gov

    Winter Wonderland, Watertown Drive through Stokes-Thomas City Park to see 50-plus lighted displays, trees and animated scenes. Stop and visit Santa at the end. Proceeds benefit Optimist Club youth projects. Donations appreciated. Fridays–Sundays from November 25–December 25. (605) 881-1348; facebook.com

  • Christmas in the Park, Bismarck
    Submitted by the Bismarck Sertoma Club

    North Dakota

    Christmas in the Park, Bismarck (pictured) Sertoma Park lights up each December as more than 50 displays twinkle along the 1.5-mile driving path. Keep an eye out for the largest display, a replica of the city's iconic Memorial Bridge. Proceeds go toward charitable causes in the community. November 25–December 31. noboundariesnd.com

    Spring Lake Park Holiday Lights Drive, Williston Spark your spirit on a mile-long loop through Spring Lake Park, brilliant with more than 60 lighted displays. Take a spin on the ice rink, or grab a seat on horse-drawn wagon rides. Admission charged. November 25–December 31. visitwilliston.com

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