Illuminating Austin: Trail of Lights returns

Lights of every shape and color will illuminate Zilker Park this winter with the triumphant return of the Trail of Lights, one of Austin’s most beloved holiday traditions. From Dec. 16 to 23, the trail returns much bigger and better after a two-year hiatus.

Originally named “Yulefest,” the trail has served as a yearly custom since its start in 1965. However in 2009 the city fell on hard economic times, and the trail was significantly reduced and ultimately eliminated in 2010. “The Austin Trail of Lights is a celebration rich in tradition, shared stories and community,” said Courtney Campbell, social media manager at Forefront Austin, a digital media and marketing company helping to organize this year’s event. “It connects us to all that is great about our community, no matter how much we grow and change. Austinites have missed this opportunity [since its elimination] to connect with each other and celebrate our community advancements,” she said.

Luckily local businesses and nonprofit organizations recognized the importance of the event and jumped in to bring the trail back to the city. The RunTex Carrozza Foundation and Forefront Austin are producing the event and “are raising more than $1 million to re-illuminate the trail, keep it a free event and provide economic sustainability for future years,” Campbell said. Powered by H-E-B, the event is also corporately sponsored by businesses such as Dell, Samsung, Seton Healthcare Family and Vista Equity. Thanks to their support, no city funds will have to be used this year. “Cross-community support from businesses, foundations and individuals make this an event truly for, by and of Austin,” Campbell said.

In the past as many as 250,000 people traveled to see this sea of spectacular holiday lights. This year could bring even more visitors, with the trail promising to be bigger than ever. Guests can expect 1.25 miles of every-color lights, Santa's house and a nonprofit village featuring 23 local area organizations, musicians, carolers and dancers, Campbell said. The event also includes theme nights ranging from School Spirit Night to Military Appreciation Night.

“I’m really glad they brought this tradition back to Austin,” said UT senior Anna Godwin. “It’s a great way to celebrate the holidays when you’re away from your home and family. By combining the company of my friends and the Trail of Lights, it really feels like the holidays.”

Eeach young attendee will receive a free book as a part of H-E-B’s Read 3 children’s literacy program, which encourages reading to children three times a week. The program strives to help children develop the reading skills necessary to succeed in school by providing them with books, according to the program’s website.

The Trail of Lights runs nightly from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public. Hot chocolate, apple cider and great eats from local food trailers are available for purchase at the event.

“Austin is known for throwing parties for the rest of the world,” Campbell said. “This is a party we throw for ourselves. Everyone needs a chance to join in, celebrate the past year and connect for a positive new year.”