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Winter Holidays at Wild Lights With the Columbus Zoo

Welcome to a New Wonderland

The Columbus Zoological Gardens and Aquarium was one of the first American zoos to decorate with lights for the Christmas and Winter Holidays. Although the grounds were closed for many months during the Covid-19 pandemic, that well used time resulted in an even bigger, brighter Wild Lights in 2021 and thereafter.

Each year, zoo 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. In addition, pains are taken to protect animals that go to sleep early from being harmed by lights and noise, including the big apes whose exhibits are darkened and closed to the public at dusk. Nocturnal animals awaken and watch us watching them!

A sensory friendly light stroll is now offered November 16, 2021 from 6:00pm to 8:00PM nightly during the festival for those who need less noise and bright lights.

Beginning in 2021, December 3 is a free admission night in order to facilitate a major food drive to benefit the hungry. Six cans or packages of nonperishable foods donated earns a visitor one free admission!

America's Number One Zoo

With 11,000 animals embracing 600 species in several large themed exhibition areas, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has maintained its top ranking status since 2009. This includes results from several national and international ranking organizations that always highlight Jack Hanna's superhuman efforts since 1978 to revitalize and expand the zoo in order to educate as many people as possible in the importance of animals and the benefits of loving Earth's creature.

Conservation and breeding programs have produced Colo the Gorilla born in 1956 and several white tigers as well as other endangered or threatened wildlife. Some people call Jack Hanna the Steve Irwin of Ohio, but Hanna humbly worked for four decades and Steve lived only to 44,

This zoo was named best zoo in 2009 by the USA Travel Guide and the top zoo in America in 2012 by Besties Readers Choice. In 2011, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums named it the top winner of the North American Conservation Award. In 2018, the zoo was named Best Corporation of the Year by Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council.

Some people call Jack Hanna the Steve Irwin of Ohio.

Jungle Jack Hanna on a billboard outside the zoo.

Jungle Jack Hanna on a billboard outside the zoo.

Bright Winter Nights for the Family

As of November 2018, the Wild Lights festival became 30 successful years old. Since 1988, the light shows have become bigger and better, accompanied by more music and events.

I am always excited to see this new magical venue on Riverside Drive in Powell, Ohio north of Columbus. This land was proposed for a new Disneyland back in the 1970s, but fortunately for the zoo, Disney World Cleveland was opened instead. Up the road from the zoo, in Sunbury, a larger amusement park was planned in the late 2010s with the goal of becoming four times the area of Disneyland, but the groundbreaking was delayed indefinitely.

The background music playing throughout Wild Light ranges from classic carols to Rock 'n Roll Christmas tunes to Elvis's lesser known holiday ballads. New music is added each year.

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 decades, Wild Lights has entertained families through most of the major winter holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year's and other cultural favorites. Light display hours began at the close of regular zoo hours at 5:00 PM and extend through 9:00 PM daily from the week before Thanksgiving to a couple of days after New Year's.

Safe bonfires in large barrels provide warmth, as do heated indoor exhibits and an auditorium for fun holiday productions. One favorite is a show put on rescue animals - a happy team of dogs, cats, and other animals liberated from animal shelters.

Many American and International zoos hold festivals of lights, so such an event may be occurring soon in your area. Our zoo is 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 as well!

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Exhibit added in 2012.

Exhibit added in 2012.

Festival Nights Information

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

Admission Rates, Discounts, and Specials

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.

Distance From Major Cities to the Zoo

City NameDistance 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.

I have visited behind the scenes at the zoo several times - once when 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 real family.

— The Author

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.

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, with extra lighting during Wild Lights.

My horse, my old friend. This is the horse that was my favorite to ride years ago.

My horse, my old friend. This is the horse that was my favorite to ride years ago.

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 them and other animals of the zoo would like to have, if you are inclined to help.

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.


I have visited the Wild Lights festival several times, accompanied friends, and taken school groups and clubs to the event. There was always fun and a safe good time to at this holiday event.

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.


  • Chase, D.A. History of the Columbus Zoo 1927 to 1987.
  • Hanna, J.; Laukhuf, L.K. Jack Hanna: Caring for God's Creatures. Guideposts: A Practical Guide to Successful Living -; 1994.
  • Hanna, J. Monkeys on the Interstate. Plume; 1990.
  • Lyttle, J. Gorillas in Our Midst: The Story of the Columbus Zoo Gorillas. The Ohio State University Press; 1997.
  • Pimm, N.R. Colo's Story: The Life of One Grand Gorilla (Columbus Zoo Books for Young Readers Collection). The Columbus Zoo; March, 2011.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Patty Inglish MS


PoetikalyAnointed on December 06, 2018:

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 (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 29, 2017:

@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!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on November 29, 2017:

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 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on December 29, 2011:

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 from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand. on December 22, 2011:

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

Julie Grimes from Columbia, MO USA on February 01, 2011:

What great fun I bet.

Support Med. from Michigan on January 31, 2011:

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 (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 03, 2011:

I think they are all LED now.

glowires on January 03, 2011:

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

Trinsick from Cali on January 01, 2011:

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

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 31, 2010:

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 from Australia on December 30, 2010:

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

Katie McMurray from Ohio on December 30, 2010:

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 (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 07, 2010:

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

eLightSpot from Enid on December 07, 2010:

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 on December 04, 2010:

Wow, nice.

Lauretta123 from Ukr on December 02, 2010:

great party, thanks for sharingg

PatrickNormandin from New York on December 02, 2010:

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

SJKSJK from delray beach, florida on November 25, 2010:

Great lights. Love christmas linhts.

cookibuq from Ireland / Hong Kong on November 25, 2010:

Voted this up and the photos :)

improvinghomeshub from Right Here on November 25, 2010:

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

Hello, hello, from London, UK on November 16, 2010:

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

daydreamer13 on November 15, 2010:

Very cool! Thanx for sharing this!

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on November 15, 2010:

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 from Philippines on November 14, 2010:

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 (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 14, 2010:

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 from malang-indonesia on November 14, 2010:

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 on November 14, 2010:

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

Lori J Latimer from Central Oregon on November 14, 2010:

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

carrie450 from Winnipeg, Canada on November 14, 2010:

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

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on November 14, 2010:

up and beautiful. Those lights are really nice.

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