One of the state’s most fanciful — and dazzling — holiday experiences, ZooLights features more than 1.5 million twinkling, colorful lights strung throughout Portland’s beloved 64-acre Oregon Zoo.
A wintertime tradition for more than three decades, the festival kicks off November 21, 2018, and runs through January 5, 2019. Throughout the season, multicolored lights are strung through the zoo’s treetops and hedges in the shapes of every imaginable animal, from burly hippos and elephants to leggy flamingos, playful monkeys and towering giraffes. And although most of the zoo’s actual animal enclosures are closed for the evening, you may see a few creatures during your zoo stroll. And you can always buy a ticket during regular daytime zoo hours, in order to see more animals, and you’re then welcome to stick around for ZooLights — but note that once you leave the zoo, you won’t be permitted back for ZooLights without buying a new ticket.
During this wildly popular festival, the old-fashioned zoo train — also festooned with lights — offers six-minute rides ($4 per ticket) throughout the grounds, and Santa is on hand (on the nights up until Christmas) to mingle with young ones, who also enjoying taking rides on the zoo’s old-fashioned carousel ($3 per ticket). Concessions dispense treats for kids and adults — nachos, pizza, hot cocoa, beer — and you can also buy dinner fare at food trucks from Olympia Provisions, Koi Fusion and several other Portland restaurants.
Although the Oregon Zoo is conveniently located just off of U.S. 26 at Southwest Canyon Road, the best way to reach the facility and avoid having to find parking is by taking the MAX light-rail train. The Red and Blue lines stop at Washington Park Station — en route between downtown and Beaverton — from which elevators whisk passengers 260 feet to the surface, just steps from the zoo entrance. Visitors arriving by MAX receive $5 off ZooLights admission ($1.50 off during Value Nights), which is $17.95 for adults and $12.95 for kids ages 3 through 11 (children under 3 are free). Ticket prices are discounted by $5 on Value Nights. ZooLights hours are 5 to 9 p.m. (5 to 8 p.m. on Zoo for All and Value nights), and the grounds remain open until an hour after the gates close. ZooLights is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as during the BrewLights festival on November 27 and 28, 2018.