Nothing kills my Christmas spirit faster than long lines and crowds.*

Because I have some issues with masses of humanity, I have to admit that it’s been years since my last trip to the Trail of Lights. The thought of losing sight of my little kids, as they darted off in the direction of sparkly things, filled me with dread.

Due to my (mostly unfounded) skittishness, I missed out on an Austin tradition for years. I grew up in Austin – I know, it’s weird, since none of the other 742 million people who live here are from here – and we always visited the trail when I was a child. I have happy memories of twirling under the Zilker Tree, riding the Zephyr in the dark, and driving through the Trail of Lights.

This year I was invited to attend a Trail of Lights preview with the Austin Bloggers group, and I jumped at the chance. The year 2015 is my year to get over silly aversions to things like crowds.** The year 2015 is my year to introduce a new generation of Austinites to one of our treasured traditions.

Some things have changed in the three-plus decades since my last visit. For example, now you walk through the trail instead of driving. Hooray for fewer emissions! The trail looks a bit different, and the corporate sponsors are new, but in many ways I was heralded directly back to my childhood.

It was a perfect night, clear and chilly, just as I always remember it being (back before our freakish climate change was so apparent in our temps). The Austin skyline glittered in the background, making me happy to be alive and living in Austin. Who isn’t, really?

Check out some pictures, below, and please excuse the poor quality. I forgot my camera, and my iPhone is, according to my nine year old, “super old and out of date.” He asked Santa to bring me a new phone. I would love to think it’s altruistic on his part, but I know he thinks a new phone for mom equals a hand-me-down phone for kid. He is wrong. Still, I hope Santa heeds his request and brings me a phone with a decent camera.

So. Photos. And… a chance to win a ZiP Fast Pass, presented by HomeAway, that gets you into the Trail of Lights one hour before it opens to the public. Details after the photos.


Family selfie at the trail’s rainbow entrance.


This display is called “Three Trees,” though as a kid I overheard pointed out, there are actually closer to 20 trees.


Covering their heads. In case of bats. This is my favorite display on the trail: the Austin Bat Cave.


The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.


That blurry business is the Austin skyline behind the Trail of Lights.


If you’re going to the trail, you should also visit the Zilker Tree, erected on one of Austin’s famous Moontowers. If you’re feeling crazy, spin in circles while staring up into the center of the tree. (Do this before eating beignets, kettle corn, and funnel cakes.)

I know you want to go see it all for yourself now. If you also happen to have enochlophobia (fear of large crowds and gatherings of people), you need this ZiP Fast Pass. The pass is worth $15, and gets you and any children under five in at 6 p.m., one hour before the trail opens. Read more details about ZiP on the Trail of Lights ticket information page.

With the ZiP you’ll avoid long lines, see one of Austin’s best holiday sights, and make lasting family memories. The 6 p.m. entry allows you to do all of that, and get the kids home, snug in their beds, on time.

All the details you need about the Trail of Lights, like location, parking, activities, and more can be found here. The trail is open December 8-22, with free admission until the 15th. Admission costs $3 (for 12 and over) from the 16th – 22nd.

How do you win the ZiP Fast Pass? Easy, peasy. Leave a comment below telling me your favorite, holiday-season family activity or tradition.

Fine print: The winner will be picked at random, using This giveaway is open until 8 a.m., Thursday, December 10, 2015. The winner will be notified by noon CST on Thursday, December 10. If the winner cannot be contacted, another entrant will be chosen.


*Also: mean people, intolerant people, and fear-mongering.
** Will not be getting over the things listed in the first asterisk.