Holiday lighting displays sit firmly in Colorado’s cultural wheelhouse, given that they’re outdoors, family friendly and rooted in exploration.
And while we’re still waiting on those ski-through and ziplined lighting displays (that’s a free idea, immersive-entertainment producers!), this year offers refreshed holiday splendor in the form of parades and tree lightings — all ages and largely in the open air — to get us back in a festive mood.
Most events are, as you’ll quickly notice, limited in hours and slightly more expensive than in 2021.
With few exceptions, events are timed and ticketed, although mask mandates that governed health and safety regulations at events last year are almost entirely gone. Many do not offer on-site ticket sales, and the biggest ones are likely to sell out in the coming week or two (some, such as Blossoms of Light, are disappearing incredibly fast).
Check each event’s website before attending, and bring masks just to be safe.
With that in mind, here are 10 of the biggest metro-area holiday lighting displays, with an interactive map at extras.denverpost.com/holiday-lights. Public tree lightings are free. Admission to the rest varies by location; see links for details.
9News Parade of Lights
Where: Denver City and County Building, 1437 Bannock St., Denver
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3
Price: Free along the route (see below). Grandstand tickets at the staging area are $40 for adults; 2 and under free.
A brand new, 2-mile fun run and costume contest are set to kick off the 48th annual festivities on Dec. 3. Returning? Miles of holiday-themed floats (40 in all), colorful characters such as Santa and Major Waddles, giant helium-filled character balloons, marching bands and twinkling lights along festive downtown streets. Spots along the route may fill up quickly due to the fact that they’re free, with about 300,000 attendees expected for this year. The parade will also be simulcast on 9News starting at 6 p.m. Dress for the weather!
The 2-mile route starts at Denver City & County Building, 14th and Bannock streets, then travels up Tremont Street to 17th Street where it goes northwest for several blocks before turning onto Arapahoe Street, organizers said. The parade then loops back on 15th Street to Glenarm.
Denver Zoo Lights
Where: Denver Zoo, 2300 Steele St., Denver
When: 5:30-8 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 5:30-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Members-only through Dec. 2; opens to the public Saturday, Dec. 3-Jan. 15, 2023, low-sensory night Dec. 31
Price: $25 for adults and seniors; $15 for children ages 3-11; free for kids 2 and under
Contact: 720-337-1400 or denverzoo.org/events/zoolights
Rivaled only by Denver Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light, this huge stationary display takes advantage of the sprawling City Park zoo location with live ice carving, seasonal craft cocktails and treats, and nighttime animal viewing (interactive experiences are available) along with, you know, the 1 million or so twinkling LED lights.
Many weekend dates are sold out, and the rest of them will be soon. Prepare for scant parking and lines. Once you’ve started exploring the 80-acre display, snap a pic or three in front of zoo’s signature animal light sculptures or (as is my family’s favorite) take a spin on the vintage carousel.
A Hudson Christmas
Where: Hudson Gardens & Event Center, 6115 S. Santa Fe Drive, Littleton
When: Limited dates, 5-9 p.m. Nov. 25-Dec. 31
Price: $20 (adults), $17 for kids 4-12, free for children 3 and under
This year’s “lighted forest of towering trees” looks to be as popular as ever, with holiday songs encouraging singing and dancing in a dedicated grove of Christmas trees, giant snowmen and glowing reindeer, and an eye-popping holiday light tunnel. Don’t forget to grab a cup of hot cocoa to warm your hands (or at least placate the kids).
Luminova at Elitch Gardens
Where: Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park, 2000 Elitch Circle, Denver
When: 5-10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25-Jan. 1, 2023
Price: $25 (plus $8 processing fee)
Contact: 303-595-4386 or elitchgardens.com/luminova-holidays
Denver’s Elitch Gardens theme park digs even deeper into the holiday-lights landscape with an updated Luminova, a big-budget display that features more than 4 million lights, a 65-foot-tall Christmas tree, a 25-foot-tall snowman (that never melts, of course), a 300-foot-long candy cane tunnel, giant ornaments, a wall of lights, rides on limited Elitch Gardens attractions, train rides for the kids, Santa and his elves, and more (phew). Your kids are going to freak.
Olde Golden Candlelight Walk, Parade
Where: 809 15th St., Golden
When: 6:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 2; parade at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 10
Where: Washington Avenue, from 15th Street in front of Foothills Art Center to 10th Street
Price: Free (candles available for sale at local vendors)
Contact: 303-279-2282 or visitgolden.com
This year marks the 100th anniversary (!) of Golden’s traditional holiday lighting and candlelit walks. The first of those arrives on Dec. 2, with holiday revelers strolling Washington Avenue, holding candles and singing carols — “maybe even stopping for warm cider and hot chocolate along the way,” organizers said. Golden’s Holiday Parade also returns Dec. 10 with marching bands, floats, horses, Victorian carolers, antique cars, elves, Buffalo Bill, the Grinch, fire trucks, and Santa’s visit.
More than 45,000 holiday lights will illuminate Golden’s downtown as well as the trees, bridges and walkways along Clear Creek, while nearby, the Colorado Railroad Museum will be lit by the headlamp of its steam locomotive, as the Polar Express once again steams through the night, bringing kids and Santa to the North Pole, according to Golden officials. Yee-haw!
Trail of Lights at Chatfield Farms
Where: Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms, 8500 Deer Creek Canyon Road, Littleton
When: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Nov. 25-Dec.11, and nightly Dec. 16-Jan. 1, 2023 (closed Christmas)
Price: $16 for adults and kids; $12 for kids ages 3-15; free for 2 and under
Contact: 720-865-3500 or botanicgardens.org
The Chatfield location of Denver Botanic Gardens gets back into the seasonal spirit with its outdoorsy version of a lighting display. Walk just under a mile to see the illuminated cottonwoods, box elders and pine trees that wind through Green Farm, Crossroads, Deer Creek Discovery Children’s Play Area and 1880s Hildebrand Ranch homestead. (There is the option of a shorter path.)
There’s also music in a children’s play area, “singing” Christmas trees, a pair of three-sided light tunnels, and seasonal food and drink. It debuts Friday, Nov. 25, but many times and dates are already sold out.
Where: Heritage Lakewood Belmar Park, 801 S. Yarrow St., Lakewood
When: 5-9 p.m. through Dec. 26
Price: $14, with package options, food and drink for purchase
Contact: 303-987-7850 or camp-christmas.com
Holiday programming continues to trend toward the immersive, art-and-entertainment experiences embodied by Meow Wolf and the glut of touring, digitally-driven fine-art shows that come to town. But Denver interactive-art pioneer Lonnie Hanzon’s Camp Christmas is a selfie-heaven all its own, having grown from an indoor romp in Aurora to a 6-acre, mostly outdoor fever-dream in Lakewood, and opened to acclaim again on Nov. 17.
This year’s version features three themed bars and special cocktails, a kiddie carousel, audio tours, Santa pic tickets and more. The curation is as self-aware and savvy as ever, heaping gobs of music, lights and old-school decorations on surreal, interactive features.
Ice! at Gaylord Rockies
Where: Gaylord Rockies Resort, 6700 N. Gaylord Rockies Blvd., Aurora
When: Various times and attractions, through Jan. 1, 2023
Price: $20-$36 for Ice!, with package options and other events
Contact: 720-452-6900 or christmasatgaylordrockies.marriott.com
If you’ve been wondering why the story of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” hasn’t yet been told through ice sculptures — and who isn’t? — Gaylord Rockies is hewn for you. Back after a two-year hiatus, its massive Ice! celebration features carvings made from 2 million pounds of ice by 40 ice artisans. The 17,500-square-foot attraction stays frozen thanks to a state-of-the-art chilling system that maintains temperatures at a frosty 9 degrees Fahrenheit, according to producers.
There is a lot more on-site — two-story-tall ice slides, ice tunnels, arches, a Nativity scene and various festive extras (snow tubing, ice skating, kid’s crafts, Santa visits, etc.)