Ah, holiday lights! It’s that magical time of year where locations across Wisconsin light up the night – and let’s face it, December nights are long – with literally MILLIONS of holiday lights, animated displays, showcases, and more. In this year of COVID, you can safely enjoy many of them from the warm comfort of your vehicle, or pop out and walk to get some fresh air and enjoy the lights and displays up close. Some are free, some charge. Some are drive-thru only, some aren’t. All, somehow, have Santa! Many open this weekend, or Thanksgiving weekend, and run generally through New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. For State Trunk Tour road trippers, we put together 10 of them for you to check out across the state:
Open: November 27 – January 1, 2021. Hours: 5pm – 10pm daily. Cost: FREE, monetary or non-perishable food item donations are encouraged. Location: Riverside Park, La Crosse (map) off U.S. 53. U.S. 14/61, Highways 33 and 35, and I-90 all bring you close.
Over THREE MILLION LIGHTS?? Yup! Wisconsin’s largest city on the Mississippi does it up as grand as the river abutting the park, not coincidentally named Riverside Park. Among the splendor at La Crosse Rotary Lights is a 140- foot Christmas tree and plenty of animated light displays. Live nativity presentation on weekends until Christmas, although the number of participants will be limited this year. Through New Year’s Day, you can drive through it and listen to the accompanying FM station for the Christmas music vibe. You can walk through or even rent a horse-drawn carriage ride to enjoy the splendor. The Chad Erickson Ice Skating Rink will be open for skating, and a new hologram display will remind you it’s the 21st century, even as many would like to forget it’s 2020. More details.
Open: November 19 – January 1, 2021. Hours: Always available. Cost: FREE, monetary or non-perishable food item donations are encouraged. Locations throughout downtown Milwaukee (map) along U.S. 18. I-43, I-94, I-794, and Highways 32, 38, 57, 59, and 145 all bring you close.
The annual Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival is “snowically-distanced” this year. It’s the 22nd year of this celebration, and once again venues across downtown will sparkle with lights and decorations, including the iconic hanging chandeliers up and down Wisconsin Avenue. Watch for massive displays up and down Wisconsin Avenue and at four parks: Zeidler Union Square west of the Milwaukee River, Cathedral Square and Red Arrow Park east of the river, and Pere Marquette Park right along the river. There’s no Jingle Bus this year, but you can drive or walk to enjoy the sights to your heart’s content. A podcast called MKE Jingle Bus Tour will even guide you through five areas of downtown to help you enjoy the lights and sights in five brief episodes, all of which you can connect to or stream directly. More details…
Open: November 27 – December 31. Hours: 5pm – 9pm. Cost: FREE, monetary or non-perishable food item donations are encouraged. Location: Evergreen Park in Sheboygan (map) along Highway 42. I-43 and Highways 23 and 28 all bring you close.
Sheboygan hosts the 9th annual Making Spirits Bright Holiday Light Show from Friday, November 27th through December 31st. This works perfectly for social distancing, since it’s entirely a drive-thru show! Making Spirits Bright takes place at Evergreen Park along Highway 42. You can enjoy a 1.1-mile route through the park, enjoying hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights in displays choreographed to music aired on the dedicated 89.1FM radio setting. The show will be open from 5:00 to 9:00 PM every day except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Donations to the Making Spirits Bright show help feed thousands of families in need in the area, so you’re helping a good cause, too! It’s just minutes off I-43. More details.
Open: November 27 – December 31. Hours: 5pm – 9pm daily. Cost: FREE, monetary or non-perishable food item donations are encouraged. Location: Wildwood Park & Zoo (map) off Central Avenue; U.S. 10 and Highways 13, 80, and 97 all bring you close.
Since 2006, Rotary Winter Wonderland has grown to reach over 1,000,000 lights along with dozens of additional displays. It takes place in Marshfield’s beautiful Wildwood Park & Zoo, were you can enjoy the drive-thru route and/or the walking route. Doing both is recommended to fully enjoy all of the lights and displays. There is no admission charge; however free will donations of food and cash are accepted to help the local food pantries and keep it running. Since it began in 2006, Marshfield Rotary Winter Wonderland has provided over 650,000 food items to food pantries in Marshfield and the surrounding area. Due to the fact that you’re driving or walking through a zoo, please don’t bring your pets unless they’ll stay inside your car for the duration. Enjoy the zoo while you’re there, or even when the Rotary Winter Wonderland isn’t taking place! More details.
Open: November 27 – January 2, 2021. Hours: 5pm – 9pm Sunday – Thursday, 5pm – 10pm Friday & Saturday. Cost: $12 adults, $10 kids 4-10, kids under 3 FREE; Military ID 50% off. Location: 710 Spring Street in Somerset in St. Croix County (map) Highways 35 & 64 bring you close.
Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour is a HUGE show that claims over SIX MILLION LIGHTS – 1.5 million more than last year – so it’s probably visible from space. Sam’s, located right along the Apple River in Somerset, features a 1/2-mile walk-through light tour, plenty of woods with trees adorned with holiday lights, a 500-foot light tunnel, and fun for all ages across 40+ acres of holiday beauty. Sam’s also features a European-style Christmas market with plenty of ideas for holiday gifts and treats, and new this year you can enjoy a 50-foot animated light tree, 25 NEW light displays, and new kids’ activities. This being 2020, COVID precautions are taken and there’s plenty of room to socially distance. Mondays and Tuesdays are “drive-thru” only for added safety; the other days are walk-thrus. Sam’s is open seven nights a week. For even more adventure, Sam’s offers S’more Cabins, which you can book for $99 and enjoy the heated cabin, a S’more kit for up to 8 people, a campfire starter kit, firewood, and even a special visit from Santa. They have 21 cabins to choose from, and you can book them on drive-thru nights. Sunday, December 13th, they’ll have a concert featuring Wisconsin’s own Chris Kroeze – calling it a “Kroeze Christmas” – with music starting at 6pm. Proceeds will benefit the #LIVIN Foundation. You’ll find Sam’s Christmas Village & Light Tour just off Highways 35 and 64 in Somerset, Wisconsin, along the Apple River in St. Croix County.. More details.
Open: November 27 – January 2, 2021. Hours: 5pm – 9pm Sunday – Thursday, 5pm – 10pm Friday, Saturday, and Holidays. Cost: $20 per carload. Location: Ingleside Hotel in Pewaukee along I-94 (map). U.S. 18 and Highways 16, 59, 83, and 164 also bring you close.
A Country Christmas celebrates its 25th year, back as big as ever, letting families enjoy everything from the safety and comfort of their cars. Enjoy unique displays and exhibits like “Bearville,” an area of the trail where you will find giant teddy bears in a church scene, plus a general store, butcher shop, and sausage factory. You can also enjoy Prairieville (Waukesha’s original name) and Old Time Waukesha miniature cities, a new holiday-themed train set display, the Streets of Bethlehem, Christmas Village, and a captivating 200-foot tunnel of 30,000 computerized, pulsating lights! You can drive, walk, or even enjoy a wagon ride through an around the expansive grounds. More details.
Open: November 21 – December 31. Hours: 5pm – 9pm Sunday – Thursday, 5pm – 10pm Friday & Saturday. Cost: $20 per carload. Location: Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Camp Resort along Highway 38 in Racine County (map) I-41/94 and Highways 32, 100, and 241 also bring you close.
Caledonia, in northern Racine County just south of Oak Creek, features the Wisconsin Christmas Carnival of Lights at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park along Highway 38. It runs Saturday, November 21st through December 31st. Every display at the Christmas Carnival of Lights is one-of-a-kind; it takes five weeks to set it all up, especially since there are now over TWO MILLION LIGHTS in the trees! You can relax in the safety and comfort of your car as you wind your way through the campground on a 1.6-mile path, with lights on all sides and high above in the trees. Check out one-of-a-kind hand-crafted displays featuring elves, reindeer, forest friends, beloved children’s characters, Santa himself and more – it’s like stepping into one of your favorite Christmas movies. You can also enjoy a separate walk-through display, Santa’s Workshop, and more. You can enjoy sleigh rides still this year, just with masks required (they’ll keep your face warmer anyway) and social distancing. New this year, you can book a ride on the Golf Cart Holiday Train for a ride through the grounds and enjoy all the spectacular sights in a way you never could before. Letters to Santa and the new “Evy the Evergreen” – a 7-foot tall, magical Christmas tree that talks, leads friends in Christmas Carols and tells stories like “The Night Before Christmas” – are also part of the family fun. The Wisconsin Christmas Carnival of Lights will partner with the Ronald McDonald House Charities for the holiday season, donating $1 per car, up to 4,000 cars. More details.
Open: Thursdays – Sundays, November 27 – December 20, plus December 26-30 and January 1- 2, 2021. Hours: 4:30pm – 9pm. Cost: Adults $10-$13, Kids $5-$8, depending on the evening. Location: Green Bay Botanical Gardens (map) on Larsen Road; I-41 and Highways 29, 32, 54, and 172 all bring you close.
The WPS Garden of Lights brings the magic to the Green Bay Botanical Garden for the 24th year. Experience more than 300,000 twinkling lights, and a spectacular array of botanical-themed light displays featuring an enchanted icicle forest, glistening flowers, a dazzling 60-foot walk-through caterpillar, and much more. The show is topped off with northeastern Wisconsin’s tallest and brightest shining tree. You can enjoy this gorgeous place on foot or on a horse-drawn wagon ride. Special features include a model train exhibit set up by the G-Gagers Train Club, a campfire for warming up, shopping for holiday gifts at the WPS Trellis Gift Shop, treats from the Winterberry Café, letters to Santa, and more. As part of COVID precautions, you’ll need to pre-buy your tickets online and arrive during the date and time frame of your tickets to help maintain proper crowd levels. Face coverings will be required for indoor facilities at the Green Bay Botanical Garden, and are recommended for outdoor areas where it may be tricky to maintain proper social distancing. You’ll find the WPS Garden of Lights inside Green Bay Botanical Garden along Larsen Road, just off Packerland Drive. It’s about a mile west of I-41, between Highway 54 and Highways 29/32. I-43, U.S. 141, and Highways 57 and 172 all bring you to Green Bay, too. More details.
Open: November 20 – January 3, 2021. Hours: 4:30pm – 9pm. Cost: $26.50/carload, other options available. Location: Boerner Botanical Gardens (map) off 92nd Street; I-41/894, I-43, U.S. 45, and Highways 24 and 100 all bring you close.
Boerner Botanical Gardens Winter Wonders Drive-Thru Holiday Light Show ushers in holiday cheer with brilliant light displays, inflatable Santas, and massive, color-changing trees as part of an international-themed drive-thru experience with OVER ONE MILLION LIGHTS! From Friday, November 20th all the way through Sunday, January 3rd in 2021 (including all holidays), you and your family and friends can enjoy holiday displays from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the United States on a 1.4-mile route winding through Whitnall Park and the grounds of the Gardens themselves. Theatrical and concert lighting effects change the colors of giant trees and bushes on the route in spectacular fashion. There’s even a mini drive-in theater! This being a drive-thru conscious of COVID-19, it’s designed to be as touch-free as possible with touchless ticket scanning upon entry through your car window and a “no contact” gift bag delivery to your vehicle. The entrance for this route is just off S. 92nd Street between College and Rawson Avenues; the address is 6751 S. 92nd Street, Franklin, WI 53132 for your GPS. It’s the same entrance as Whitnall Park Golf Course. More details.
Open: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays November 27 – December 30. Hours: 4:30pm – 8:30pm. Cost: $10 adults, $5 for kids 3 and up. Location: Rotary Botanical Gardens (map) off Palmer Drive; I-39/90, U.S. 14, U.S. 51, and Highways 11 and 26 all bring you close.
The Janesville Holiday Light Show at Rotary Botanical Gardens is an annual holiday highlight in the “City of Parks” Fridays through Sundays. Follow the illuminated garden pathways on an evening stroll through the 20-acre botanical gardens, where the wintry garden paths are brought to life with more than ONE MILLION lights, themed light displays and animations, beautifully decorated trees, dangling icicle lights hung from the tallest trees in the Garden and more. Santa makes periodic stops and they have other events like Silly Scarf Night, Holiday Sweater Night, and more. Back by popular demand are the Selfie Stops & Photo Opps, with fun props and amazing backdrops that offer holiday photo opportunities both indoors and out. You can also step inside to enjoy a warm beverage as you watch the 200′ electric model train display, hand-sewn quilts, festive local musicians and holiday shopping. This year, COVID precautions are being taken AND they’re offering extended hours so more people can visit but still do so safely, with distancing. Masks are required for the indoor and most of the outdoor areas. Parking on the grounds is free, and an overflow lot nearby offers a free shuttle. More details.
Open: November 26 – January 1, 2021. Hours: 7am – 9:30pm. Cost: FREE. Location: Irvine Park (map) off Highway 124; U.S. 53 and Highways 29 and 124 all bring you close.
The Chippewa Falls Christmas Village, in beautiful Irvine Park, is an impressive display of life size Christmas scenes reminiscent of the Victorian era and local historical replicas. It is set up during the holiday season along with a dazzling display of over 100,000 lights. It’s been running since 1987 and continues to grow with community support. You can drive through the light displays, the special Community Tree, a historical Christmas Village display on opening night, and the return of holiday music playing throughout the Christmas Village. You can drive through it for $10 per carload, and donation of a non-perishable food item knocks a dollar off of that. Irvine Park itself is a wonder any time of year, and the free Irvine Park Zoo has a great variety of animals to see and learn about. The Leinie Lodge at the headquarters of Leinenkugel Brewing Company is just across the street, too! More details.
Open: November 27 – January 2, 2021. Hours: 5:30pm – 9:00pm daily. Cost: $10, $1 off with a non-perishable food item donation. Location: Menominee Park (map); I-41, U.S. 45, and Highways 21, 26, 44, 76, and 91 all bring you close.
Menominee Park brilliantly lights up the Lake Winnebago coast in Oshkosh with a 1.2-mile stretch of illuminated holiday wonder. A 100-foot tree, sculptured scenes, twinkling animated light displays and accompanying holiday music makes this part of Oshkosh magical during the holidays. You can even take a carriage ride through the grounds! Santa will be in his Workshop in a non-contact environment November 27 – December 23 from 5:30 – 9:00 pm. Christmas Eve he will be out with his reindeer delivering presents. General Admission per carload is $10.00 with $1.00 off for a non-perishable in-date food donation. Food pantries across the area – scheduled by United Way – benefit from Celebration of Lights, so you’re helping for the holidays, too! Oshkosh Celebration of Lights is open every day, 5-9pm. I-41, U.S. 45, and Highways 21, 26, 44, 76, and 91 all bring you to Oshkosh. More details.
Open: November 26 – January 1, 2021. Hours: Dusk – 11pm Daily. Cost: FREE. Location: Lakeside Park (map); I-41, U.S. 45, U.S. 151, and Highways 23 and 175 all bring you close.
At the southern end of Lake Winnebago (hence the city name of “Fond du Lac,” French for “bottom of the lake”) you’ll find another dazzling holiday lights show. Lakeside Park, which consists of the city of Fond du Lac’s shoreline along the state’s largest lake, hosts the Lakeside Park Holiday Light Show with thousands of lights, animated scenes, and holiday music. They even have some featured lit-up trees that will dance to 20 minutes’ worth of holiday songs that you can tune into on your radio! More details.
Open: November 27 – December 29. Hours: 5:00pm – 8:00pm Thursday, Friday, and Saturday through December 12; every day from December 17 – December 29. Cost: $5 per car. Location: Lincoln Park Zoo (map); I-43, U.S. 10, U.S. 151, and Highway 42 all bring you close.
Every holiday season, Lights In Lincoln Park at Manitowoc’s Lincoln Park Zoo dazzles with a “twinkly bright drive-thru wonder.” Along with beautiful lights on trees, trellises and more, enjoy over 70 wild animal light displays, many with animated characters. Among them is animated elephant, a wood duck, a standing polar bear, an animated wolf, and whispering pine tree… just to give you an idea of what you’ll get to enjoy. This is the 9th annual Lights in Lincoln Park and they manage to add new features every year. More details.
Open: November 7 – January 3, 2021. Hours: 4:30pm – 10:00pm daily. Cost: FREE. Location: Olin Park (map); U.S. 12, U.S. 14, U.S. 18, and U.S. 151 all bring you close.
Madison’s beautiful Olin Park not only offers a view of downtown and the Capitol year ’round, but the Holiday Fantasy in Lights now through January 3, 2021. It’s a COVID-safe, beautiful drive through a series of light displays. Volunteers are available to guide you through the displays, too.
You can access the lights just off John Nolen Drive, which connects the Beltline (U.S. 12/18) with the isthmus via a scenic causeway cutting across Lake Monona. Just turn east on Olin Turville Court, just off John Nolen. More details.