Mark your calendar for a night of free admission to Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. From Friday, November 20, 2020 – Sunday, January 3, 2021, you can check out the Columbus Zoo Christmas lights and festivities featuring displays of millions of LED lights and holiday fun.
For one day only, you can enjoy free admission to Columbus Zoo and Wildlights with donation for the Stuff the Truck food drive!
Sparkling Spruce: The 42-ft. LED-powered tree. This 21 century tree presents the shows “Candela: The Evolution of Light” and “Holiday Cheer” featuring light and sound displays to delight visitors of all ages. The shows alternate every 30 minutes.
Holiday Rhythms Around the Waterhole: Check out the alternating animated light shows around Conservation Lake every 30 minutes.
S’mores Experience: New for 2020, this socially-distanced activity allows guests to gather around a glowing fire to roast their own giant marshmallow. After roasting, seating is available for guests to assemble their own warm and gooey s’more while taking in our animated light display from the shores of Conservation Lake. Advance purchase is strongly encouraged as space is limited. Guests can add a S’mores Experience ticket for $3.99 each to any timed entry reservation for Wildlights.
Santa Experience at Polar Frontier: Located in the North America Region at the Battelle Ice Bear Outpost. Sunday, 4 pm – 9 pm; Monday-Thursday, 5 pm – 9 pm; Friday-Saturday: 4 pm – 10 pm.
Guests can speak with Santa while socially distant at no cost. The custom-made photo set is inspired by the “Up on the Housetop” song written by Benjamin Hanby in 1864, and will show guests looking out a window while Santa is in his sleigh and a few of his reindeer adorn the “housetop.” Professional photos are available for an additional fee. These are no-contact photos, so guests will not sit on or with Santa. Guests are also permitted to take their own photos but only at a designated location after the professional photograph is taken.
For those medically able, guests are required to wear masks at all times while indoors, except when the photo is being taken. Reservations strongly recommended and expire 15 minutes after your scheduled time; walkups subject to availability. Groups limited to 10 people.
Reservations are strongly recommended; walkups subject to availability. Groups are limited to 10 guests. Please note that Santa will not be available after December 23 due to other obligations.
Animated Musical Light Shows around Conservation Lake featuring holiday rhythms. Enjoy the show every 30 minutes, starting at 5:45 p.m.
Rudolph and Friends in Asia Quest: Rudolph, Bumble, and Hermey the Elf will be hanging out for photos and fun.
Polar Bear Express Train Ride: Ride through the Winter Wonderland on the North American train tour. $2 per rider
Camel Rides: Heart of Africa will be closed, but the camels will be giving rides through the season. $7 per ride
Carousel Rides south of Shores Park: $2 per person
Santa’s Reindeer Corral
Jingle Ball Animated Light Display: Shores Play Park will illuminate with a brilliant display and holiday tunes.
4D Theater Experiences: (additional fees apply) Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Hot Chocolate will be available for purchase on those chilly evenings! Dress warm, but there are plenty of indoor holiday activities where you can warm up.
Free Admission for Wildlights with the Stuff the Truck food drive
Get free admission to Wildlights on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, when you contribute to the Wildlights Stuff the Truck Food Drive in partnership with Mid-Ohio Foodbank.
Each guest bringing 6 non-perishable food items to the Zoo will enjoy one free admission for Columbus Zoo Wildlights. Show a can at the parking booth and receive free parking as well. This is only valid on Tuesday, December 8, 2020.
You will need to bring 6 items per person for each to receive free admission.
They’ll be doubling the donation locations this year to make the entry process even easier, but recommend guests arrive as early as possible. They’ll be collecting donations with free entry as early as 10 am, with Wildlights festivities starting at 5 pm, so you can come as early as you wish to explore the Zoo.
Many animals aren’t viewable after 4 or 5 pm, so if you want to visit the animals, you’ll want to arrive earlier and stay through the evening for the Wildlights. No re-entry is required when Wildlights start for the evening.
Reservations cannot be made for free admission on Stuff-the-Truck night, but admission is limited per capacity. Free admission passes will be available on the day of the event with food donation only until they are all claimed. Reservations purchased on-line for the day of the event cannot be refunded or returned with food donation. Arrive early!
There are quite a few indoor exhibits that you can check out all evening, including Asia Quest, Discovery Reef, Manatee Coast, Reptile Building, and Nocturnal Building in Australia and the Islands. Gorillas, Polar Bears, and Bonobos are not viewable after 4 pm as they settle in for sleeping.
Zoo Hours and Special Free Admission Days
The Zoo is open until 9 pm on Sunday-Thursday, and 10 pm on Friday and Saturday during Wildlights.
If you’re a member of Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, you can check out Wildlights a day early at Member Preview Night!
The Zoo is also offering free admission to Wildlights for first responders and public safety officials, educators, and healthcare professionals on separate occasions. See full details here.
Special Free Wildlights Dates
Wildlights Member Preview Night
Thursday, November 19 is Wildlights Member Preview Night from 5 – 9 p.m. Don’t miss the Tree Lighting Ceremony of the animated 42 inch tall Sparkling Spruce. Enjoy complimentary hot chocolate and cookies at Water’s Edge Park (while supplies last), meet Character and Animal Ambassadors, plus many more activities. More details will be released closer to the event.
For Wildlights Appreciation Days below, a limited number of free tickets are available each night at the Zoo’s ticket window. You cannot make online reservations for Appreciation Days. Tickets are available for early pickup at the Zoo’s ticket window starting on December 1. Proof of employment is required. You will have to pay the $10 Parking fee for the ticket pickup, but will receive a parking credit for your future visit during Appreciation Days.
First Responder and Public Safety Appreciation Days
Saturday, December 26 – Monday, December 28, 2020 are First Responder and Public Safety Appreciation Days. All current and retired first responders and public safety personnel, plus immediate family up to 5 guests, can enjoy free admission to the Columbus Zoo and Wildlights from 10 am – close. A valid police/fire photo ID must be presented (showing proof of department of employment), or badges and credentials, plus a photo ID. Standard parking fee of $10/car applies to non-members.
Qualified personnel include firefighters, EMT/paramedics, police officers, state troopers, border patrol agents, deputies, investigators, evidence technicians, firearms examiners, crime lab technicians, 911 dispatchers, corrections officers, hand writing examiners, intelligence analysts, and investigative assistants. The number of tickets is limited due to capacity limitations. Pick up your tickets early starting December 1 to guarantee free admission. (see above statement)
Educator Appreciation Days at Wildlights
Tuesday, December 29-Thursday, December 31, 2020 are Educator Appreciation Days at Wildlights. All current and retired education personnel and their immediate family members (up to 5 guests) will get free admission to the Zoo and Wildlights for the day. Parking is $10/car for non-members.
Qualified personnel include: certified public/private preK-12 grade school teachers, teachers at licensed/registered childcare and preschool facilities, college/university faculty, and home school educators with ID and proof of intent to homeschool.
In order to receive free admission, you must provide proof of being a certified educator. Acceptable forms of verification include (1) Faculty ID (indicating that you are an educator, not “staff”), (2) OEA card, (3) teaching license or certificate, (4) pay stub, (5) letter from your school district indicating intent to home school (this is provided when you register as homeschool with your school district, which is not the same at virtual learning). The number of tickets is limited due to capacity limitations. Pick up your tickets early starting December 1 to guarantee free admission. (see above statement)
Healthcare Professionals Appreciation Days
Friday, January 1 – Sunday, January 3, 2021 are Healthcare Professionals Appreciation Day. Healthcare professionals and their immediate family (up to 5 guests) can get free admission from 10 am – close.
Qualified personnel includes surgeons, physicians, therapists, nurses, CNA’s, pharmacists, optometrists, paramedics, EMT’s, dietitians, pathologists, family practitioners, phlebotomists, vet techs, chiropractors, psychiatrists, nurse’s aides, medical assistants, and more.
A valid healthcare I.D. must be presented at the Zoo’s ticket window. The number of tickets is limited due to capacity limitations. Pick up your tickets early starting December 1 to guarantee free admission. (see above statement)
Reservation details for Wildlights (except for free admission nights)
Reservations are required for Wildlights for members and non-members, except on applicable free admission nights. Free admission nights have a limited number of tickets available per capacity, and are available at the Zoo ticket window.
Until November 19, Members can still visit the Zoo after 2 p.m. without a timed entry/reservation. Starting on November 19 (through the remainder of Wildlights), Columbus Zoo Members can enjoy the Zoo BEFORE 3 p.m. without a reservation when a valid Columbus Zoo membership card and photo ID are presented at the turnstile. After 3 p.m., Members need a reservation for admission to enjoy Wildlights.
General admission tickets for non-members MUST have a reservation from 10 am – until closing; no walk-up option available. You may arrive anytime after your reservation time, but you cannot arrive before.
This reservation policy is in place from November 19-January 3. Visit the Zoo’s reopening plan page to make reservations.