Wildlights is back at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium this year as a fantastic holiday tradition, and you won’t want to miss this event powered by AEP Ohio.
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. Now in its 32nd year, Wildlights just keeps getting better and better!
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.
NOTE: Starting Monday, November 16, to enter the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, The Wilds and Safari Golf Club, if you are medically able and 10 years old and older, you are required to have a mask that covers your nose, mouth and chin. In addition, please adhere to social distancing and stay 6 feet from other people who are not from your household.
Regular zoo admission rates apply; free for Columbus Zoo and Aquarium members.
Admission $21.99 adult, $16.99 children 3-9 and adults over 60. Franklin County residents receive a $5 discount with valid driver’s license, state-issued ID or a current utility bill. Purchase tickets online to save $1 (plus save time at the gates – can show admission on your smartphone). Parking is $10/car, free for members. Now is a good time to invest in a membership!
These make great gifts or holiday experiences with families or friends!
Reindeer Encounter – NEW for 2020! Enjoy an up-close experience with the Zoo’s adorable reindeer! During this exclusive opportunity, guests will spend time with the Animal Care team while visiting the reindeer in their habitat to learn more about the care and conservation of this species. Experience is approximately 30 minutes. $99 per person; includes admission reservation, but does not include admission to the Zoo.
Wildlights Sea Lion Encounter – NEW for 2020! Join some of the newest faces at the Zoo for a special Wildlights Sea Lion Encounter! Learn about this outgoing species, as well as other opportunity in Adventure Cove, and don’t forget to smile! Your sea lion encounter includes one 5” x 7” souvenir photo to take home as a memory of this special 20 minute experience. $50 for a maximum of 4 guests; includes admission reservation, but does not include admission to the Zoo.
Private after-hours tours are available to enjoy Wildlights without the crowds. You’ll enjoy the sights and sounds of Wildlights as your ride on a golf cart through the Zoo. You’ll make some stops to visit animals at preselected areas of the Zoo during the 1 hour, 45 minute excursion. These tours are a splurge, but make a great date night, special occasion, or memorable family holiday events. Admission to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is NOT included. However, you do NOT need to purchase a timed ticket online or make a member reservation prior to your visit. Bring your confirmation to our Ticket Sales window upon arrival to purchase admission or present your membership card. Reservations are limited and must be made 3 days in advance.
- $250 for up to 4 person cart
- $350 for up to 6 person cart
- $550 for up to 10 person cart
Other special experience tours that may be available before, during, and after Wildlights season include,
- Elephant Bath Experience
- Chatting with Cheetahs
- Okapi Encounter
- Behind the Marina Sea Lion Tour
- Red Panda Experience
- Animal Programs Tour
- Animal Health Center Tour
- Jack Hanna’s Animal Encounters Village Tour
Important – Reservation requirements!
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.
Read below for special Wildlights dates with free admission. Due to the limited number of tickets available for the free employment appreciation nights, it’s recommended you pick these up at the Zoo ticket window as early as December 1. Proof of employment required.
Columbus Zoo Christmas Lights Wildlights Hours
Zoo opens daily at 10 am, and you can stay for Wildlights for as long as you like after visiting the animals. Reservations required; see above.
Many animals will be inside during Wildlights, so arrive earlier in the day if you wish to view the animals; all-day admission is included. Some of the animals may be available for indoor viewing after dark in select regions including Asia Quest, Shores Region, and the Noctural Building. These building also provide a warm respite from whatever the Ohio weather throws at us.
Please note the Zoo is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
Special Wildlights Dates and free admission to Wildlights for Appreciation Days
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.
Tuesday, December 8 is the Stuff a Truck Food Drive – Bring 6 cans of food per guest for free admission and parking. They will be collecting cans as early as 10 am, so you can arrive early and stay all day to enjoy Wildlights. Reservations aren’t required for free admission, but a limited number of tickets are available upon arrival at the Zoo. Arrive early!
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)