Road Trip: The 5 Biggest Holiday Light Displays in America

‘Tis the season for holiday light tours, where you can view thousands of twinkling lights and giant, animated reindeer from the comfort of your automobile. Whether you find these roadside displays beautiful or as tacky as a plastic leg lamp, they’ve become a much-loved tradition. Here’s a look at five of the biggest, most festive, holiday light events from across the country.

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1. Oglebay Festival of Lights – Wheeling, WV

Hosted by the Oglebay Resort, the Festival of Lights is one of the biggest holiday lights displays in the country. The six-mile drive boasts more than a million LED lights across 300 acres. Cruise beneath the 300-foot Rainbow Tunnel, view a Peanuts display donated by the family of Charles Schulz, and wonder at the 60-foot-tall candles set in a poinsettia wreath.

2. Bright Nights at Forest Park – Springfield, MA

The number of cars that have visited Bright Nights at Forest Park since its inception in 1995 could stretch from Springfield, Massachusetts to California. But don’t let that discourage you from visiting! Enjoy three miles of lights, featuring a Victorian village, Jurassic Park, and Seussland, along with displays for Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.

3. East Peoria Festival of Lights – East Peoria, IL

The East Peoria Festival of Lights kicks off with a parade of eye-popping floats in late November. The lighted floats are then on drive-through display, along with other animated scenes, in nearby Folepi’s Winter Wonderland. The largest float is a 160-foot steam engine featuring 65,000 lights. Other favorites include a steam-breathing Chinese dragon, the Star Trek “Enterprise,” and a larger-than life team of clydesdale horses pulling a wagon.

4. Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park – Spanaway, WA

Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park is a cooperative effort between local schools and the county’s parks and recreation department. The annual display is in its 22nd year and is one of the largest displays of its kind in the northwest. Visitors will “ooh” and “aah” at nearly 300 light displays as they wind their way along the two-mile drive. Scenes with a giant dog and a ship sailed by a crew of elves will delight all ages.

5. Christmas in the Smokies – Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN

(Update: Some of this area is currently suffering from damage from wildfires. Please hope the best for the people who are rebuilding there and make sure to visit their website for updates on recovery efforts.)

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are well-known for their bright lights and attractions, not to mention stellar views of the Great Smoky Mountains. They also spend November through February, draped in mile-after-mile of twinkling holiday lights. Gatlinburg recently spent more than $1.6 million to enhance their holiday displays and convert to LED lights. (The city now powers the full 120-day celebration with what it previously cost for three days.) Expect displays evoking winter romance and nature with Gatlinburg’s Winter Magic, and don’t miss the centerpiece of Pigeon Forge’s Winterfest, the aptly named Patriot Park.

What to know

  • Take a moment to review each festival’s posted guidelines, which may include requests to dim your headlights so visitors can fully appreciate the displays.
  • If you want to linger at a display, pull to the side to allow others to pass.
  • To avoid the long lines, visit during weeknights and earlier or later in the evening.
  • Watch for discounted tickets and special events associated with each festival.

Does your area host a drive-through, holiday lights festival that would make Clark Griswold salivate? Leave us a comment with all the details.

 

 

Comments

  1. GREG T POLOVICK says:

    How did the area of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge fair as for the wild fires relating to the Christmas light shows?

  2. You HAVE to include Fantasy in Lights At Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA. Not too far off of I-85, an easy drive from Atlanta. The ticket includes admission into the beautiful gardens/park. Lights start after Thanksgiving and end at the close of Dec. Riding on the jolly trolley is the ONLY way to experience the magic!!
    Weather is often mild so going early to enjoy the activities before dark is a must! Free birds of prey show, bikes to rent, golf/tennis, hiking and shopping at the big Christmas village inside the circus tent. Lots of good food.
    This has been our family tradition for years!

  3. “LIGHTS ON THE LAKE” is located right on the shores of Lake Erie in Ashtabula, Ohio. The beautiful Lake Shore Park has hosted this event for the last 11 years displaying 70 displays.
    Open each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through New Years. http://www.aclotl.com

  4. St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bel Air MD hosts a display of 85,000 lights set to music. Come and park to view any of the Four 12-minute sets. Over 5000 cars visited in 2015 and the number of lights and visitors grows each year. Cookies and cocoa on Friday and Saturday nights are available inside as well as a train garden. Address is 1200 Churchville Rd, Bel Air, MD 21014. Admission is free.

  5. How about McAdenville, NC better know as Christmas Town USA?

  6. St Augustine Nights of Lights should qualify!!!

  7. St Augustine, Florida……

  8. Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, Florida. Pretty neat

  9. See the 7 miles of drive-thru Magical Nights of Lights at Lake Lanier Islands, Buford, GA. It ends at Santa’s Village, and the Islands have a Winter Adventure of snow play zones, slides, skating, and carnival rides, and more. Get more info at https://lakelanier.com/magical-night-of-lights/

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