What You’ll See at the Columbus Zoo Wildlights 2020

One of Central Ohio’s most cherished holiday traditions is back for its 32nd season: Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, efficiently powered by AEP Ohio, opens to the general public on Friday, November 20 and will run through Sunday, January 3.

columbus zoo wildlights 2020

Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

This year’s Wildlights marks 32 years of offering this holiday cheer, with some favorite attractions returning and other new opportunities being offered. The entire Zoo will be transformed into a winter wonderland covered in over 3 million LED lights, and some of the main attractions include:

  • Sparkling Spruce, presented by Meyers Jewelers, featuring two animated light displays, “Candela: The Evolution of Light” and “Holiday Cheer,” located in Adventure Cove
  • Animated Light Displaysincluding “Holiday Rhythms Around the Watering Hole” at Conservation Lake, and “Jingle Ball,” presented by Nationwide, at the Shores Play Park
  • Wildlights Rides, including the Polar Bear Express, a train ride through the North America Winter Wonderland; Camel Rides, located in the North America region; and the 1914 Mangels-Illions Carousel, a historic Central Ohio treasure located near the Columbus Dispatch Charities Grand Pavilion. Additional fees may apply.
  • 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 to any timed entry reservation for Wildlights.
  • Santa Experience at Polar Frontier, located in the North America Region at the Battelle Ice Bear Outpost. Enjoy the ability to speak with Santa, as well as take part in a safe and fun photo opportunity, while still maintaining social distancing. Please see the “Know Before You Go” section below for more information. Please note that Santa will not be available after December 23 due to other obligations.
  • And, of course, amazing animals! Many animals will be visible from the comfort of heated, indoor shelters including Manatee Coast, Discovery Reef, the Naomi Coyle Dempsey Quest for Enlightenment Interpretive Center, Vanishing Giants, the Reptile Building, and Bob & Evelyn’s Roadhouse Nocturnal Building. Others—including the sea lions at Adventure Cove and, of course, the reindeer—will be outside during the festivities. Please note that some animals settle in early (such as the gorillas, bonobos and polar bears) and will not be available to view after 4 p.m.

Tours and Experiences

This year, you can add to your Wildlights experience and enjoy a unique opportunity to create family memories! Featured experiences include:

  • 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.*
  • 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 experience.*
  • Wildlights Tour: You can enjoy Wildlights after most of the other guests have left by booking a Wildlights Tour. You will be escorted around the Zoo in a VIP golf cart while snuggling up under a warm blanket with a mug of hot chocolate. It’s the perfect experience for those looking for holiday fun with family or friends.*

*Additional fees apply and advance reservations are required. For more information about these opportunities and other tours and experiences, please visit the Zoo’s website.

Columbus Zoo Wildlights 2020 Video

Know Before You Go

  • Regular Zoo hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. Wildlights activities take place Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m,. and on Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
  • The Zoo will be closed Thanksgiving Day (November 26) and Christmas Day (December 25), as well as for Wildlights on Christmas Eve (December 24).
  • Wildlights is included with Zoo admission. Regular admission rates apply to all guests, and admission is free for Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Members.
  • Please note that all Zoo visits (including for Members) will require a dated, timed ticket to help ensure that social distancing and other precautions are followed appropriately.
  • Until November 19, Members can still visit the Zoo after 2 p.m. without a timed entry/reservation. However, 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 will then be required to reserve an entry time for admission to enjoy Wildlights.
  • All of our other guests will continue to be required to make advance reservations for timed entry throughout the entire day/evening of Wildlights. No walkups will be permitted
  • All reservations can be made online by visiting the Zoo’s Re-Opening Plan.
  • This year’s Santa experience has been reimagined in accordance with Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Guests are encouraged to make reservations online for this experience. Walkups will only be permitted if there is still availability during the scheduled time slots. Each group that enters the building will not exceed more than 10 people, and each party will move through the facility following markings while remaining at least 6 feet away from other guests, the photographer and Santa. Guests will have the ability to speak with Santa while socially distanced, as well as get a photo looking out a window while Santa is in his sleigh and a few of his reindeer adorn the “housetop.” This custom-made setting was inspired by the “Up on the Housetop” song written by Benjamin Hanby in 1864. For those medically able, guests are required to wear masks at all times while indoors, except when the photo is being taken. Hand sanitizer will be available at the check-in station and at the photo sales station. Strollers will be permitted inside the building but not near the photo set. Guests are also permitted to take their own photos but only at a designated location after the professional photograph is taken. Additional fees apply for this experience.
  • For more information about Wildlights and other upcoming events please visit the Zoo’s event calendar.

Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

I actually found this year’s Wildlights experience to be more enjoyable than previous years. The reduced capacity makes it easier to enjoy the lights compared to battling crowds during the most popular time to visit. The light show around conservation lake is also running constantly, not every 20 or thirty minutes, which also helps keep guests from bunching up and crowding around the lake.

Looking Ahead to 2021 at the Columbus Zoo

Work is underway on construction of an indoor habitat for orangutans. The Columbus Zoo will be honoring Jungle Jack Hanna’s Legacy as his retirement from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium officially begins on January 1, 2021. The Columbus Zoo is also unique in that it is located adjacent to its own water park, Zoombezi Bay, the proceeds from which also support the Zoo’s operation and mission. As another way to honor Jack and to ensure that his fun spirit continues to surround everyone, plans are in the works to rename and re-theme some highlights within the park. More information will be shared ahead of the 2021 season, which is set to begin in May.

For more information about the Columbus Zoo, as well as Wildlights and other offerings during these events, please visit ColumbusZoo.org and follow the Zoo’s social media accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


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