The Albuquerque River of Lights has provided sparkling fun in Albuquerque since 1997. Each year, volunteers create new sculptures to add to the light displays found throughout the Botanic Gardens. Watch running animals, twirling snowmen, Snoopy on the garden train, and all the decorated objects found in the gardens.
The 2016 River of Lights runs from Saturday, November 26, 2016 through December 30, 2016 and is closed December 24 and 25.
There are nearly 400 light sculptures, and for each season, some new sculptures will be on display.
Tickets can be purchased from any ABQ BioPark cashier during regular hours, 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. daily, at the gate beginning at 5:30 p.m., or online. Group discounts are available for groups of 50 or more. Call (505) 764-6212 to purchase group tickets. Tickets become available in November.
Adults (13+) $12
Children (3-12) $6
Babies under 3 are free
Group discounts are available when you buy 50+ tickets (10% off) and when more than 100, 20% off.
Hours: 6 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
What to Expect
The River of Lights provides a place to enjoy the holiday season. In addition to the light sculptures which visitors can walk through, there is always something else going on. You'll find carolers and singers, a snowman display house, and the chance to have Supper with Santa.
Visiting the River of Lights is fun for the entire family.
Each year, the River of Lights has new sculptures on display. Over 400 displays will dazzle and glow to become larger than life displays. Some displays are animated, others in 3D. The display is based in a botanic garden, so there are plants such as cactus and yucca, but there are also spiders, birds, zoo animals and trucks.
Some glow with a steady light, others blink on and off. Some sculptures seem to move. The displays expand every year, some life sized, and others larger than life. All are fun.
Live entertainment takes place each night, and can include carolers, musicians and more.
A special holiday G-scale model train runs from near the entry to the Botanic Gardens to the Butterfly Pavilion. Be on the lookout for Snoopy Santa.
Holiday Nature Crafts take place on Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m., where kids can create a special craft for the holidays. Holiday crafts take place December 7, 14, and 21.
Polar Bear Express
On several weekends, the Rio Train Line provides a special experience. Passengers board the train at the Botanic Garden/Aquarium lot. As the train chugs through the Botanic Garden, listen to a story and holiday music. Santa and his elves will greet children in the train and give them a special gift. After getting off the train, passengers can enjoy the River of Lights.
Tickets to the Polar Express include hot cocoa and a sweet treat upon boarding, an enchanting story as the train rolls on, the chance to meet Santa Claus, and admission to the River of Lights. Santa presents every child and toddler with a souvenir gift.
Polar Bear Express tickets can only be purchased online and in advance. Get them immediately, as they sell out fast. Tickets are date specific and only valid for the date purchased.
2016 Tickets are available for:
December 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22. (2016 tickets are now sold out). Adult-only Polar Bear Express is December 15 and 30, and tickets are $35.
The train departs from the Garden train station. Arrive at 5 p.m., board the train at 5:15 p.m. and the train leaves the station at 5:30.
Polar Express Prices
- Adults, $28
- Children (3-12), $23
- Toddler (under 3), $10
Polar Bear Express tickets can only be purchased online and ahead of time. They sell out fast!
Tips Before Heading Out:
- Dress warmly, and in layers. Once the sun sets, it gets dark, and wandering the gardens is primarily an outdoor affair. Bring hats, gloves, mittens and scarves. As my mother used to say, bundle up.
- River of Lights is busiest closer to Christmas, and on weekends. Consider visiting on a Monday or Tuesday, when the traffic is light.
- Bring something the young ones can rest in, whether that is a stroller or wagon. Toddlers especially tire easily, bring a blanket to keep them warm in stroller or wagon.
- Wagons are available at the entry, $5 for a regular wagon, $7 for two seaters.
- Wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis. A driver's license is necessary.
- Find the wheelchairs at the Shark Reef Cafe.
- Bike racks are available at the entryway.
- If you'll be taking the Polar Bear Express, be sure to allow extra time for traffic, parking and walking to the train. Remember, the tickets are non-refundable.
- Consider eating in Old Town first, or if you have young children, why not have Supper with Santa? Kids enjoy the Shark Reef Cafe because they can watch the fish and other creatures while they eat. This option is available from December 9 - 23, beginning at 5 p.m.
- Live entertainment happens nightly.
- See a glass snowman collection in the Moorish Garden.
- The model trains will be running Wednesdays through Sundays from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., weather and staff permitting. Look for Snoopy Santa on the holiday train.
- There will be other food for sale at the gardens as well.
- There will be Holiday Nature Crafts on Wednesdays from 6 p.m to 7:30 p.m. Visit the education building December 7, 14 or 21 and create some holiday presents.
- The Garden and Aquarium gift shops are open during River of Lights.
- Don't forget your camera!
Parking is free and there are always spaces at the Botanic Gardens lot. On busy nights, the lots by the Heritage Farm and Tingley Beach are used for overflow.
Park and Ride
Enjoy this free service on select nights and beat the traffic snarl. Note: Park and Ride is NOT wheelchair accessible. Accessible parking can be found at the Aquarium/Botanic Garden parking lots.
Park and Ride is available Friday and Saturday nights: November 26, December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16-23, 26-30. Closed Christmas eve and Christmas day.
Park and Ride Locations
ABQ BioPark Zoo
903 Tenth Street SW (school bus ride)
Park and Ride service to the Botanic Garden begins at 6 p.m. Final delivery is at 9:15 p.m.
Return rides to the Zoo begin at 6:15 p.m., with the final return at 9:45 p.m.
See images of River of Lights displays.
Visit the city of Albuquerque website about the River of Lights.