ZooLights Holiday Display at the Phoenix Zoo

Phoenix Zoo Lights

 Josh Spradling / Getty Images

Each winter, the Phoenix Zoo puts up an amazing display of colorful holiday lights for its ZooLights exhibit. A dedicated ZooLights team spends nearly four months to install the millions of lights that go into this illuminated world.

The Phoenix Zoo is the country's largest private, nonprofit zoological park, and the annual ZooLights is the zoo's largest fundraiser. ZooLights is open during the evenings from the end of November until mid-January.

In addition to the light display and a 200-foot-long Polar Slide, there are features added each season, so locals can experience something new every year at one of the most popular collections of holiday lights in the greater Phoenix area.

What to Expect

There are nearly 4 million lights and 700 light sculptures at ZooLights. Of course, holiday music accompanies your walk through the park, and on certain nights you can even enjoy live performances from local artists and choirs.

Don't expect to see many real animals. ZooLights is all about the dazzling light displays. One live animal you can expect to see are the reindeer, which are brought in just for this annual event. While most of the daytime enclosures are closed to let the animals sleep, you may be able to see a few exhibits, such as the zebras, flamingos, Komodo dragons, and otters.

One of the highlights is the Wildlife Lantern Safari, made up of life-sized illuminated animal sculptures. You'll see light-up bats hanging from trees, deer, swans, bugs, monkeys, butterflies, a spider in its glowing web, and more.

Tips for Enjoying ZooLights

You'll have plenty of time to enjoy ZooLights, so walk the paths, stop for a snack and a beverage, and then walk around the other way. You are sure to see something you missed the first time around. Walking at a leisurely pace, the typical visitor will spend up to two hours at ZooLights. 

Know When to Visit to Avoid the Crowds

ZooLights attracts 300,000 visitors each holiday season, so viewings can be crowded. Most people get there when it opens, as it will already be dark at that time. To avoid the crowds, try arriving an hour or two after the gates open. The least crowded nights are Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays in early December as well as in January. You can also buy tickets online in advance to avoid the admission line at the park.

Dress Appropriately for Zoolights

Despite getting the warm rays of the desert sun during the day, Phoenix can get pretty cold in the evenings. Dress for winter—bring gloves and wear a jacket. You can always take off extra layers. If it rains, ZooLights will be open but some activities or special exhibits may not be available.

Bring a Small Light or Glow Necklace

Some sections of the zoo are very dark. Flashlights are not permitted, but it isn't a bad idea to bring a small lantern for the little ones or, at the very least, to get them a glow necklace to wear so you can always see them. Kids' shoes with flashing lights work well, too.

More to Do at ZooLights

Jengo the talking giraffe and Tortuga the talking Galapagos tortoise will mesmerize children. The mechanical giraffe and tortoise at ZooLights look so real you'll do a double-take.

The stingrays in Stingray Bay are real and you can even touch them. Other activities include taking a carousel ride and getting photos taken with Santa. The Phoenix Zoo also has one of Arizona's best gift shops. And if you get hungry, the zoo restaurants and concessions will be open. 

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