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15 top holiday light displays

NOLA Celebration in the Oaks Celebration in the Oaks (Courtesy New Orleans City Park)

These jolly drive-through displays allow you to enjoy all the twinkle from the safety of your car.

A holiday light display sparkles like no other winter activity, and this year—from the comfort (and safety) of your vehicle—you and your family can enjoy twinkling lights for a festive evening out. Top it off with a hot chocolate or another treat for the ride home. Here’s a list of 15 drive-through light displays to illuminate the season.

ARKANSAS

1. Lights of the Delta, Blytheville. One of the largest displays in the Mid-South region, Lights of the Delta features more than six million lights and nearly 50 motion displays. The 1.5-mile route is located on 40 acres of the former Ecker Air Force Base (1405 Airbase Highway). Lights of the Delta will operate from Nov. 23 through Dec. 27. Admission: $10 for vehicles (up to 12 people) to $50 (full-size bus). Check the website for hayride information. Hours: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday–Thursday; 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. lightsofthedelta.com

ILLINOIS

2. Christmas Wonderland, Alton. An army of volunteers known as the Grandpa Gang decorates Rock Spring Park (2116 College Ave.) with millions of colorful lights for this annual display that will be seen beginning Nov. 27 through Dec. 27. Hours: 6 to 9 p.m. Monday–Friday; 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; no walk-through event on Nov. 30; no visits with Santa. Suggested donation: $7 per car; buses and trolleys, $1 per passenger. riversandroutes.com

3. Way of Lights, Belleville. For more than 50 years, this display has celebrated Christmas at the national Shrine of Our Lady of the Shows (442 S. DeMazenod Drive) featuring life-sized statues among the more than one million lights. The display runs nightly from 5 to 9 p.m. from Nov. 20 to Dec. 31. Indoor activities and exhibits closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas, as well as New Year’s Day. This year, Girls Day out is virtual, as is the Way of Lights Run. Drive-through donations accepted. snows.org 

Winter Wonderland in Alton

Volunteers turn Rock Spring Park into Winter Wonderland each year. (Courtesy Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau)

INDIANA

4. Santa Claus Land of Lights, Santa Claus. The 1.2-mile route inside Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort (78 N. Holiday Blvd.) features lights and storyboards to share the tale of Santa’s reindeer hero, Rudolph. The display opens Thanksgiving night and continues through Dec. 27. Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. on Fridays–Sundays from Nov. 27 to Dec. 6; nightly hours from Dec. 11–27 (closed Christmas Eve and Christmas). Admission is $15 per vehicle (buses $50 to $75). Discount coupons are available for $4 off admission. lakerudolph.com

KANSAS

5. Winter Wonderland, Topeka. This annual display at Lake Shawnee Campground (3435 SE East Edge Road) raises money for TARC, a Shawnee County agency that provides support to children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Drive through a two-mile route that shines with one million holiday lights. Donations are $10 per vehicle ($20 per bus), or buy a pass through TARC office, 2701 SW Randolph. Hours: 6 to 10 p.m. nightly from Nov. 25–Dec. 31. winterwonderlandtopeka.com

LOUISIANA

6. Candy Cane Lane, Calhoun. Drive through a mile-long display in northern Louisiana with more than one million lights in a wooded setting. Candy Cane Lane (170 Highway 151 North) opens Nov. 13 and will twinkle until Jan. 2. Admission is $20 per car or $40 per larger van (no trailers) and is cash only. Nightly hours are 6 to 10 p.m. Facebook.com/CCLChristmasLights

7. Celebration in the Oaks, New Orleans. This year, in order to safely operate the annual event under COVID-19 guidelines, Celebration in the Oaks will be a drive-through display. Guests can still enjoy the 2.25-mile route through the park that features more than one million lights, but a limited number of advance tickets will be sold per time slot (up to 450 cars an hour can be accommodated). At the park, simply show the ticket on your smartphone or a printed QR code and then proceed to the queue to begin the tour. Enter the park on Friederichs Avenue. The event will open Nov. 26 and continue through Jan. 3. Hours: 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday–Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Dec. 24 and 31. Admission starts at $18.99 per car. New this year will be a tribute to medical personnel. celebrationintheoaks.com

Plaza Lights

For more than 90 seasons of Plaza Lights have delighted Kansas City residents and visitors. (Courtesy VisitKC)

MISSISSIPPI

8. Southern Lights, Southaven. From Thanksgiving through December 30, folks in De Soto County head to Central Park (7505 Stonegate) to see more than 500,000 lights. Cars can tune into local radio stations to hear Christmas music as they cruise through the 116-acre park. Hours: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday–Thursday; 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission, collected at the gate, is $10 for cars, $15 for vans, and $25 for buses. All proceeds benefit local nonprofits. southaven.org

MISSOURI

9. Trail of Lights, Branson. There are several spots in this cheery city to see holiday lights, but the drive-through display at the Shepherd of the Hills attraction (5586 W. Highway 76) is the area’s longest running (more than 30 years). Vehicles wind through the 160-acre complex passing several animated displays and illuminated scenes. Enjoy the lights from Nov. 1–Dec. 31. Hours: dusk to 10 p.m. Sunday–Thursday; dusk to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission is $25 per car (single-axle vehicles only). theshepherdofthehills.com

10. Capital City Festival of Lights, Jefferson City. This central-Missouri holiday event, hosted by HHC Community Outreach, returns to Binder Park (5840 Rainbow Drive) this year from Dec. 5–31. Drive two miles around the lake, pass through a 135-foot tunnel of lights and music, and feel good that you’re helping local charities. Suggested donation is $20 per car. Hours: 6 to 9 p.m. nightly; closed on Mondays. Facebook.com/ccfestivaloflights

Lights of the Delta

Lights of the Delta in Arkansas is one of the region's biggest displays. (Courtesy Arkansas Department of Tourism)

11. Plaza Lights, Kansas City. While not a traditional drive-through display, these famous lights have twinkled for more than 90 years in Country Club Plaza. Explore 15 blocks of glimmering jewel-colored lights that line the buildings, domes, and windows of this Spanish-inspired shopping district. While details for the lighting ceremony were not available, the free light display will be on from Thanksgiving to mid-January. Facebook.com/countryclubplaza

12. Christmas in the Park, Lee’s Summit. The Jackson County parks and recreation staff builds this display that features 75 animated scenes and more than 500,000 lights. Check out the scene of Santas at the barbecue grill. For 2020, the lighted tunnel at the entrance is longer. Located at Longview Park’s softball complex (3501 SW Longview Park Drive), the display will be nightly from Nov. 25–Jan. 2. There’s no admission, but voluntary donations help 38 Kansas City-area charities. Hours: 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday–Thursday; 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. makeyourdayhere.com

13. Lot of Lights, St. Charles. New this year, the Family Arena (2002 Arena Parkway) is creating a drive-through display featuring millions of lights. Vehicles drive through a tunnel of lights and on to scenes featuring flying reindeer, a Victorian Christmas, a candy land, and a winter wonderland. Lasers add to this light show that also features holiday music on a dedicated radio station. The show runs Nov. 27–Jan. 2, and admission is $25 per car. Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday–Thursday; 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday–Sunday and holidays. familyarena.com

14. Holiday Park, St. Joseph. The display, a long holiday tradition for northwest Missouri, begins Nov. 27 and continues until Jan. 1. Beautiful 163-acre Krug Park becomes the area’s biggest outdoor light display. Check out the snowman tunnel. Enter the park at 3500 St. Joseph Ave. Free, but donations are accepted. Hours: nightly from dusk to 10 p.m. stjomo.com

15. Winter Wonderland, St. Louis. St. Louis County Parks department presents this holiday classic from Nov. 20–Jan. 2 at Tilles Park (9551 Litzsinger Road). Nights are designated to either walk through the display, see the lights from a carriage, or drive through. See the online schedule for details. Admission for vehicles: $10 for family vehicles; $20 for limos or vans (15-person capacity); $40 for commercial transport vans. Fees for vehicular traffic can be paid on site with cash (exact change encouraged); otherwise advance tickets are sold through MetroTix.com. winterwonderlandstl.com 

Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Midwest and Southern Traveler magazines.

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