Zoo's popular light display is bigger than ever — here's how to make the most of it
ZooLights is back! The Oregon Zoo's walk-through winter wonderland of more than 1.6 million colored lights opens on Nov. 21 and it's more popular than ever.
Over the past five years, more than a million visitors have strolled through the forests of lighted trees, been dazzled by life-size illuminated animal silhouettes and ridden the light-bedecked zoo trains.
"Attendance has been off the charts the past several years," said Ivan Ratcliff, the zoo's guest services manager.
1. Start your festivities early in the season.
"Most ZooLights visitors come on weekends and the weeks when school's out," Ratcliff said. "But if you come on weeknights early in the season, you can avoid the crowds and save money." During this year's Value Nights — see schedule at oregonzoo.org/zoolights — ZooLights visitors get a $5 discount on admission.
2. Ride MAX to the zoo.
Can't make it on a Value Night, but still want to save five bucks? Ride MAX. On non-Value Nights, the zoo offers a $5 admission discount for visitors who take TriMet (proof of ridership required). "MAX is a great way to get to the zoo," Ratcliff said. "I ride it to work every day — the Washington Park stop lets you off just in front of the zoo entrance. I highly recommend using this option whenever possible." For additional transportation and parking information, Ratcliff recommends the website gettingtozoolights.com. "It gives you a range of options and instructions about using Park & Ride, light rail, driving and even rideshare zones."
3. Consider taking Lyft — and get a discount.
"Lyft and Uber are great options for avoiding the parking crunch," Ratcliff said. "I see more people choosing this option every year. We have a convenient drop-off location, and Lyft is even offering 20 percent off its service fee for rides to and from ZooLights." To get the Lyft discount, use the promo code ZooLights18.
4. Show up fashionably late ... unless you're driving.
"The big rush at ZooLights is usually from 4 to 6 p.m.," Ratcliff said. "If you come after that, you can avoid some of the crowds. This strategy only works if you're taking MAX though. If you're driving, I recommend getting here by 4 p.m. or sooner and allow an extra 30 minutes for traffic and parking. The main parking lot, and even the shuttle lots, fill up fast, especially on weekends." Visitor can check real time on-site parking availability at gettingtozoolights.com/drive.
5. Buy your tickets online.
"You can buy your admission tickets in advance and bypass the line at the front gate," Ratcliff said. "You can also buy zoo train tickets ahead of time for scheduled 15-minute intervals — that way, you spend more time enjoying the lights and less time in line." To purchase online tickets, go to oregonzoo.org/zoolights.
6. It's not all about the train.
"A lot of people focus on the train, but really that's just one part of the ZooLights experience," Ratcliff said. "Around 90 percent of the lights are along the walking paths. I recommend scheduling your ride online before you visit — then you can stroll around the grounds and enjoy the lights until your appointed train time."