Colorado’s 10 most over-the-top holiday light displays for 2022

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Holiday lighting displays sit firmly in Colorado’s cultural wheelhouse, given that they’re outdoors, family friendly and rooted in exploration.

And while we’re still waiting on those ski-through and ziplined lighting displays (that’s a free idea, immersive-entertainment producers!), this year offers refreshed holiday splendor in the form of parades and tree lightings — all ages and largely in the open air — to get us back in a festive mood.

Most events are, as you’ll quickly notice, limited in hours and slightly more expensive than in 2021.

With few exceptions, events are timed and ticketed, although mask mandates that governed health and safety regulations at events last year are almost entirely gone. Many do not offer on-site ticket sales, and the biggest ones are likely to sell out in the coming week or two (some, such as Blossoms of Light, are disappearing incredibly fast).

Check each event’s website before attending, and bring masks just to be safe.

With that in mind, here are 10 of the biggest metro-area holiday lighting displays, with an interactive map at extras.denverpost.com/holiday-lights. Public tree lightings are free. Admission to the rest varies by location; see links for details.

Union Station’s free, public Santa visits return on select dates this holiday season, following the Grand Illumination in downtown Denver. (Provided by Dunn Communications)

Downtown Denver Grand Illumination

Where: Denver Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop St., Denver
When: 5-8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25
Price: Free, with paid packages available
Contact: 303-592-6712, denver.org or unionstationindenver.com

Downtown Denver’s Union Station is the center of the citywide Grand Illumination, with an appearance from Santa Claus, the Miracle Bar pop-up, classic holiday tunes from the Denver Dolls and the lighting of the historic Union Station and its 40-foot-tall, 7,000-light outdoor tree. That event kicks off a chain reaction of architectural icons lighting up in Skyline Park, along the 16th Street Mall, in Civic Center and around downtown.

Also this year: the Merry & Bright Lights show, which runs 5-10 p.m. daily, Nov. 25-Dec. 26, has interactive visual imagery created by local Denver artists projected across the station’s historic façade, according to organizers. Visits with Santa are free, first-come-first-served and available starting at 4 p.m. on Sundays through Dec. 18. Nick Express skip-the-line tickets are $50 per family, which includes an ornament; advanced online purchase is required.

Blossoms of Light fills Denver Botanic Gardens' York Street location with twinkling trails and selfie-opps galore. (Scott Dressel-Martin, provided by Denver Botanic Gardens)
Blossoms of Light fills Denver Botanic Gardens’ York Street location with twinkling trails and selfie-ops galore. (Scott Dressel-Martin, provided by Denver Botanic Gardens)

Blossoms of Light

Where: Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St., Denver
When: 4:30-9 p.m., Nov. 18-Jan. 7, 2023 (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas)
Price: $20-$24; children 2 and under are free
Contact: 720-865-3500 or botanicgardens.org

Along with the new(ish) O’Fallon Perennial Walk, which includes a “200-foot-long, 17-foot-tall tunnel of animated lights, right at the start of the path,” organizers said, Denver Botanic Gardens welcomes back the treats and warm drinks that make Blossoms of Light more than just a leisurely, Instagram-friendly stroll through its densely populated York Street grounds. (Drinks and food will be available for purchase at the Hive Garden Bistro.)

Again, and because it’s easily overlooked: Tickets to Blossom of Light are NOT available on-site and must be bought online in advance.

Clowns march past the Denver City and County Building during the Parade of Lights on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 in Denver.

Photo by Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Denver Post

Clowns march past the Denver City and County Building during the Parade of Lights on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, in Denver.

9News Parade of Lights

Where: Denver City and County Building, 1437 Bannock St., Denver
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3
Price: Free along the route (see below). Grandstand tickets at the staging area are $40 for adults; 2 and under free.
Contact: winterindenver.com/parade

A brand new, 2-mile fun run and costume contest are set to kick off the 48th annual festivities on Dec. 3. Returning? Miles of holiday-themed floats (40 in all), colorful characters such as Santa and Major Waddles, giant helium-filled character balloons, marching bands and twinkling lights along festive downtown streets. Spots along the route may fill up quickly due to the fact that they’re free, with about 300,000 attendees expected for this year. The parade will also be simulcast on 9News starting at 6 p.m. Dress for the weather!

The 2-mile route starts at Denver City & County Building, 14th and Bannock streets, then travels up Tremont Street to 17th Street where it goes northwest for several blocks before turning onto Arapahoe Street, organizers said. The parade then loops back on 15th Street to Glenarm.

Jane Rockwell, 7, stands next to a lighted moose at the Denver Zoo lights November 25, 2016. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
Jane Rockwell, 7, stands next to a lighted moose at the Denver Zoo lights November 25, 2016. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

Denver Zoo Lights

Where: Denver Zoo, 2300 Steele St., Denver
When: 5:30-8 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 5:30-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Members-only through Dec. 2; opens to the public Saturday, Dec. 3-Jan. 15, 2023, low-sensory night Dec. 31
Price: $25 for adults and seniors; $15 for children ages 3-11; free for kids 2 and under
Contact: 720-337-1400 or denverzoo.org/events/zoolights

Rivaled only by Denver Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light, this huge stationary display takes advantage of the sprawling City Park zoo location with live ice carving, seasonal craft cocktails and treats, and nighttime animal viewing (interactive experiences are available) along with, you know, the 1 million or so twinkling LED lights.

Many weekend dates are sold out, and the rest of them will be soon. Prepare for scant parking and lines. Once you’ve started exploring the 80-acre display, snap a pic or three in front of zoo’s signature animal light sculptures or (as is my family’s favorite) take a spin on the vintage carousel.

The Hudson Gardens & Event Center transforms its Littleton grounds into a winter wonderland each year for a Hudson Christmas. Pictured: 2018's installment. (Provided by Hudson Gardens & Event Center)
The Hudson Gardens & Event Center transforms its Littleton grounds into a winter wonderland each year for a Hudson Christmas. Pictured: 2018’s installment. (Provided by Hudson Gardens & Event Center)

A Hudson Christmas

Where: Hudson Gardens & Event Center, 6115 S. Santa Fe Drive, Littleton
When: Limited dates, 5-9 p.m. Nov. 25-Dec. 31
Price: $20 (adults), $17 for kids 4-12, free for children 3 and under
Contact: hudsongardens.org

This year’s “lighted forest of towering trees” looks to be as popular as ever, with holiday songs encouraging singing and dancing in a dedicated grove of Christmas trees, giant snowmen and glowing reindeer, and an eye-popping holiday light tunnel. Don’t forget to grab a cup of hot cocoa to warm your hands (or at least placate the kids).

Elitch Gardens' Luminova has upped its big-budget holiday display with nearly 1 million more lights around the downtown theme park. (Provided by Elitch Gardens)
Elitch Gardens’ Luminova has upped its big-budget holiday display with nearly 1 million more lights around the downtown theme park. (Provided by Elitch Gardens)

Luminova at Elitch Gardens

Where: Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park, 2000 Elitch Circle, Denver
When: 5-10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25-Jan. 1, 2023
Price: $25 (plus $8 processing fee)
Contact: 303-595-4386 or elitchgardens.com/luminova-holidays

Denver’s Elitch Gardens theme park digs even deeper into the holiday-lights landscape with an updated Luminova, a big-budget display that features more than 4 million lights, a 65-foot-tall Christmas tree, a 25-foot-tall snowman (that never melts, of course), a 300-foot-long candy cane tunnel, giant ornaments, a wall of lights, rides on limited Elitch Gardens attractions, train rides for the kids, Santa and his elves, and more (phew). Your kids are going to freak.

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