The Austin Trail of Lights from an Insider

In my world, Christmas is 365 days a year. Literally. I work on planning a holiday event all. year. long. How many people can say they get paid to plan the happiest event of the year in Austin, TX? About 13 of us actually! I work for a small experiential marketing agency called Forefront Networks. We work with our sister company, 3Can Events, to produce the 2nd largest event in Austin, TX - the Austin Trail of Lights. Because of this, I like to consider myself a true expert in navigating this original-Austin event.

Some members of my team and I, plus Nick from Mishnoon (Holden Bros Films)!  Photo by Casey Chapman Ross Photography, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights

Some members of my team and I, plus Nick from Mishnoon (Holden Bros Films)! 

Photo by Casey Chapman Ross Photography, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights

So here's the 4-1-1:

There are just 3 nights left to see the Austin Trail of Lights

You hate crowds? Cool. Avoid them. It's super simple - purchase a Platinum pass. The tickets range from $80-$225, depending on the package you choose. Some people think that's a lot, but I promise you this ticket type was designed to give you your money's worth! Platinum gets you in the back-way - like a VIP. The Trail staff literally does everything for you - from valeting your car to giving you a golf cart ride to the front tunnel, you basically get to sit back and relax!  After you valet your car, you walk up to a VIP entry gate and receive cookies, cocoa, drink tickets for the bar, and ride tickets for either the Ferris wheel or carousel. Not only do you get all of that, but you also get in the park as early as 6 PM and you get access to the VIP Zilker Lounge towards the end of the Trail. 

Pictured: All of Austin's best food bloggers, including my girl Jane from A Taste of Koko Photos by Kyle Barnes & Dear Wesleyann Photography, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights

Pictured: All of Austin's best food bloggers, including my girl Jane from A Taste of Koko

Photos by Kyle Barnes & Dear Wesleyann Photography, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights

Looking to get in and out in time to grab dinner somewhere in the area? Well first of all, I don't get why people ever try to do the Trail AND go out to dinner. We already have some of the best food trucks onsite - right in the heart of the Trail of Lights. Regardless, you can purchase a $15 Zip Fast Pass that provides early entry at 6 PM and VIP Zilker Lounge access. Did I mention the Zilker Lounge area includes access to a cash bar and heated restrooms? 

Photo by: Casey Chapman Ross Photography, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights

Photo by: Casey Chapman Ross Photography, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights

You don't care about VIP and you don't want to really spend money? That's cool too - just enter the Trail at the general admission gate and pay $3/person to get in at 7 PM. Word to the wise - there will be lines over the next few days. Get there early!

So now you've decided on the night you're going to the Trail, and what ticket you want to buy - great! What's next? How are you getting there? Plan ahead - this event hosts over 400,000 annually. This is Austin, Texas! Mopac is always at a stand still! Here's the deal - get to the Trail early and get out before the mad rush of people decide to between 730-9 PM. You can purchase parking in advance, online. If you're of the 'millennial mindset' - don't drive at all! Use street parking on the other side of the lake and WALK. Either that or pedicab, rideshare, take a CapMetro bus, or catch a shuttle at either Republic Square Park or Toney Burger Center. Pro-tip - if you want to take the shuttle it's a simple $5 charge and includes your general admission to the Trail. For all of this - purchase in advance - they sell out every night!

Once you finally get into the Trail there are a few must-sees and places to take photos - here's my go-to list:

Rainbow Tunnel

Pictured: my hubby Chris Photo by: Andrew Bennett Photography

Pictured: my hubby Chris

Photo by: Andrew Bennett Photography

360 Bridge

Known for being one of the best spots along the Trail to propose. This photo is from a proposal we helped coordinate this year!  Photo by: Casey Chapman Ross Photography, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights

Known for being one of the best spots along the Trail to propose. This photo is from a proposal we helped coordinate this year! 

Photo by: Casey Chapman Ross Photography, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights

The North Pole

Photo by Margaret Licarione, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights (2014)

Photo by Margaret Licarione, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights (2014)

The Iconic Ferris wheel & Carousel

Candy Land & the Yule Log

Photo courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights

Photo courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights

Zilker Lounge

A must-see for Zip & Platinum ticket holders, and a great spot to take a rest while enjoying complimentary cocoa and cookies. Photo by Casey Chapman Ross Photography, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights

A must-see for Zip & Platinum ticket holders, and a great spot to take a rest while enjoying complimentary cocoa and cookies.

Photo by Casey Chapman Ross Photography, Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights

Starry Night Tunnel

Zilker Tree

Some other tidbits you may not know about the Trail unless you worked there or read our website religiously...

The Trail of Lights Foundation is a non-profit and we raise money year-round to keep the event alive for the city of Austin.

We're probably one of the best date-night spots in town. Lights, music, a huge bonfire, and all the romance you could ask for.  

The Trail of Lights is completely adult-friendly. In other words, though it's a great family event, it's also a fab spot for a night out with friends - we even have 3 bars onsite.

We're one of the only places in town you can get an authentic handmade Alpaca sweater - true story. We also sell great holiday, Austin-centric merch. If you're into armadillos, graphic tees and quirky Austin traditions - check it out. 

You can host a private party in Zilker Park, right in the middle of the Trail of Lights - who knew?! We host legit parties y'all. Great food, awesome scenery, built-in entertainment and a full-service event staff. I have to promote that, because honestly it's the best. kept. secret. of the Trail of Lights.

We've coordinated over 16 wedding proposals in the last 3 years. Re: best date-night spot.

For more behind-the-scenes footage from the Trail of Lights, visit Chris' vlog - we just did a live walk-through with CNN earlier this week!