This is a year for reimagining holiday traditions. Visiting some of the best Midwest holiday light displays is a stellar way to celebrate the season.
The Midwest holiday light displays list
Every attraction on this list has been recommended by readers like you — writers, bloggers, business owners and busy people who are looking to make a little Christmas magic during a difficult time. Events are listed in alphabetical order, so scroll down to find a state and city near you.
The Midwest holiday light displays on this list are very diverse. They include historic downtown scenes and quiet parks, as well as busy city Christmas traditions and bustling theme park extravaganzas.
Some are free, while a few are a bit of an investment, similar to what you’d spend for theatre tickets. The majority charge admission (or accept free will donations) to benefit local non-profit organizations, so you can have fun for a great cause and support your local community.
Stay safe, book and arrive early
The majority of the Midwest holiday light displays listed here are drive through only this year, but some offer socially distant outdoor activities as well. Activities are outdoors, so wear your warmest winter layers to stay comfortable both inside and out.
COVID-19 safety guidelines vary from state to state (and even city to city), so please check the websites before you leave for updated info. Wear a mask at all times (they’re required at most locations) and keep a respectful distance from others so we can all have a safe and happy holiday season.
Most Midwest holiday light displays are much busier on the weekends, so plan accordingly. Many offer or require advanced ticketing to avoid literal traffic jams and long wait times, so do your research ahead of time. Bring books, a podcast, snacks or a Christmas movie along to pass the time you might spend waiting in line.
Whenever possible, I’ve included posts from local writers in the cities, counties and states listed, so check out those stories first to learn what to expect and score expert tips and discount codes. You’ll find them right after each state’s listing.
So without further adieu, here are some of the best Midwest holiday light displays — all recommended by readers across the region. Comment below to share your favorites and recommend additional stops!
Chicagoland in general has dozens of festive spots, from cheerfully decorated neighborhoods to epic displays with more a million lights. Some of the biggest and most popular options, like the Morton Arboretum and Botanical Gardens are already sold out, but both Happy Mom Hacks and What Should We Do Today Chicago are posting updated info and listing light displays both big and small.
Holiday Festival of Lights isn’t just one of the biggest drive-through light displays in the region, it’s also free! (Although electronic donations benefit the local Rotary club.)
The Way of Lights at The National Shrine Of Our Lady Of the Snows is a reflective, religious walking event through holiday lights. There are also activities like camel and pony rides in the parking lot.
Chicagoland’s largest and longest running light display is Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo. This year it includes a 600-foot tunnel, 660 decorated trees, a Game of Gnomes scavenger hunt and 1 million lights.
Animal lovers should check out how Zoo Lights weaves holiday attractions around the exhibits at Lincoln Park Zoo. Look for a candy cane forest, a lighted holiday maze, an enchanted forest and even socially distant photos with Santa.
The Santa’s Rock N Lights route is twice as long this year. It sparkles with 700 feet of vividly lit tunnels, illuminated dinosaurs, colorful peacocks and more.
The rides at Six Flags are closed but Holiday in the Park Lights transforms the space into a winter wonderland complete with s’mores stations, Christmas treats, gifts and hot drinks and socially distant photo ops, photo stations and entertainment.
LaSalle Lights is open weekends now through Christmas. The Facebook page has video so if you can’t make it out (or you’re a state away) you can still experience it.
Holiday Lights at Mooseheart features more than 80 lighted displays on its 1.8-mile route. The event runs through New Year’s Eve.
The Let it Shine Light Show is a parking lot drive-through show that allows you to safely social distance while listening to festive music and viewing lots of sparkling displays.
Goebberts Pumpkin Patch goes Christmas crazy with a bright, colorful displays and over 1 million lights.
Ritzy’s Fantasy of Lights features carriage rides and more than 60 lighted sculptures along a 1-mile route in Garvin Park.
With 127 different light sculptures and almost 300,000 colorful lights, this cruise through Franke Park is festive and fun. And interactive experience the pavilion takes Blue Jacket’s Fantasy of Lights to the next level.
Over 1 million lights and a rocking holiday soundtrack synchronized with your car’s sound system make Christmas Nights of Lights a high-energy drive-through experience. An Ohio version of the event is held in Cincinnati.
This giant, shimmering Christmas lights display is going out in style, since its creator is retiring this year. So if you haven’t been to the We Care Park Christmas Lights display yet, be sure to check it out. It was featured on TV’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight” a few years ago.
Explore the Walkway of Lights along the Mississinewa riverwalk by car or on foot, then watch the illuminated suspension bridge glow over the water. More than 2 million lights light up the night.
Pose for a photo by the sleigh in Jimmy Nash City Park. Then walk or drive through the lighted displays that make up the Festival of Lights.
Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves welcome you to Wilstem Winter Fest, home to families of animals, a Victorian Christmas scene, a light-covered bridge and a candy factory.
The festively named Santa Claus, Indiana includes two different holiday light displays: the Santa Claus Land of Lights Thursday through Sunday and 12-mile route through a residential neighborhood during the Festival of Lights on Saturdays.
The proceeds from Jolly Holiday Lights benefit Make A Wish. Return often to check out themed lights displays like fairy tales and The 12 days of Christmas.
You can pull over and explore Christmas Acres on foot as well as by car. The country Christmas spectacular features 150,000 lights, inflatables and displays and music every night through New Year’s Eve.
Take the pretty 15-minute scenic drive, stop for photos and support charitable causes at the Reflections in the Park display.
The Lights at Kennedy offers a leisurely car cruis through a lighted park in exchange for a free will donation.
The Mount Pleasant Festival of Lights is billed as the largest holiday light display in Southeast Iowa. More than 100 lighted displays (including candy canes and lit up tractors) are set up on the 1.6 mile route.
The Iowa rendition of Santa’s Rock N Lights at Living History Farms is one of four Midwestern locations this year. Experience 700 feet of lighted tunnels, double the lights and a touch-free driving route.
More than 30 displays light up the night and reflect off the water at the Rocky Pond Christmas Lights celebration. It’s open daily through New Year’s Eve.
Chautauqua Isle of Lights offers visitors the chance to see more than 70 lighted displays in the park every night from now until the end of the year.
Curbside gift shopping and wine pick-up? Sold! After your socially distant shopping is done, drive through the Rockin’ Winter Wonderland holiday lights experience at KC Wine Co.
This charming town pulls out all the stops to live up to its rep as the “The Christmas City of the High Plains”. Downtown celebrates with a towering tree, decorations, and a light-up, drive-through displays.
This Grand Rapids Kids post details some of the top holiday lights displays in Michigan, so give that a read for all the specifics. Here are a few standout stops.
Billed as Michigan’s largest holiday light display, Nite Lites illuminates Michigan International Speedway now through New Year’s Eve.
The Christmas Lite Show is western Michigan’s largest animated, drive through light show. There’s a lighted train as well.
More than a million lights sparkle and shine, illuminate the trees and Crossroads Village during the Christmas at Crossroads Holiday Magic event.
There were so many stops in Minnesota, I had to focus on a few of the best. Thankfully, local bloggers are ready to give us all the details with their own, very comprehensive coverage.
Thrifty Minnesota has compiled an excellent list of holiday light displays in Minnesota. It includes the big name events, as well as neighborhoods, churches and limited time engagements. Give Me The Mike is back with the annual Minnesota and western Wisconsin holiday lights update — and also compares some favorites.
Nature Illuminated at the Minnesota Zoo combines holiday fun and conservation by decorating a tropical forest, the Arctic and the ocean and other habitats. It includes an audio tour animal lovers will appreciate. It runs runs through January 17, so you have something fun to do next month as well.
Lights illuminate the trees of Northland Arboretum during the Sertoma Winter Wonderland event. View a video preview of the lights if you can’t make it in person.
The Drive Thru Bentleyville Tour of Lights winds along the shores of Lake Superior. It shines with bright, colorful lights, including 128 foot LED trees, and features a gift shop for socially distant shopping. Kids 10 and under score a free knit hat. Check the crowd-o-meter to gauge the wait time.
Severs Holiday Lights crams 1,200,000 lights, entertainment and music into a half mile route. Cars can drive through as many times as they like. Treats like cocoa, caramel corn and mini doughnuts are available for purchase.
The trees are bright with more than 250,000 LED lights during Holiday Lights In Motion. Check out a video with festive music if you’re not able to attend in person.
Icicles, art installations, brightly lit trees, gingerbread houses and more than 1 million holiday lights line the Glow Holiday Festival route on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. As an added bonus, you can purchase fair food at the end! Here’s the inside scoop and a discount code.
See twinkling lights glitter across 20 acres. Then buy wine and gifts right from your car during the Spirit of Winter event at The Winery at Sovereign Estate.
Proceeds from Celebrate The Night benefit local charities. This 800,000 light display is is a drive through experience, but there are spots to pull over for photos and reflection if you like.
Visit the walk through Light Maze, then cruise by 450 light displays along the 1.5-mile Lights at Bluff Valley driving route.
Missouri has lots of excellent holiday light display options. Greetings from Kelly put together a great list of Drive Through Holiday Lights in St. Louis. A few faves around the state are listed here.
Swope Park comes alive with nine themed displays, including The 12 Days of Christmas, spinning trees and brightly lit animals. The Winter Magic also boasts the largest drive through lighted tunnel in the Midwest.
With 500,000 lights, 175 animated figures Christmas in the Park is a colorful celebration of the season. It’s a local favorite to ring in the season.
A St. Louis holiday tradition, Brewery Lights at Anheuser-Busch, has been reimagined as a drive through event this year. Ooh and ahh at the lighted tunnel, then see if you can spot the famous Budweiser Clydesdales.
The wonders of Santa’s Magical Kingdom at Jellystone include towering ice cream sundaes, dancing elves and soaring reindeer, all rendered in a whopping 4 million lights. The grounds cover 35 acres and include socially distant gift shopping.
The Nebraska version of Santa’s Rock N Lights (there are displays in Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois too), includes 700 feet of brightly lit tunnels, illuminated creatures and no shortage of sparkling holiday spectacles.
Minden is billed as the Nebraska’s official Christmas City. It lives up to its name with thousands of colorful lights illuminating the courthouse dome and charming town square.
Take a soothing drive through the trees to check out an average of 75 lighted displays during Holiday Lights in Lindenwood Park. It’s a longtime Christmas tradition in the Red River Valley.
Holiday displays and support charitable causes are only part of the attraction at Christmas in the Park. Lincoln Drive Park is also popular for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding before or after viewing the lights.
Proceeds from Christmas in the Park benefit local non profits. The drive through light display is open until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays for all the night owls out there.
The Spring Lake Park Holiday Lights Drive looks a little different this season, but it still offers family-friendly, socially distant entertainment. Look for 60 lighted displays, Elf on a Shelf bingo, letters to Santa, photo ops and themed nights now through New Year’s Eve.
My friend and Midwest Road Trip Adventures co-author Brandy Gleason compiled this extensive list of the best drive-through lights in Ohio. Adventure Mom Blog details holiday light displays in Cincinnati, while this list showcases Hamilton County. Here are a few recommended stops.
Celebrate the season along Lake Erie at Ashtabula County’s Lights on the Lake. The displays nestled within the 54-acre site flicker and shine off the water for a hypnotic effect.
A s’mores station, live reindeer, a festival of trees and fireworks on December 13th set the lighted displays of Christmas Cruise Thru apart and inject the scene with an extra dose of Christmas cheer.
Songs from “The Nutcracker” performed by the Lima Symphony Orchestra underscore the drive through the tunnels and past the 45 lighted displays that make up Mercy Health Bright Nights at the Allen County Fairgrounds.
Christmas Glow at Land of Illusion Adventure Park is a cornucopia of Christmas pleasures. Stroll through the Christmas Village with hot cocoa, watch more than 3.8 million lights shining along at the 2-mile Christmas Around the World drive through experience and warm your hands by the many fire pits.
Sharon Woods holds over 250 light displays and more than 1 million lights during the Holiday in Lights drive through event. There are also special days to walk through the displays. Special effects glasses for sale enhance the experience.
Nature lovers will appreciate both the holidays lights and the wild beauty of Fort Sisseton Drive Thru Christmas Light Display, held in the state park of the same name. There’s a drop off for food pantry donations and letters to Santa and first responders.
Crashing waterfalls illuminated in saturated Christmas colors are a Winter Wonderland at Falls Park signature. More than 25 miles of lights illuminate the trees, light poles and park structures for a magical effect.
Grab cocoa and enjoy a scenic drive past the shimmering icicle tree and lighted displays tucked into Stokes-Thomas Lake City Park during the Watertown Winter Wonderland drive through event.
Santa’s Rock N Lights is bigger than ever in 2020. More than 700 feet of lighted tunnels glow, themed lighted scenes sparkle there are twice as many shimmering lights to behold. The spectacle is also showcased in Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.
The Winter Wonders Holiday Light Show at Boerner Botanical Garden is back and bigger than ever. The drive-through lights bonanza features more than 1 million lights.
Stop out to the Rotary Lights display for a brilliantly lit loop, ice skating and a live nativity display. Santa is social distancing for everyone’s safety, but he’ll wave as you drive by.
The Holiday Lights Festival in downtown Milwaukee has something for everybody; thousands of colorful lights and interactive sculptures and displays, a self-guided driving or walking tour and a drive through treat pickup. There’s even a drone light show you can watch virtually if you can’t make it in person.
Wisconsin’s largest drive-through holiday lights event turns 25 this year. Admission to the Country Christmas event include the Country Christmas Trail, Christmas Village, and the Streets of Bethlehem.
Wonderland of Lights at the Racine Zoo features decorated trees, lighted characters and a 96-foot drive through tunnel. Kids under 15 get a free piece of candy while supplies last.
Admission to Rotary Making Spirits Bright is free, but non-perishable food donations are encouraged. They’re working toward collecting 150,000 pounds of food for the local food bank, which is more important this year than ever.
It’s easy to keep a reindeer length apart when you’re taking in 40 acres, a bustling village, a one-mile driving route and a stunning six million Christmas lights. Sam’s Christmas Village also offer private family s’mores cabin rentals with snacks and bonfire materials.
What are your favorite Midwest holiday light displays?
How are you adjusting your holiday traditions this year?
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