The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, November 24, 2006, Columns

Christmas-light displays are one of the many holiday traditions that all ages seem to enjoy with equal enthusiasm. The twinkling lights, colorful displays, and whimsical scenes can generally be enjoyed from the comfort of your vehicle or on a short walk that takes you inside the glowing art.

Of course, one of the most spectacular lighting displays is at Austin's Zilker Park. Besides featuring more than a million lights, the Trail of Lights has added area dancers, musicians, storytellers, choirs, and bands to provide entertainment. The holiday scenes are a tradition that began in 1967 when lights were strung from the moon tower in the park and called "the tallest man-made Christmas tree in the world." The trail opens the second Sunday in December (Dec. 10) through Dec. 23 from 6 to 10pm. You'll have to walk this one.

Almost every town and village in the Hill Country has some sort of lighting display, but the largest concerted celebration of Christmas involves 11 communities. Boerne will decorate Hauptstrasse (Main Street) in a sea of lights with special events held every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Burnet decorates the courthouse square and Hamilton Creek Park with thousands of lights and luminarias. The town also hosts Main Street Bethlehem on the first two weekends of December from 6 to 9pm. The re-creation of the town of Bethlehem features costumed townspeople going about their business among real donkeys, camels, and other animals.

Dripping Springs decorates the business community along U.S. 290. In Fredericksburg the residents mix their German and frontier heritage for not-so-traditional Christmas displays and events. Among the lighting display in Marktplatz there will also be an outdoor ice-skating rink.

The farthest north of the towns on the Hill Country Christmas Lighting Trail, Goldthwaite decorates the entire town in sparkling lights. Take a carriage ride to see the courthouse in Johnson City, one of the most beautiful attractions on the trail. In Llano the historic courthouse and town square are decorated in lights, but the real attraction is the pathway of lights in Llano River Park.

If you take the kids to only one lighting attraction this year, don't miss the Walkway of Lights in Marble Falls, which is open until Jan. 1. Every year since it began in 1991, the walkway has grown until it now includes more than 130 lighting sculptures reflecting off the lake.

The old courthouse in New Braunfels is an attractive building on its own, but when bathed in thousands of lights it becomes a castle. Shop for presents in one of the weekend markets, or stop by the Sophienburg Museum to buy a traditional pickle ornament for the tree.

The Christmas lights of Round Mountain look like stars that have fallen to the inky darkness of the Hill Country landscape. In Wimberley the walk-through lighting displays at Pioneer Town and EmilyAnn Theatre are fun and colorful.

For directions and a list of events on the Texas Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Trail, go to, or call 866/839-3378 for a brochure.

In Bastrop the lighting display reflects off the Colorado River. Cuero sponsors a walking tour under the twinkling lights in Municipal Park. Cleburne has 11 acres of lighting displays with a train theme in Hulen Park. Sweetwater decorates Newman Park with seasonal displays with Santa waiting at the end of the path. The granddaddy of Christmas lights around the state is in downtown Marshall.

Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area, a park for Fort Hood soldiers that is open to the public, is sponsoring their 10th year of lights following five miles of illuminated displays. At the end of the drive are shops, hot chocolate, and Santa. For directions, go to, or call 254/287-2523.

One lighting display that you won't have to get out of your car to see is 73 miles of more than 1.5 million lights on the milelong lane in Santa's Ranch Drive-Thru Christmas Light Park off of I-35 south of San Marcos. The park is open Sunday through Thursday, 1 to 10pm and Friday through Saturday, 6 to 11pm until Dec. 31. For directions, call 830/743-1293, or go to

804th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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