Day Trips

The Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Trail dresses 11 Central Texas communities in glowing finery

Johnson City courthouse
Johnson City courthouse (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

Christmas lights twinkling on the horizon look like the fireflies of winter. Up close, the lights create a colorful world where everything seems to dance. Texans love their holiday displays.

We're fortunate to have one of the best concerted lighting displays in the state just west of town. The Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Trail dresses Boerne, Burnet, Dripping Springs, Fredericksburg, Goldthwaite, Johnson City, Llano, Marble Falls, New Braunfels, Round Mountain, and Wimberley in glowing finery. Most of the towns have special events like carriage rides, carolers, and refreshments available for visitors.

Of the 11 participants, the Walkway of Lights in Marble Falls is the crown jewel. A million twinkling lights reflecting off the lake is a sight better seen than imagined. Since 1991, the community has constructed 130 sculptures covered with lights. The lighted extravaganza opens nightly from 6 to 10pm through Jan. 1.

Lights Spectacular in Johnson City drapes the historic courthouse and town square in light that seems to cascade over the walls. The courthouse lawn becomes a playground doused in soft, golden light. The lighting display comes on nightly from 6 to 9pm through Jan. 1.

Right on Main Street in Fredericksburg, Market Square is decorated with hundreds of colorful lighted sculptures. The display even includes an outdoor ice-skating rink that is open until Jan. 6. The lighting display is up every evening from 6 to 10pm through Jan. 1.

For a complete list of participating towns and special events on the Hill Country Trail, go to www.tex-fest.com or call 830/997-8515.

East of the capital city, the Lights of the Blackland include special lighting displays in Bartlett, Bastrop, Elgin, Coupland, Granger, Hutto, Taylor, Thorndale, and Thrall. Escape the hectic shopping malls for the serenity of a stroll in Bastrop along the Colorado River bathed in colorful lights, or walk through the displays in the park in Taylor. For information, go to www.lightsoftheblackland.com or call 512/352-6364. Combine a drive to see the lights along TX 95 or U.S. 79 with a visit to a Christmas-tree farm (www.texaschristmastrees.com).

Fort Hood hosts one of the largest and most spectacular holiday lighting displays in Central Texas. Volunteers have turned the 800-acre Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area off Loop 121 on Sparta Road in Killeen into a fantastic display of lights. There are more than 100 animated lighting displays, some as large as 40-feet-high and 300-feet-wide. At the end of the driving tour is Santa's Village with refreshments and Saint Nick. Admission starts at $5 per car and increases by the size of the vehicle. The display is active daily from 5:30 to 11pm through Jan. 6. For information, go to www.hoodmwr.com or call 254/287-2523.

The granddaddy of all Christmas-light displays in Texas is the Wonderland of Lights in Marshall. The town square around the historic courthouse is beautifully decked in thousands of colorful lights and figures. The outdoor ice-skating rink fills a parking lot with activity away from the carriage rides and carolers. The lights are ablaze 6-10pm, through Dec. 31. For information go to www.marshalltxchamber.com or call 903/935-7868.

To see a really cool Christmas exhibit head to Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine, where the light-emitting diode lights are frozen in 2 tons of ice. It takes 40 artisans 34 days to hand-carve the display that is housed in a special building at 9 degrees. Parkas are furnished. The ice exhibit opens Sunday-Thursday, 10am-9pm, and Friday-Saturday, 10am-10pm. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children on weekdays and $23 and $12 on weekends. For information go to www.gaylordhotels.com or call 866/782-7897.

One of the most beautiful lighting displays is the simple luminaries around Mission Espíritu Santo State Historic Site at Goliad State Park. The more-than-250-year-old Spanish colonial mission is accented with soft light from dark to 10pm daily. Call 361/645-3405 for more information.

Admission to all of the lighting displays is free unless otherwise noted.

859th 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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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Trail, the Walkway of Lights, Lights Spectacular, the Lights of the Blackland, Wonderland of Lights

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