Trail of Lights

Katie Busby, Staff Writer

Candyland, lights, Santa, and more! The Trail of Lights has been an annual tradition in Austin for 56 years, spanning multiple generations of Austinites.

According to Emily Stengel, a producer on the Trail of Lights team, this year presents a new challenge. Stengel said they had to evolve their plan as circumstances changed with regard to COVID-19. The Trail of Lights team had to keep up with health regulations and work closely with officials as they had no way to foresee what this winter would look like. 

“We’ve been planning the Trail of Lights, and usually it’s year-round planning,” Stengel said. “It starts with thinking of sponsors and studying the path for the upcoming year. So, because our event is in December, we have a lot of time to plan the Trail of Lights. And how we did that is through multiple contingency plans.”

The Trail of Lights team had different plans that they went through as the situation changed throughout the year, Stengel said. The first plan set in place was a trail set up with space for social distancing. As the year continued and the rates changed, they realized that social distancing was not guaranteed between people and that a different plan, such as drive-through, would be a better option. According to Stengel, they eventually decided to do a drive-through because it would ensure distancing between people in vehicles and keep everyone safe.

This year will not be the first year that the Trail of Lights will have been a drive-through. Veronica Castelo, who is on the Trail of Lights team and works with hospitality and concession, said that people are getting excited who were part of the original trail, when it was a drive-through. 

“A drive-through is actually not a new idea for the trail; it actually was a drive-through for many years,” Castelo said. “For people who have been in Austin for a really long time, they know it as that, so it’s kind of a throwback to the old times at the trail. I can tell you, just based on what people are saying, that they’re super excited about it, and that they’re excited that they do get to kind of relive, for some of them, their childhood, or for adults, maybe it’s what they used to do with their kids.”

The Trail of Lights will change various aspects of the trail aside from its format, from taking tickets with masks on to implementing proper distancing for those on the trail. Castelo said that safety has been their first priority this year while working on making it enjoyable for everyone. 

“We just want to let people know that we’re doing everything that we can to keep everybody safe,” Castelo said. “I know we’re the biggest event in town even though people will be in their cars, and we’ve taken all those precautions, not just our staff, but any interactions with anybody, we’re playing it very, very safe.”

Allie Hill, a Biology and Psychology teacher at LASA, said she thought that it was definitely the best way they could have done it. Hill has been attending the trail each year for the past few years since she moved to Austin. 

“I just think it’s nice, well number one, it’s pretty, number two, I think that it’s like a nice family activity, like something everybody likes to go and do, and it’s kind of fun to get out and see, and it’s just like a little bit of an Austin tradition,” Hill said. “I think the drive-through format is actually a great change for this year because it keeps the trail alive, and it also kind of takes safety regulations [into account].”

Stengel said events and traditions like the Trail of Lights are very important to the Austin community. According to her, having something to bring the community together in times like these is very important. 

“I think for our community, and for most communities around the world, we are experiencing a universal challenge this year that has been difficult and traumatic at times,” Stengel said. “So to be able to do something joyful for the community is why it’s important.”

The Trail of Lights will be available to visit from Nov. 28th through Jan. 3rd in Zilker Park. Tickets can be purchased on the website,