Zoo Lights delight kids of all ages in Portland

Featured image: The sign at the entrance to Zoo Lights at the Oregon Zoo in Portland (photo by Cheryl Landes)

I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest most of my life, but my first trip to Zoo Lights in Portland was last week.


I would think about it but forget during the holidays. When I remembered again, it was too late.

This year, KOIN-TV’s lead meteorologist Kristen Van Dyke reminded me when she broadcast her weather reports from the zoo on a clear, dry night. She and her cameraperson gave viewers a tour of the Christmas train and the tunnel of lights. And they were having so much fun that I felt guilty.

How could I possibly miss this again?

So I committed.

I parked at the economy lot at the airport and rode the MAX light rail from the airport to the zoo. MAX stopped across the street from the zoo. When I arrived at 4 p.m., some of the lights at the entrance were on already. An hour later, after darkness fell, all 1.5 million lights shined in myriad colors and shapes.

A great wreath arch tied in a bright red ribbon marked the entrance to the display.

The wreath arch at the entrance to the Zoo Lights display (photo by Cheryl Landes)

I walked through the arch and saw Rudolph the Reindeer jumping across the pathway.

Rudolph the Reindeer jumps over the Zoo Lights path. (photo by Cheryl Landes)

From there, walls of lights lined each side of the pathway. Recorded Christmas music played over a public address system.

I passed the entrance to the Christmas train and a pool where dolphins jumped into the water. On the wall of the Dairy Barn, a cow jumped over the moon while a cat played a fiddle. Just past the barn, a flying dragon breathed fire. A peacock perched atop another building, proudly fanning its tail feathers. At the Elephant Plaza, a bird flew out of a tree over a crocodile. A rhinoceros stood watch in the background. Nearby, ostriches strutted along a fence.

Animals at the Elephant Plaza (photo by Cheryl Landes)

Behind me, a merry-go-round with lighted camels and horses twirled.

The merry-go-round (photo by Cheryl Landes)

Busy ants carried leaves along another path, while a mountain lion ran from behind tall grasses to the top of a ledge. The Cheshire Cat smiled from halfway up a tree, butterflies fluttered, and dozens of other animals and insects appeared.

Other creatures along the trail (photo by Cheryl Landes)

And then I found the tunnel of lights, which followed a curve in the path. From the inside, the lights reminded me of a polka dot curtain.

The light tunnel (photo by Cheryl Landes)

On the other side of the tunnel, I passed more creatures: birds, beavers, ducks, frogs, ladybugs, butterflies, and a raccoon scavenging in a garbage can next to a rose garden.

The raccoon scavenges in a garbage can. (photo by Cheryl Landes)

My walk ended at the wreath arch, where I heard the mournful whistle of the Christmas train. I followed the sound to a bridge a few yards from the arch. The train steamed as it crossed under the bridge. It passed animals watching from the tracks and a gingerbread village before stopping at the Family Farm, where carolers sang for the passengers.

The Christmas train (photo by Cheryl Landes)

The Oregon Zoo is located at 4001 SW Canyon Road in Portland. Zoo Lights is open 5-9 p.m. from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when it’s closed. Pay parking is available, but the lot can fill quickly on busy nights. The zoo recommends public transportation and offers discounts on admission when you show your MAX ticket at the gate. Plot your trip and view fares at Tri-Met’s trip planner.

For more information, visit Zoo Lights’ website or call (503) 226-1561.

Snowman outside the Oregon Zoo’s gift shop (photo by Cheryl Landes)

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