Dazzling Drive-Thru Holiday Light Displays

For a hearty dose of holiday cheer, check out these winter wonderlands without leaving your car.

by NEA Member Benefits

Tis the season to deck the halls, wrap gifts, host parties and bake cookies. Why not spice up your holiday to-do list with a dash of tinsel and a pinch of twinkle? At these festive displays around the country, you won’t even have to go walking through the winter wonderland. You can instead sip a thermos of hot cocoa ensconced in your toasty car as you soak in the spirit of the season. From Oregon to Maryland and everywhere in between, here are seven drive-through light displays to put on your holiday wish list this year.

1. Winter Wonderland, Portland, Oregon

This drivable, lighted extravaganza at Portland International Raceway bills itself as “the largest holiday light show west of the Mississippi,” and while we can’t verify that claim we can confirm it is indeed quite large. This light show has been going strong since 1993 and now boasts more than 1 million LED lights across 250 displays, with many of them animated and all of them synchronized to music. Best of all, 100% of the proceeds go to Sunshine Division’s hunger relief efforts in Portland. Admission is $37 per vehicle Monday through Friday and $48 on Saturdays and Sundays, with higher prices for RVs, buses and vans. This year’s festival runs from November 24 until December 31, 2023. 

NEA member travel benefits: Fly into Portland International Airport (PDX); NEA Travel: Flights is the best place to find great prices on airline tickets. Then on NEA’s hotels page you can find prices like an average of $103/night at Hotel Zags Portland, a fun and colorful hotel loaded with art. For Art Deco style, book a room at Dossier (average of $80/night), which is right in the center of downtown. Families might prefer the spacious rooms at Embassy Suites by Hilton Portland Downtown for an average of $108/night.

Plan your itinerary: Travel Portland | Travel Oregon

2. Winterfest Driving Tour of Lights, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

If you’re after a massive light show that takes over a whole town, Winterfest near the Smoky Mountains delivers. There are more than 5 million twinkling lights brightening Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. This show is also up for the longest stretch of time, being on display from November 9, 2023, all the way until February 18, 2024, so you have plenty of time to catch it. Don’t feel like driving? Hop on a trolley or book an open-air jeep to take you and your crew through the lighted trail. Plus, Winterfest has tons of other activities to entertain.

NEA member travel benefits: Buy plane tickets for McGhee Tyson Knoxville Airport (TYS) through NEA Travel: Flights to earn Travel Dollars. Next, look for hotels on the NEA Travel: Hotels page. There, you’ll see deals including an average of $79 per night (including daily breakfast) at the Super 8 by Wyndham Pigeon Forge Dollywood Lane, which is just a mile outside the park. If you’re traveling with kids, consider a room at Music Road Hotel, for an average of $108 per night, because it has an outdoor pool with waterslides and a lazy river, a kiddie pool, an indoor pool, fitness center and two game rooms. Guests can choose from a traditional inn and a more contemporary hotel building. For an average of $150 per night, Springhill Suites by Marriott Pigeon Forge offers modern rooms with sofa beds and breakfast included, plus an indoor and outdoor pool and fitness center.

Plan your itinerary: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism| Tennessee Department of Tourism  

3. Hershey Sweet Lights, Hershey, Pennsylvania

From November 10, 2023, until January 1, 2024, this candy-themed 2-mile drive through a wooded area festooned with 600 illuminated and animated light displays. And if you download the free IHeartRadio app you can tune it to Hershey’s station for a synchronized musical experience. Plus, you’ll have the whole the theme park to stroll through, which is decorated with more than 5 million lights over the winter. Buy tickets online in advance to save on admission, with prices starting at $24.96 per vehicle.

NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through NEA Travel: Flights to Harrisburg International Airport (MDT) to get great airfare prices. Visit NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals at hotels including an average of just $42 a night at Sunrise Inn Hershey, which includes breakfast and is just a 10-minute drive from the park. The Escape Inn Hershey also gets good ratings for families and includes an extensive free breakfast for an average of $53 a night. You’ll get up to 20% off admission to Hersheypark when you use NEA Discount Tickets Program.

Plan your itinerary: Hersheypark | Visit Hershey & Harrisburg | Visit PA

4. Winter Lights Festival, Gaithersburg, Maryland 

Can’t make it to the real North Pole? Not a problem. You can visit the themed equivalent in Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg, Maryland. A 3.5-mile drive takes you past more than 450 illuminated displays and 65 animated vignettes. Check out additional themed sections including Winter Woods, Teddy Bear Land and Victorian Village. The festival is open nightly from November 24 through December 31, 2023 with the exception of Christmas. Tickets are $15 per vehicle Monday through Friday and $25 on weekends.

NEA member travel benefits: Through NEA’s Travel Program, you can search for deals on flights to Ronald Regan National Airport (DCA), Dulles International Airport (IAD) or Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI), which are all between 18 and 28 miles away from Gaithersburg. Next, look for affordable lodging options such as the Hilton Washington DC North/Gaithersburg, which averages $88 per night and has an indoor pool and fitness club. If you’re a Marriott loyalist, Residence Inn by Marriott Gaithersburg Washingtonian Center has spacious suites and includes free breakfast and WiFi for an average of $124 per night.

Plan your itinerary: Explore Gaithersburg | Visit Maryland

5. Christmas in Color, South Jordan, Utah 

Lights, camera, action! This year's Christmas in Color takes place at the Basitian Center in South Jordan, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. You'll be dazzled by 1 million lights all synchronized to music. All you need is a radio in your car and you can pipe the music in as you drive through the merry display. The attraction is popular so buy for tickets in advance ($35 during the week and $45 on weekends per vehicle). 

NEA member travel benefits: Book your flight via NEA Travel: Flights to Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) to get the best airfare prices. Visit NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals at nearby hotels like Home2Suites by Hilton Salt Lake City/South Jordan, which averages $109 a night for a suite with a kitchenette, plus breakfast is complimentary. The Holiday Inn South Jordan – SLC South, an IGH Hotel, averages $102 a night and has an indoor pool and hot tub, a 24-hour fitness center, and on-site restaurant.

Plan your itinerary: Visit Salt Lake | Visit Utah

6. The Christmas Lite Show, Comstock Park, Michigan

In Comstock Park near Grand Rapids, you have the perfect excuse to get out of the house and enjoy some incredible holiday cheer. With more than 1 million LED lights and 50 animated displays, you'll be dazzled throughout the nearly 2-mile drive through this year’s Christmas Lite Show. Plus, it’s open on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas day and New Year’s Eve, so the fun never stops. If this is your first time, it’s recommended to allot at least 30 minutes to enjoy the entire loop. The $30 admittance fee is per carload, so you can bring your entire family along for the ride, too. The drive-thru runs from November 22 to December 31, 2023.

NEA member travel benefits: Fly in Grand Rapids Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR), which is about 18 miles away from Comstock Park. You can book your flights using NEA’s Travel Program, where you can also find a hotel to stay at while you’re there. A good option right near the light show—at an average of $86/night—is the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Grand Rapids-North, an IHG Hotel, which offers free breakfast and has an indoor pool and hot tub. Or, check out Springhill Suites Grand Rapids North, also close to the light show, and an average of $115/night for large rooms and free breakfast.

Plan your itinerary: Experience Grand Rapids | Pure Michigan

7. Aurora Festival of Lights, Aurora, Illinois

Visit Aurora, Illinois, for a community-focused holiday lights experience from November 24 through December 25, 2023. Now in its 17th year, the Aurora Festival of Lights in Phillips Park, about an hour outside Chicago, features more than a mile of lighted displays. With new exhibits every year, you’ll never know what to expect. Previous years’ displays included holiday trains, giant snowflakes and more. Though the holiday light show is free, the organizer accepts donations that benefit local charities. Prior recipients of funds supported organizations such as the Urban Youth Ministry, Suicide Prevention, ShelterBox, Hesed House, Mooseheart School, Mts. Runn Church, African Men of Unity, local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, a food pantry, local scholarship funds and more.

NEA member travel benefits: Click on NEA Travel: Flights to search for flights to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) or Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW). Then head to NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals on accommodations like the conveniently located Holiday Inn Express & Suites Aurora – Naperville, an IHG Hotel, which averages $129 a night for a standard room with two queen beds, breakfast included. 

Plan your itinerary: Enjoy Aurora | Enjoy Illinois

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