Folks in the Midwest take their holiday lights displays seriously. Many of the more impressive illuminations across the region are family traditions. From Illinois to Ohio, Wisconsin to South Dakota, Michigan to Missouri, here are the best Midwest holiday lights displays to see this year.
East Peoria: Following its 31st annual Parade of Lights Nov. 21, the Winter Wonderland drive-through light display opens for the season. Follow along with the guided radio tour. Nov. 23-Dec. 31
Alton: More than 3 million lights adorn the trees in Rock Spring Park for “Christmas Wonderland.” Visit with Santa in the enchanted forest, or go for horse-drawn carriage rides available on weekends. Nov. 24-Dec. 26.
Chicago: Chicago’s fabulous BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival returns on Nov. 19 with a parade down Michigan Avenue. See Chicago’s holiday lights on a 30-minute helicopter ride along the lakefront or via the Chicago Holiday Lights Trolley tour. The trolley tour includes a Sprinkles cupcake and a stop to walk through the free Zoo Lights displays at Lincoln Park Zoo,” filled with animal-themed light displays. See the real animals, too, get a photo with Santa, ride the carousel or ice skate. Friday-Sunday only until Dec. 13, and then nightly Dec. 13-23.
Lisle: Trees are the stars of the awesome light displays at Illumination at The Morton Arboretum, in Chicago’s west suburbs. No Rudolph or Santa, just colorful, creative, laser light displays along a mile-long forested walking path dotted with warming bonfires. Nov. 17-Jan. 1.
Rockford: River of Lights, on the banks of the Rock River between State Street and Jefferson Street bridges, features dancing lights set to music on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the month of December. Showtimes are every 15 minutes, 5:30-8:30 pm. On non-show nights, Rockford’s River Lights stay on each night and illuminate the riverbanks. Shows are free.
Indianapolis: Start your engines! Back for the 2017 Christmas season is “Lights at the Brickyard,” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Drive past 500 light displays on a 2-mile path that crosses the famous “Yard of Bricks.” Indi also has the nation’s tallest holiday light display at “Circle of Lights,” a 55-year tradition in downtown Indianapolis’ Monument Circle. The iconic Soldiers and Sailors Monument is transformed into a 242-foot tall Christmas tree, with carriage rides, live reindeer, symphony performances and old-fashioned candy. Nov. 17-Dec. 30.
Sharpsville: This town dedicates its holiday light display, Sharpsville Lights, to all veterans. It features a computerized Christmas show synchronized to music. It features over 120,000 lights spread over 2 acres. Nov. 25-Dec. 30.
Santa Claus: This Christmas-themed town goes all-out, with everything from elaborate residential light displays at Christmas Lake Village‘s “Festival of Lights” to a choreographed light show at Kringle Place Shopping Center. Try the 1.2-mile “Santa Claus Land of Lights,” a driving journey that tells the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer through huge LED displays. Nightly Dec. 17-31. Closed Christmas Eve and Day.
Fishers: Lights create a 50-foot Abominable Snowman, tractors, trains and more in the 10-acre drive-through display at Reynolds Farm Equipment. This year is also their 25th anniversary! Free admission. Nov. 21-Jan. 1, from dusk till dawn.
Dearborn: Lantern-lit paths illuminate the old-fashioned Christmas performances and displays at the charming “Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village.” Ice skating and fireworks, too. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights in December.
Grand Rapids: Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the Christmas Lite Show at Fifth Third Ballpark has shown off almost two miles (over a million lights!) of animated displays, lighted tunnels and more. Nov. 22-Dec. 31 with a fee starting at $20/car. Find information on their website about their Golden Ticket giveaway for their 20th anniversary.
Duluth: The Bentleyville Tour of Lights claims to be America’s largest walk-through holiday light display. It’s located along Lake Superior, in the 20-acre Bayfront Festival Park. Displays feature Duluth and Christmas-themed icons. Nov. 18-Dec. 26.
Kansas City: Country Club Plaza continues a nearly century-old tradition on Nov. 23 with fireworks and a live concert. Views are available from plaza hotels, such as the upscale Hotel Sorella or the family-friendly Holiday Inn. Its Holidays on the Plaza displays are up until Jan. 1.
Lake of the Ozarks: Twenty-seven acres of light displays, some as tall as 30 feet, fill “The Enchanted Village of Lights” at the Laurie Fairgrounds, Nov. 17-Jan. 1. The Shrine of St. Patrick on Hwy 5 offers a religious-themed “Festival of Lights” Nov. 23-Jan. 1, and the Unity Circle of Lights in Versailles celebrates cooperation among community members with 40 glowing, animated holiday scenes. Nov. 25-Jan. 1.
Branson: Broadway-style productions, a 5-story special effects Christmas tree, and 1,000 additional decorated trees make Branson’s one of the top holiday light displays in the Midwest. Among its most popular features is the Trail of Lights (scroll down), a drive-thru trail with millions of holidays lights and a 23-foot Christmas tree. The Travel Channel ranks it as one of the best places drive-thru Christmas lights displays in the U.S. Nov. 1-Dec. 31.
Hamilton: Drive through the rolling hills of Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park to see its outdoor art sculptures decorated with more than 2 million lights at its annual “Holiday Lights on the Hill.” Nov. 17-Dec. 31.
Huron: Drive through the “Firelands Festival of Lights” at the Sawmill Creek Resort, and then stop in the Candy Cane House to visit with Santa. Free admission. Nov. 24-Dec. 31.
Pierre: “Christmas at the Capitol” fills the state capitol building with nearly decorated trees from individuals and local organizations. Nov. 22-Dec. 26.
Lake Geneva: The beautiful Grand Geneva Resort & Spa hosts its Christmas in the Country celebration from Nov. 19-Jan. 1. More than two million lights illuminate the resort’s 1,300 acres of rolling countryside, and they have indoor displays as well. The Grand Geneva features dozens of holiday displays, daily holiday teas, gingerbread house building contests, breakfast with Santa, and live holiday performances.
Milwaukee: Thousands of lights create animated scenes and dancing luminaries in Pere Marquette Park for the annual Holiday Lights Festival. Nov. 16-Jan. 1.