ZooLights is back! The Oregon Zoo’s walk-through winter wonderland of more than 1.6 million colored lights opens for its 30th season on Nov. 24 and it’s more popular than ever. Over the past five years, nearly a million visitors have strolled through the forests of lighted trees, been dazzled by life-size illuminated animal silhouettes and ridden the light-bedecked zoo trains. “Attendance has been off the charts the past several years,” said Ivan Ratcliff, the zoo’s guest services manager.
This year marks the 30th ZooLights for Ratcliff, who started working at the zoo in 1982 and has been involved with the light display since its inception. We checked in with him and gleaned these five tips to save money, avoid lines and get the most enjoyment out of your ZooLights experience.
Start your festivities early in the season.
“Most ZooLights visitors come on weekends and the weeks when school’s out,” Ratcliff said. “But if you come on weeknights early in the season, you can avoid the crowds and save money.” During this year’s Value Nights — Monday through Thursday, through Dec. 14 — ZooLights visitors get a $5 discount on admission.
- Ride MAX to the zoo.
Can’t make it on a Value Night, but still want to save five bucks? Ride MAX. On non-Value Nights, the zoo offers a $5 admission discount for visitors who take TriMet (proof of ridership required). “MAX is a great way to get to the zoo,” Ratcliff said. “I ride it to work every day — the Washington Park stop lets you off just in front of the zoo entrance. I highly recommend using this option whenever possible.” For additional transportation and parking information, Ratcliff recommends the website gettingtozoolights.com. “It gives you a range of options and instructions about using Park & Ride, light rail, driving and even rideshare zones.”
3. Show up fashionably late … unless you’re driving.
“The big rush at ZooLights is usually from 4 to 6 p.m.,” Ratcliff said. “If you come after that, you can avoid some of the crowds. This strategy only works if you’re taking MAX though. If you’re driving, I recommend getting here by 4 p.m. or sooner. The main parking lot, and even the shuttle lots, fill up fast, especially on weekends.”
- Buy your tickets online.
“You can buy your admission tickets in advance and bypass the line at the front gate,” Ratcliff said. “You can also buy train tickets ahead of time for scheduled 15-minute intervals — that way, you spend more time enjoying the lights and less time in line.” To purchase online tickets, go to oregonzoo.org/zoolights.
- It’s not all about the train.
“A lot of people focus on the train, but really that’s just one part of the ZooLights experience,” Ratcliff said. “The ride itself is about six minutes, and 90 percent of the lights are along the walking paths. I recommend scheduling your ride online before you visit — then you can stroll around the grounds and enjoy the lights until your appointed train time.”
For further information and illumination, visit bit.ly/ZooLightsFAQ.
As part of the Metro family, the Oregon Zoo helps make greater Portland a great place to call home. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects focused on saving animals from extinction include studies on polar bears, orangutans and cheetahs.
Support from the Oregon Zoo Foundation enhances and expands the zoo’s efforts in conservation, education and animal welfare. Members, donors and corporate and foundation partners help the zoo make a difference across the region and around the world.
The zoo opens at 9:30 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit trimet.org for fare and route information.