by Melissa Moore
Since moving to the Washington DC Metro area in 2014, ZooLights at the National Zoo has quickly
become part of our family’s holiday tradition. For the past couple of years, we have pulled into the zoo’s parking area just as the sun has set on the first Friday in December, traditionally the beginning of the FONZ member week, to enjoy our free member week parking and ride coupons. But, you don’t have to be a member of the zoo to enjoy the lights, animals and festivities that the National Zoo has to offer nighttime visitors for free during the month of December.
Holiday Lights, Model Trains and Gingerbread Houses
The entire length of Olmstead Walk from the zoo’s entrance on Connecticut Avenue to the lower parking lots is decorated for the holiday season. Trees are wrapped with rainbow colored lights and kids will be able to spot many of their favorite animals constructed out of hundreds of twinkling bulbs. The visitor center at the top of the hill is open, and tots will be thrilled to see that there is a small model train exhibit and gingerbread house competition in the auditorium.
The Animals at Night
While this event might not have all the sparkle of some of the more spectacular garden light displays in the area like those at Brookside Gardens and Meadowlark Gardens, there’s plenty of animals to see at during Zoolights at the National Zoo. The Small Mammal House, Great Ape House, and Reptile Discovery Center are all open to the public during ZooLights. On our last visit to ZooLights, the great apes were all tucked into bed, and we could see them all fast asleep through the glass. However, at the Small Mammal House many of the animals are up and moving about; this is the perfect opportunity to see the nocturnal animals that always seem to be asleep when you visit during daytime hours. Between the Small Mammal House, Great Ape House, Reptile Discovery Center, Visitor Center and Think Tank there are plenty of places to warm up on a chilly night.
The area below the Reptile Discovery Center on Olmstead Walk is mostly dedicated to rides and food during ZooLights. If your family is looking to skip the rides and save some money, it’s fairly easy to avoid this section of the zoo (unless you park in the lower lots.) Tickets are sold individually or as part of a coupon book for the small kiddie train, carousel and snowless tubing; a book of eight tickets is available for twenty dollars in 2015. The snowless tubing on Lion/Tiger Hill has been my kid’s favorite activity at ZooLights for the past few years at ages five and six.
Tip for Visiting Families
It’s pretty common knowledge to parents in the Washington DC area that the National Zoo is on a
relatively steep hill. Walking back up to the top of the hill is no fun at any time of day, but it’s especially difficult at bedtime. Don’t forget a stroller for little ones. I’m sure that I’m not the first parent to have bought hot chocolate for my kids at the bottom of the hill before making our last trek up the hill at the end of the night. I find that kids sipping hot chocolate are a lot less likely to whine about how tired they are.
For the 2015 Season, ZooLights at the National Zoo, Powered by Pepco, is open November 27 – January 2: 5 - 9PM (Except December 24, 25, 31.) On Saturday nights, visitors can enjoy a complimentary shuttle ride from the Woodley Park metro station to the Zoo, generously provided by Big Bus Tours. Look for the red double decker buses that will be running every 20 minutes. Parking is limited and rates are $10 for FONZ members and $20 for non-members.
For more family travel adventures, follow the author, Melissa Moore, on Twitter and Instagram as @DCTravelMom and read her articles as the DC, MD and VA family travel guru on the acclaimed national website, Trekaroo.
Picture credit: Melissa Moore. Photos are property of Melissa Moore and may not be used in any publication without permission.
Kid Trips Northern Virginia Edition
Buy New $12.59
About The Blog
Kid Trips' blogs profile fun events and cool family-friendly venues. We focus on regional and national family travel articles.
Blogs Via Email
Links We Love