WildLanterns Returns: Your New Insider’s Guide Is Here

Woodland Park Zoo WildLanterns
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Winter nights are settling in and that can only mean one thing—light displays are popping up all over Seattle. We know families are excited that Woodland Park Zoo’s WildLanterns will be returning for its second season. This year’s larger-than-life display will feature all new lighted animals, sea creatures and plant life, too, and it will knock your kiddo’s socks off. Planning a visit? Read on for the need-to-know details.

WildLanterns Woodland Park Zoo Seattle
Tianyu/Woodland Park Zoo

Bright Lights in the Big City

After a successful first run, WildLanterns is returning to Woodland Park Zoo for the 2021 season. If you made the trek last year and loved it, put a return visit on your calendar because every single lantern is new this year. Families will be welcomed through four themed zones where they'll encounter lighted animals and plants lining the zoo’s walking paths, at kiddo eye height and towering overhead. But rest assured, this isn't a re-run. The colorful shark tunnel that welcomes you should be your first hint.

Along the way you'll encounter Bug's World (think: A Bug's Life) where you'll feel smaller than ever among gorgeous and oversized bees, butterflies and plants. Then it's time to turn back the clock in search of Creatures of the Past. Reminiscent of the zoo's recent Dino Discovery display, kids will marvel at dinos (hatching and otherwise), woolly mammoths and saber tooth tigers here. The Mysterious Forest sheds light on an array of animals—you might even find some of your favorite zoo inhabitants here. The final display is an homage to traditional Chinese lanterns. It's where families can marvel at the 200-foot-long dragon and terra cotta warriors, part of this trip to the other side of the world. 

Our other favorite new thing? The WildLights Trail. Walk the Discovery Trail to see displays reminiscent of the zoo's former winter light display. Ahh, the memories! We suggest families plan about 90 minutes to walk the whole loop with your little adventurers.

WildLanterns Woodland Park Zoo Seattle
Tianyu Arts & Culture

Wild & Fun Programming

During your visit, make sure to stop by the cultural performance area near the carousel. It's where Tianyu Arts & Culture will run nightly shows featuring Chinese art forms like kung fu, lion dances, juggling and more. The shows are just a half-hour and make for a great break in between lantern hopping. Catch them Tuesdays through Thursdays at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. and Fridays through Sundays where they run three shows at 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Kids will definitely want to meet the zoo's animal ambassadors who will also be putting on a show. Find them behind the Zoomazium at the Broadleaf Theater each night between 5 and 7 p.m. A quick 20-minute show will give kiddos enough time to reacquaint themselves with these amazing animals. Plus, just like last year, there will be interactive zones providing delight to little lantern enthusiasts. Bubbles, a smoke cannon and a chance to swing on the moon are all in the works. Add in an epic animated lantern with flashing lights and engaging noises to make your evening experience complete. 

Woodland Park Zoo WildLanterns
Tianyu Arts & Culture/Woodland Park Zoo

What to Bring

Plan your WildLanterns visit like you do other zoo trips and you’ll have everything you need to keep your wee ones happy. The zoo’s wide paths were made for strollers, so be sure to have yours on hand for just-walkers or sleepy toddlers who need a rest. Outside, rain or shine, is the name of this game, so dress for the weather, with plenty of layers (hats and gloves), rain gear and snuggly stroller blankets to keep kids warm and dry. Don’t forget to throw your trusty umbrella into the mix too. Snacks are allowed and face masks are a must. Last but not least, make sure you’ve got room on your phone for all the cute pics! 

Allison Sutcliffe

Notable Noshables

If all this lantern gazing has your crew’s tummies rumbling, families can find plenty of food options at the zoo. 1889 Pizza and the Wild Cup will be open and a couple of pop-up kiosks will have food items for sale too. But we've got our eye on the s'mores activity center that's both envio- and pandemic-friendly—just look for the massive tent. Chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows melted together are always a hit on a cold winter night. Hot cocoa for the kids and warm boozy cocktails for parents will also be available. Plus, like other zoo events, families are welcome to bring their own food and drink to enjoy on-site. 

WildLanterns Seattle Woodland Park Zoo
Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Good to know:
1. Timed tickets are required for the event, and they sell out fast, so grab yours while you still can!

2. Mask up, please! Face coverings will be required for all visitors over the age of five, and proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test is required for all guests over the age of 12.

3. If early works best for your kids, you’re in luck. Even if you get the earliest ticket time spot, it’s dark enough to enjoy this experience. Plus, by the time you head out, the lanterns will be at their magical best, and you’ll still have the kids home by bedtime. 

4. Families will be welcomed at the West Entrance only, where the experience begins.

Woodland Park Zoo
5500 Phinney Ave. N.
Seattle, WA
Event details

Dates: Nov. 12, 2021-Jan. 30, 2022; closed Mondays (except for Dec. 20 & 27) and Nov. 25, Dec. 24 & 25
Hours: 4-8:30 p.m.

—Allison Sutcliffe


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