If you’re looking for a warm holiday glow during the chilly Seattle winter, the cuddling meerkats, dancing butterflies, and shimmering pink flowers at the Woodland Park Zoo’s WildLanterns event are a can’t-miss attraction.
Though you won’t find the traditional holiday Santa or candy canes at the WildLanterns event, rest assured that this immersive light show radiates a decidedly festive vibe. WildLanterns focuses on animals from around the world and the result is pure magic.
During my recent trip to Seattle, my family and I checked out Woodland Park Zoo’s unique nighttime event the evening before Thanksgiving. Our group was made up exclusively of adults, but we were no less enchanted by the adorable animal, insect, and plant lanterns than were the kids who were basking in the lights all around us.
I was amazed by the larger-than-life-size and the rich vibrance of the animal lanterns, as well as the scope of the display, which features more than 300 lanterns, several loop walkways, and numerous display areas. We were guests of WildLanterns, but my views are my own.
This year’s WildLanterns features new lanterns and a variety of themed zones, including All About Bugs, Garden Delights, A Walk Through Africa, Asian Safari, and Oceania Animal Odyssey. Each of the zones has highlights and it’s worth wandering through all of them. Expect to take at least two hours to walk the loops and stop for hot cocoa along the way.
The show runs through January 22, 2023, so there’s still plenty of time to plan a visit.
Here are nine reasons to take a wild winter walk at WildLanterns.
1. The Glowing Flower Tunnel
One of the first exhibits that we encountered upon entering WildLanterns at the zoo’s west entrance was the massive Wisteria Corridor tunnel that features radiant pink flowers hanging from above. It makes quite a statement! The tunnel was a very popular display. You’re likely to find crowds of people inside enjoying the soft glow and taking selfies.
2. Ferocious-Looking Tigers
When it comes to the exhibit’s Asian Safari, the kings of the forest appeared to be the stunning tigers, which are depicted stalking around one another and leaping over the lantern greenery, teeth bared. The tigers have a life-like quality, so don’t be surprised if you’re a little startled by their intense expressions.
3. Expressive Orangutans
Competing with the tigers for attention are the orangutans with their distinctive stances and expressive faces. The orangutan exhibit is large and features several animals in various poses among the whimsical trees and rocks.
4. Dancing Lights
Throughout the All About Bugs exhibit, the walkway is illuminated by dancing butterflies and flowers. The twirling images are accompanied by music, which encourages the kids (and adults) along the way to dance in the light. With dragonflies flitting through the trees and flowers lining the walkway, the All About Bugs is one of the most adorable sections of WildLanterns.
5. The Giant Ant Tunnel
Another great photo opportunity awaits in the All About Bugs loop at the Giant Ant Walkway, a massive tunnel that allows kids and adults to walk through the interior of the ant body and come out at the head, complete with bulging eyes and spiky antennae. With the insect’s spindly legs planted among rows of pretty flowers, the Ant Walkway is one of the highlights of the exhibit.
6. Adorable Meerkats
Anyone who ever watched the fascinating antics of meerkats on an episode of the popular Meerkat Manor television series will certainly enjoy the meerkat lanterns, which show a family of meerkats perched on rocks, embracing one another, and seemingly making eerie eye contact with the people in the crowd.
7. Acorns, Ants, And Armadillos
The standout lanterns are far too numerous to mention but suffice it to say that some of the hits among my group were the martes pennanti (fisher cats) lurking in the glowing acorn trees, the marching ants busy on their anthill, and the mom-and-baby armadillo duo with their long, pointing noses.
8. The Winter Ambience
Even though the nighttime temperatures were fairly mild and there was no rain when I visited, it was nice to be able to warm up at the fire rings in front of 1899 Grove, a concession area where you can order food and drinks, including hot cocoa. There are also stands located along the walkways that serve hot drinks and snacks.
9. Sensory-Friendly Nights
To become more accessible to people of all abilities, WildLanterns offers one night per month that is dedicated to making the entire exhibit sensory-friendly. The Sensory Friendly Nights feature low-sensory experiences and activities and other resources to provide a comfortable holiday adventure for all. More information on the dates and details of the Sensory Friendly Nights is available on the WildLanterns website.
Pro Tip: Separate tickets are required for the WildLanterns event and daytime zoo admission, and ticket prices for WildLanterns vary, depending on the day. Prices are available here.
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