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’Tis the season! Every year, zoos, gardens, parks, and even private homes throughout the Denver metro area deck the halls with elaborate displays of holiday lights that would make Clark Griswold cry tears of joy (and jealousy).
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This sparkly scene, which features 20,000 LEDs outlining nearly every edge of Walter Hazard’s home, is beloved by those near (neighborhood kids were the ones who named it “The Gingerbread House”) and far (German magazine Der Spiegel featured it in a roundup of the best holiday displays in America). “It’s so orderly,” Hazard says. “The Germans love that.” This year, the Hazards went head-to-head with other full-out festive families to compete on ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight. You can stream it on Disney+ and Hulu, but we highly recommend seeing the masterpiece in person. 10221 S. Fairgate Way, Highlands Ranch
Corey Christiansen’s decorating theory is pretty straightforward: “I want my display to be as dense as possible.” For 2023’s show, Christiansen is currently using 75,000 bulbs and plans to add 10,000 more. Those who visit his jam-packed arrangement—which includes Santa’s sleigh, a juggling snowman, and an inflatable elephant—are also encouraged to donate to the Autism Society of Colorado (both of Christiansen’s kids have autism) by texting SPREADLIGHT to 44321. 4822 S. Picadilly Ct., Aurora
When Mike and Jenn Onstott met more than 10 years ago, they immediately bonded over their love of Christmas decorations. Now they share their affection for all that twinkles with the rest of us via a massive display of some 35,000 LEDs, including disco lights over the driveway. This year, you’ll catch a light show, pyrotechnics, and an 18-foot-tall Santa Claus. Plus, the Onstotts have a magical mailbox that delivers letters straight to St. Nick in the North Pole. (Letters dropped off with a return address by December 18 will even receive a special reply from the big guy himself.) 10046 Fraser St., Commerce City
Arvada Light Show
It’s still unclear whether the wise men followed a star or the glow of this home on 66th Avenue. Nestled on a hilltop, it shines like a beacon across the burbs. Although its elevated location gives passersby a great show even from afar, the owners allow visitors to walk up their driveway and around the yard to see it closer, which means you’ll catch a gazebo filled with snowmen and aglow with blue lights, an illuminated koi pond with a waterfall, plenty of characters like Minnie Mouse and a yeti, and a mailbox where you can drop off letters for Santa. 8205 W. 66th Ave., Arvada
Stricker’s Winter Wonderland
Joe Stricker and his family are no strangers to the holiday decorating game (swing by around Halloween to catch their aptly named Haunted Yard, filled with skeletons and jack-o’-lanterns) but the Strickers’ annual Christmas light display is particularly showstopping. With holiday music, a Christmas countdown, Santa and his elves working hard in the window, and a Whoville-themed section, this whimsical wonderland is a Centennial staple. Littles can sit on the Strickers’ front steps to watch movies like Frosty the Snowman projected by the front door, and Santa is even scheduled to visit the night of December 23. 6636 S. Lafayette St., Centennial
No list of Denver holiday lights would be complete without Zoo Lights, which enters its 34th straight year of creating Christmas cheer. In 2023, more than three million lights illuminate the zoo’s 80 acres—a feat that requires months of preparation. Cherry pickers begin clearing plants and hanging lights as early as August. While the Zoo Lights masterminds typically stick to tried-and-true displays (elephant silhouettes with moving trunks, a bright-blue whale, and flashy fluorescent peacocks), they introduce something new each year. In 2023, visitors will get to see new animated light sculptures and witness nightly ice-carving exhibitions. Denver Zoo, 2300 Steele St.; now–January 7; times vary; $20–$28 for adults, $13–$21 for kids
If you’re looking for a light show that’s both theatrical and a little thrilling, this sprawling seasonal display at Elitch Gardens might even spark a smile from the Grinches of the group. At Luminova Holidays, more than four million lights illuminate tunnels, a 65-foot-tall Christmas tree, snowmen, and interactive light swings. Take a photo in front of the 300-foot-long wall of lights, play light-up hopscotch, and tell Santa, who is on site nightly, exactly what you’ll be expecting in your stocking. This year’s Luminova includes more rides with your ticket than ever, so climb on the Brain Drain, Boomerang, and Sea Dragon to take in the twinkling from a new perspective. Elitch Gardens, 2000 Elitch Circle; now–December 31; dates and times vary; $25–$30
At Littleton’s Hudson Gardens, stroll the trails to catch plenty of lit-up trees, projections, and immersive creations, like a 180-foot-long cathedral of lights that you can step inside. Enter a gigantic dome of lights to watch a light show set to music, and don’t forget to visit with Santa before you leave. Adults can grab cocktails at the on-site bar, and hot chocolate and food concessions are also available for purchase. New this year: Hudson Gardens will feature a second “Light Up the New Year” show beginning on January 2. Hudson Gardens, 6115 S. Santa Fe Dr., Littleton; now–December 31; 5–9:30 p.m; prices vary
Ride your sleigh up north for the annual Garden of Lights—an illuminated half-mile stretch at the Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins. Santa Claus touches down nightly, and you can sip on a holiday cocktail from the on-site bar. Check the online calendar for additional entertainment like a cappella carolers, a dog troupe, and even occasional visits from Mrs. Claus (we hear she’ll relay wish lists to the mister). The Gardens on Spring Creek, 2145 Centre Ave., Fort Collins; now–December 23; 5–9 p.m; $10 for adults, $5 for kids
The Denver Botanic Gardens’ biggest event of the season has been a draw for more than 30 years. More than one million LED lights illuminate the one-way path that snakes through the gardens’ 23 acres. Take a picture in front of the glowing snowflakes that appear to float on the water or catch an innovative show where glowing rods of light change color in sync across a massive lawn, creating a dazzling display. Some buildings and flora also serve as backdrops for projections, making Blossoms of Light a brilliant scene no matter where you look. And don’t forget to grab a cup of loaded hot chocolate—a warm cup of cocoa topped with marshmallows, whipped cream, and drizzled chocolate—to keep you cozy as you stroll. Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St.; now–January 7; 4:30–9 p.m.; $20–$25 for adults, $18–$21 for kids
In these three over-the-top creations, you can stay warm and cozy while enjoying holiday lights from your vehicle. Drive the mile-long corridor through light-up tunnels, singing Christmas trees, and even a sunglass-clad Santa Claus doing the “Gangnam Style” dance—all of which sync to music you stream through a radio station.
To keep the 1.5 million lights bright and colorful, the crew replaces about 40 percent of the LEDs each year. But new technology has allowed Christmas in Color to push the boundaries even further. “The ability to control every bulb really makes it into a screen like your TV, where each bulb is a pixel,” says Todd Glover, CEO of Christmas in Color. Water World, 8801 N. Pecos St., Federal Heights; Bandimere Speedway, 3051 S. Rooney Rd., Morrison; Arapahoe County Fairgrounds, 25690 E. Quincy Ave., Aurora; now–December 30; 5:30–9:30 p.m.; $35–$45 per vehicle
While the Mile High Tree was honored with Denver’s nickname, the tree itself was built an ocean away. Visit the Denver-commissioned, seven-story-tall conifer, created by 75-year-old ILMEX Illumination in the small southern city of Puente Genil, Córdoba, Spain, in Civic Center Park. Adorned with 110 feet of lights and set to a medley of classic holiday tunes, it turns on nightly this month for free shows. Visitors can walk inside the tree, too. Stop by on New Year’s Eve (9 p.m.) for a New York City–style ball drop to ring in 2024 and to say farewell to the tree for another year. Civic Center Park, 101 14th Ave.; now–December 31; 5.–10 p.m.; free