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7 Minnesota light tours to brighten your holiday season

While holiday celebrations may look a bit different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, festive drive-thru light displays have popped up around the state to help Minnesotans get out and safely enjoy the holiday season.

Lights shine bright in Sertoma Winter Wonderland Christmas light displays on Dec. 9, at the Northland Arboretum. (Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch)
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While holiday celebrations may look a bit different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, festive drive-thru light displays have popped up around the state to help Minnesotans get out and safely enjoy the season.

Even though it's a great time to hop in the car and explore these displays, be sure to do your own research before heading out, as some places are receiving a high volume of visitors, and some are even requiring reservations prior to entry.

Here are seven cheery light display destinations that'll help get you and yours get into the holiday spirit.

First City of Lights, Bemidji

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The trees behind the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues are decorated with lights for the holiday season. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)


In the Northwoods during the holiday season, the city of Bemidji puts on its First City of Lights display, a festive lakeside exhibit of sparkling color that greets all who visit the center of town.

The famed Paul Bunyan’s Christmas Tree is the centerpiece of the display, as over 30,000 lights shine in an animated sequence to Christmas music that viewers can tune into on their car’s radio.

Other trees in the vicinity are also decked out in lights, and spectators can view them from their car or on foot by following a lakeside path.

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A twinkling Fountain of Hope was added to Bemidji’s Library Park this year for the First City of Lights celebration. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

The display features two large new additions this year, including an 18-foot-tall twinkling animated fountain and an illuminated 13-foot by 12-foot waving American flag.

After visiting the display, Christmas light seekers can also go on the First City of Lights Tour of Homes in order to view some of the town’s illuminated residences.


A home at 1114 America Ave. NW is decorated for the First City of Lights Tour of Homes in Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

For more information, visit bemidjijaycees.com .

Where: Paul Bunyan Park, US-2 Old, Bemidji

When: Lights come on each night at about 4:30 p.m. The tree is planned to stay up until mid-February, weather depending.

Cost: Free

Bentleyville Tour of Lights, Duluth

Vehicles line up to visit Santa on Nov. 21 during the opening night of the Bentleyville Tour of Lights at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth. Bentleyville switched to a drive-thru format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune)

Minnesota’s most famous Christmas attraction, Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth is a drive-thru event this year due to COVID-19, and all attendees are asked to remain in their vehicles as they enjoy millions of twinkling lights along the tour.


According to the event’s website, Santa and Mrs. Claus will be in attendance, along with some elves to assist in giving out treats to children. When entering the park, guests will be given a numbered card indicating the number of children, aged 10 and younger, per vehicle. Those children will receive a new knit hat and bag of cookies.

Also, the event is a drop-off location for the Salvation Army. Both food and toy donations are highly encouraged.

For more information, visit bentleyvilleusa.org .

Where: 700 Railroad St., Duluth

When: Open until Dec. 31: 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; and 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Cost: $10 per vehicle

Sertoma Winter Wonderland, Baxter

Lights shine bright in Sertoma Winter Wonderland Christmas light displays on Dec. 9, at the Northland Arboretum. (Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch)

At the Northland Arboretum in Baxter, folks can experience dazzling Christmas lights in the drive-thru format of Sertoma Winter Wonderland.

The holiday tradition includes a driving tour of more than 80 colorfully animated lit displays, the event’s website said. And “breathtaking lights, reflecting off of the sparkling white snow and strung into captivating displays will delight visitors as they drive through ….”

For more information, visit sertomawinterwonderland.com

Where: Northland Arboretum, 14260 Conservation Drive, Baxter

When: Open 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday; open nightly starting Wednesday, Dec. 23, to Thursday, Dec. 31

Cost: $15 per vehicle or $10 in advance; $25 for small buses and limos

Celebrate the Light of the World, Willmar

A car drives through a light tunnel of the Celebrate the Light of the World holiday drive-thru display at Robbins Island Park in Willmar. (Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune)

With more than 800,000 lights, more than 250 extension cords and more than 1,000 volunteer hours behind it, the Celebrate the Light of the World display is helping the small town of Willmar shine brightly this year.

What began as a light show at a local family’s home has transformed into a community event over the years, which is free for all to see this holiday season.

For more information, visit celebratethelight.net .

Where: Robbins Island Regional Park, Highway 71 N, Willmar

When: Open nightly 5-10 p.m. until Jan. 1

Cost: Free

Sever’s Holiday Lights, Shakopee

In Shakopee, Sever’s Holiday Lights features a half-mile drive-thru that takes visitors on a viewing spectacle of 1.2 million lights.

The lights are synchronized to music that can be played in one’s car, so visitors can drive through the display and enjoy the multitude of flashing lights with some festive tunes.

For more information, visit seversholidaylights.com .

Where: Sever's Festival Grounds, 3121 150th Street W, Shakopee

When: Open 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, including holidays. Open until Sunday, Jan. 3

Cost: $25 per car (for one to seven passengers). For cars with eight plus passengers, cost is $40.

Christmas in Color, Shakopee

Also in Shakopee, a Christmas in Color drive-thru event, with millions of lights synchronized to holiday tunes, is being held in the parking lot of Valleyfair.

“Drive through millions of lights perfectly synchronized to holiday music you’ll hear right through your radio,” the event’s website said. “Drive by giant candy canes, snowmen, arched pathways and more.”

For more information, visit christmasincolor.net/valleyfair .

Where: Valleyfair, 1 Valley Fair Dr., Shakopee

When: Open daily from 5:30-10 p.m. until Sunday, Jan. 3 (Closed Christmas Day)

Cost: $30 per vehicle

Nature Illuminated, Apple Valley

This holiday season, the Minnesota Zoo is putting a twist on the classic holiday light display with its Nature Illuminated event.

According to the zoo’s website, Nature Illuminated is “a one-of-a-kind drive-thru experience featuring stunning light work and larger-than-life animal art installations.”

The event is said to shine a spotlight on some of the “world’s most endearing and endangered animals,” which guests will learn more about with an audio tour.

For more information, visit mnzoo.org/natureilluminated .

Where: Minnesota Zoo, 13000 Zoo Boulevard, Apple Valley

When: Open 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday to Saturday. Runs through Jan. 17, and will be closed Dec. 24, Jan. 4, 5, 11, and 12

Cost: $25 per vehicle for zoo members and $50 for nonmembers Sunday to Thursday; or $35 per vehicle for zoo members and $60 per vehicle for non-members on Fridays and Saturdays

Bria Barton covers travel and tourism for Forum News Service and is based at the Bemidji Pioneer. A South Carolina native and USC grad, she can be found exploring Minnesota’s abundance of towns, food and culture. Follow her on Instagram @briabarton.
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