Seattle's Child

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Parent review: Woodland Park Zoo’s WildLanterns Festival

Here's what's new for 2022 at one of Seattle's beloved outdoor holiday attractions.

Sometimes change is good. Regular zoogoers held our breaths when Woodland Park Zoo swapped its classic holiday strings of lights for brilliantly illuminated lanterns in 2020. After attending for the third year in a row, I can honestly say it keeps getting better and better. Here’s a sneak peek at what you have to look forward to this year. 

All new lanterns

When I think about dream jobs, being the zoo employee who gets to choose new lanterns every year is pretty high on the list. Yep, you read that right: The lanterns and interactive areas are brand new every year!

We started at the West entrance and ran through a giant ant tunnel that replaces 2021’s beloved rainbow shark. The All About Bugs section was one of my favorites — swirling dragonfly projections lit up the pathway while flickering fireflies danced in the trees. 

Families who enter via the South entrance get a warm welcome, too. A wisteria tunnel is an Instagrammer’s dream (photo-bombed by happy kids dashing through it, of course) and leads toward more floral delights along the way.

Perhaps the most stunning standalone piece was the family of orangutans in the Asian Safari section. I loved that this year’s lanterns felt more reflective of the animals who make their home at the zoo. 


Interactive zones and entertainment

It wouldn’t be a family visit to WildLanterns without a lengthy stop in the interactive zones. There are a few sprinkled throughout the walk (like a Machine Mantis and cute photo ops), but the main area is front and center near the snow leopard exhibit. 

Play follow the leader on the light-up panels that spell out “2022” or venture into the mirrored room where a tree with fiberoptic branches creates an irresistible sparkling effect. My 6-year-old said it reminded her of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibit at Washington D.C.’s Hirshorn Museum, and I have to agree. 



Further down the path, you’ll find a pair of charming parrots — talk into the microphones on the tree stumps and they’ll repeat your words back to you. This was a huge hit with our group!

For longtime zoogoers who remember WildLights, we’re excited to report that the carousel and Zoomazium will reopen as indoor spaces to warm up and have fun. Families can also join in on scheduled Tianyu cultural performances and impromptu Critter Conections.

Increased inclusiveness

All the lights and noise of this epic event can be wildly overstimulating to some families. The zoo has added three sensory-friendly nights (November 16, December 13 and January 12). 

In addition to less bright lights and music at a lower volume, Zoomazium will transform into NightLights with shadow puppet activities and smaller tents to make the experience cozier. 

Plan ahead

As with any winter outdoor excursion, a little advance planning goes a long way. If the meteorologists are right, another La Nina weather pattern should bring colder and wetter conditions this winter. Pack your best rain gear, mittens and a thermos of hot cocoa because WildLanterns is fun rain or shine. It’s just under 2 miles to walk through the entire figure-eight zoo path, so you’ll also want your favorite baby carrier, stroller or wagon for little ones. 

The zoo adopted Disney-style peak pricing this year. I’m not thrilled about it, but it does raise a little more money for animal care during the most popular time slots (around holiday breaks). Book in advance and save money by using your member discount and avoiding peak times if it fits your family’s schedule. 

There are so many wonderful holiday events returning this year and it’s impossible to get to all of them, but WildLanterns always earns a spot on our holiday calendar.

WildLanterns: know before you go

Find it: Guests who purchase tickets in advance can enter WildLanterns at the South (750 N. 50th Street) or West (5500 Phinney Ave. N) entrance. Use the West entrance if you need to purchase a ticket onsite. 

Timing: Open November 11-January 22 from 4-9 p.m. (last entry at 8:30 p.m.). WildLanterns is closed most Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 

Cost: Zoo admission does not include WildLanterns. Timed tickets are recommended and can be purchased online. Members receive a 20% discount when logged in. Members of BECU also can purchase discount tickets. New peak pricing takes effect this year, so expect to pay more on weekends and during holiday breaks. Adult tickets range from $29.95-$34.95, while youth tickets (ages 3-12) range from $25.95-$29.95. Children 2 and under are free, but still require a ticket. 

Parking: Evening parking in the zoo lots costs $6 (plus taxes and fees) starting at 3:30 p.m. Street parking is available in surrounding neighborhoods.

Food: Concessions are available at the zoo and guests can bring outside food to enjoy in designated eating areas. Neighborhood restaurants like Windy City Pie and Red Mill Burgers are nearby and offer a more leisurely eating experience. 


Other holiday celebrations:

Holiday events around the Seattle area, 2022

Holiday markets great for shopping and more


Published Nov. 14, 2022

About the Author

Natasha Dillinger

Natasha Dillinger is a Seattle mom who paused a career in accounting and finance to focus on showing her two young children around the Pacific Northwest. Follow their adventures near and far on Instagram @suitcasesinseattle