Visit the River of Lights at the Albuquerque BioPark Botanic Garden for a festive, family-friendly holiday experience you’ll not soon forget. There you can stroll along a 1.5-mile path that takes you by 800 unique, hand-welded light displays and animated sculptures, including a 30-foot-tall brachiosaurus! As a bonus, your ticket price helps the nonprofit organization that supports the BioPark.
What is the River of Lights?
It’s not actually a river, but the Albuquerque BioPark does sit on the banks of the Rio Grande. This River of Lights is a path you follow through the beautiful BioPark Botanic Garden to explore 25 areas, including (a favorite for kids) Dinosaur Alley, ocean and sea animals, a pirate ship, penguins, toys, birds, and much more.
The walking path through the River of Lights is paved but can be uneven, so care should be taken since, of course, you visit at night. Only service animals are allowed at the park, so leave your pup at home.
The River of Lights was started back in 1997 by the nonprofit New Mexico BioPark Society and now draws more than 120,000 guests each year and raises about a million dollars to support the BioPark Zoo, Aquarium, Botanic Garden, and Tingley Beach. It is the largest walk-through holiday light show in the state and the city’s most popular holiday experience. Three craftspeople work year-round on this holiday event to re-invigorate existing displays and create new ones.
Where Should You Park for the River of Lights?
This is a popular holiday experience and gets more crowded as Christmas approaches! The River of Lights opens on Thanksgiving weekend, runs through the 30th of December, and is closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They recommend visiting early in December or on a weeknight to avoid the crowds.
Whenever you go, you’ll want to use the free Park & Ride at the BioPark Zoo. Take I-40 to 12th Street or I-25 to Lead Avenue, then head to the zoo. Park for free and take the shuttle to the River of Lights entrance.
Another option is to take the ART bus at no charge. The 766 Red Line and 777 Green Line both offer service to the River of Lights. The last bus will leave the park around 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays and 7:20 p.m. on Sundays.
Buy your tickets online and don’t delay because they may sell out for the night you’d like to attend. Your tickets provide a timed admission with a one-hour window, but once you’re inside you can take all the time you’d like to enjoy the spectacular light displays.
Pro tip: You can arrive any time during the hour on your ticket. To avoid standing in line, come a little after the top of the hour. So, if your ticket time is 7 p.m., arrive around 7:20 when most early birds have already entered the park.
Entertainment at the River of Lights
Some nights, your experience at the River of Lights can be enhanced by musical performances by local choirs, mariachi groups, and even Victorian carolers. A few nights include some craft activities, too.
Special River of Lights Options
If you’re thinking of popping the question during the holidays, how about doing it at the River of Lights? They offer a proposal package that includes a seven-foot-tall “Will you marry me?” light sculpture with optional add-ons like sparkling wine, roses, and a private dinner for two. How could your intended say no?
Dive deep into the holiday spirit by stepping up for Santa’s Magical Experience, which includes story time and photos with Old Saint Nick, s’mores, hot chocolate, a plush animal presented by Santa himself, and a ride with Santa to the entrance of the River of Lights where you’ll skip the line.
Or you can opt to indulge in Santa’s Workshop, a fun event for those 18 and over. Decorate a nutcracker to take home, enjoy s’mores and hot chocolate, visit Santa, and then take the jolly shuttle over to the River of Lights entrance.
Both packages include reserved parking at Tingley Beach, a shuttle from the beach to the River of Lights and back, and entrance to the River of Lights.
Fascinating River of Lights Facts
Did you know there are more than 200 miles of twinkle lights on display? They need more than 12 miles of extension cords to power the many lights. It took almost 600 hours to create the enormous brachiosaurus!
A crew of 10 starts setting up the sculptures and lights in September to be ready for opening night. While there, look for the first-ever hand-made sculpture, a flat panel saguaro cactus, and their first 3D sculpture, a yucca.
Find fun ideas for free things to do over the holidays in Albuquerque here.