The Arkansas Trail of Holiday Lights Illuminates Entire State Every Year

Looking for ways to brighten your holiday season?  Head to Arkansas.

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Photo: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

In past years, the sight of holiday decorations on your local retailer's shelf before Halloween might have made your skin crawl. But this is 2020. And after months of stress, fear and uncertainty, those premature twinkling lights have been much more welcomed this year. Perhaps seen more as a symbol of hope and something to look forward to at a time when so many need it. In fact, we support you if you decided to hang the lights back in March and just left your house glowing all this time.

You don't have to explain the magical effects of holiday lights to residents in Arkansas, however. For more than 25 years, communities across the state have participated in the annual Arkansas Trail of Holiday Lights. From Batesville to El Dorado, the town squares, county courthouses and city parks come to life with millions of dazzling bulbs. Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, Stacy Hurst, told Southern Living that the yearly event attracts thousands of local residents as well as visitors from neighboring states. "Like many states, Arkansans love to celebrate the holidays, and we have many communities who really go all out, decorating their courthouse squares, parks throughout their community and we just realized that it could be a great marketing tool to not just for our residents but to invite people into the state to help celebrate the holidays."

Garvan Woodland Gardens Holiday Lights
Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism
Garvan Gardens TOHL Christmas Lights
Tourism Arkansas

Some locations like Fayetteville's Lights of the Ozarks or Blytheville's Lights of the Delta, use their displays to celebrate the unique features of Arkansas. And there's more than just lights to gawk at. Many of the events include other seasonal activities such as ice skating, hot chocolate stands – even camel rides! "There's all kinds of fun little activities that appeal to children well into adults, parents and grandparents," said Secretary Hurst. In fact, many families now have multiple generations that have made the long-running event part of their annual holiday traditions. Secretary Hurst is one of them. "We do have a family tradition to go up to Fayetteville, following Christmas day and take in a Razorback game, and go to Lights of the Ozarks on the Fayetteville square. That is a wonderful tradition in our family that we've enjoyed for many years."

And yes, things will be a little different this year, but Secretary Hurst says the show will still go on. "This year, we're encouraging outdoor activities. Of course, we have a mask mandate in state of Arkansas and our governor is stressing personal responsibility and taking the precautions that are necessary at this time. And so cities across the state and communities across the state will embrace those necessary precautions. Arkansas has a pretty mild winter, we have a mild climate, so we think that visitors and residents can still enjoy these wonderful light displays and festivities because typically we can still be outdoors during December. So we think that we will be able to carry on, and we'll just carry on safely."

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Tourism Arkansas

The event kicked off Thanksgiving week and runs through the New Year. Most attractions are free, but a few do ask for donations or a charge a small fee per car. You can find out more details on which cities are doing what this year, here.

We think this sounds like a perfect socially distant, festive activity for the entire family.

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