The Minnesota Zoo is wrapping up its “Nature Illuminated” lights display show in January with new animals, themes and an added walking tour.

Nature Illuminated is the zoo’s light show with oversized, lit-up displays of animals from around the world on a three-quarter-mile trail.

Zach Nugent, the zoo’s communication and media relations specialist, said the show provides an informative element to visitors and is a great way to learn about some of the world’s most endangered and endearing animals.

“It’s an incredible way to support the Minnesota Zoo,” Nugent said. “You’re spending time with family and enjoying these lights, while also having this connection to animals and nature that is pretty unique.”


This is the second year the zoo has presented its Nature Illuminated show. Last year, the show made its debut only as a driving tour.

The show was accompanied by an audio tour synched up to the drive so guests could learn more about the animals and participate in an interactive experience while in their cars. This element of Nature Illuminated was also added into this year’s display.

Nugent said the zoo also looks to have new themes for the show every year. While last year’s theme was centered around animal habitats, this year’s focuses on animal attributes and abilities.

The animal displays are categorized based on their unique connections to one another; these categories range from “Precise Predators” to “Heavy Lifters” and “Super Sensers.”

Beyond just a new theme, Nugent said the zoo looked to enhance this year’s experience by bringing in more animals, lights and a whole new audio tour.

This year’s show has 36 animal displays, some of which reach 30 feet tall. The group this year includes a variety of animals like sea turtles, polar bears, snowy owls and red pandas.

“We are really excited to be able to bring it back,” Nugent said. “Not only are you able to marvel at these incredible displays of lights, but they’re all centered around these incredible animals that live all throughout the world.”


New to Nature Illuminated is a walking tour taking place on weekends from Jan. 6-16. Added elements to the walking version of the show include a bonfire and the chance to purchase cookies and hot chocolate while on the walk to make it a “wonderland-type experience.”

Having the show debut last year caused the zoo to focus only on having a drive-thru version, especially while following pandemic safety measures. Nugent said going into this year, the zoo wanted to see what it could do differently with Nature Illuminated to enhance the show and overall experience.

Nugent said while the drive-thru and walking versions are still both part of the overall Nature Illuminated show, the experiences are wildly different.

“You really get this whole different experience in person when you’re walking and physically standing next to these animals…[so] it really is just a new way to connect to the experience,” Nugent said.

He added that the show is also a perfect way to wrap up the year at the Minnesota Zoo and look ahead to 2022 with exciting events for guests to experience.

“Nature Illuminated and all our events are a great way to support the zoo and find ways to get out and connect with nature in unique ways,” Nugent said. “Although we’ve faced some of the same challenges that we saw in 2020, we are so appreciative of all the support we’ve seen from our community.”