Join the thousands of visitors who make ZooLights a part of their annual holiday tradition. A free event, ZooLights includes live music performances, tasty winter treats, and plenty of opportunities for holiday shopping. More than 500,000 environmentally-friendly LED lights transform the Zoo into a winter wonderland complete with a dazzling light show set to music!

This year's special nights include BrewLights, Dec. 1; Military Night, Dec. 2; and Date Night, Dec. 8. Member Week is Dec. 3 through Dec. 10. See below for more information.

Thaw your paws in the animal exhibit buildings and see the nocturnal critters! The Small Mammal House, Reptile Discovery Center, and Think Tank are open every night.

Rides and attractions include:

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo Choo-Choo: take a merry tour through the Zoo on a trackless train that whisks guests all around the Great Cats exhibit and features gorgeous views of the Zoo’s holiday light displays.

Snow-less Tubing: take the plunge down one of our 150-foot-long tracks—no snow necessary!

Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel: hop on to your choice of 58 animal figurines, as the carousel highlights the Zoo’s incredible research and success stories. As one of the few carousels in the world powered by solar energy, thanks to a generous donation by Pepco Energy Services, the carousel is a new spin on conservation.

Warm up your night with hot chocolate, coffee, eggnog, and mulled cider. Indulge in roasted nuts, kettle corn, s’mores, holiday cookies, and gingerbread.

Adults can get into the holiday spirit with a specialty spiked hot chocolate, a glass of wine, or a cold beer. And everyone will enjoy dinner at the Zoo’s restaurants, which will be serving their complete menu plus seasonal specials. Food and beverage offerings will be available in the Visitor Center and throughout the park.

Make holiday shopping an eco-friendly affair at the Zoo’s gift shops located throughout the park. Find a Zoo-themed present for everyone on your holiday list! Children will love Zoo toys and books; while adults will appreciate that their gift supports the Zoo’s mission to save species.

Don’t forget, FONZ memberships and Adopt a Species packages make great gifts too! Browse the online store.

Active duty military families are invited for an evening of special activities on Dec. 2, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m!

Additional perks include:

  • Visit the Elephant House’s Pachyderm Plaza, open exclusively for active duty military families (with valid ID)
  • Complimentary refreshments (while supplies last)
  • Complimentary pass for carousel, tubing, or train ride (one per child) 
  • 10% off gift shop items, locations throughout the Zoo
  • $5 off parking (please note parking is limited and costs $22)
  • Photo opp with vintage Army Jeep

FONZ Member Week

FONZ members enjoy a full week of exclusive perks at ZooLights, from Dec. 3 through Dec. 10, including a set of coupons for tubing, train, carousel rides, and an exclusive glow-in-the-dark wristband. Plus, FREE parking* all week! Renew or upgrade your membership during ZooLights and get a free panda tote bag!

*Members must present their membership card and matching photo ID to redeem parking, coupon pack and member giveaways. Coupons and giveaways are available at any guest services information booth while supplies last. All offers are only applicable Dec. 3 through Dec. 10. Parking during all other weeks of ZooLights is half-off for members.

FONZ Members-only Lounge

On the two Saturday evenings during Member Week of ZooLights, Dec. 3 and Dec. 10, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., the Elephant Community Center transforms into the FONZ Member Lounge. Inside this exclusive space, FONZ members can warm up while enjoying complimentary drinks, festive goodies, a special  view of the elephants and interpreter talks. 

Washington Nationals at the Members-only Lounge

Swing into member week with the Washington Nationals at ZooLights, powered by Pepco, on Dec. 3 from 5:45 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. Join the National’s mascot Screech, and Racing Presidents Teddy and Bill in the FONZ Members Lounge for an exclusive meet-and-greet, Nat’s giveaways, and photo opportunities. 

Please note: A FONZ membership card and matching photo ID are required for admission. Location subject to change in the event of inclement weather or animal care needs.

This year’s Gin-GRR-bread Habitat Decorating Competition, sponsored by Crixus Construction, celebrates the animals that call the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Cheetah Conservation Station their home. Let your imagination run wild while you design and build a winter wonderland habitat based on the theme “Safari in the Snow” and you could win the grand prize of an exclusive, keeper-led tour for ten of the Cheetah Conservation Station!

What Makes a Grr-eat Animal Habitat?

In zoos, animals need:

  • Space to move, climb, and explore. The enclosures at the Cheetah Conservation Station have different ground levels, trees, plants, and enrichment objects –all of which keep the animals healthy and active
  • Shelter from the heat and cold
  • Food and someplace to eat
  • Water and someplace to drink

Who lives at the Cheetah Conservation Station?

Residents of the Cheetah Conservation Station include:

  • Abyssinian hornbills
  • Cheetahs
  • Dama gazelles
  • Grevy’s zebras
  • Lesser kudus
  • Red river hogs
  • Ruppell’s griffon vultures
  • Scimitar-horned oryx

How to Enter

One entry per individual, group, or household. Electronic registration is required for this competition. Due to space limitations, FONZ will accept only 80 registrations. Registration will close at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 or after 80 registrations are received.


The competition is open to people of all ages. One grand prize will be awarded to each of the following categories:

  • Family or Youth Team: Teams with children ages 17 and under.  Teams must be a minimum of two participants, but are not to exceed ten participants. Teams may be comprised entirely of youth, or of adults and youth. Please note: at least one adult must accompany the winning team on its tour. Plan your team accordingly.
  • Adult Team: Teams of participants ages 18 and over.  Teams must be a minimum of two participants, and are not to exceed ten participants.
  • Adult Individual: Adults ages 18 or over working alone.


  • Grand Prize: FONZ will award one Grand Prize to each category winning individual or team: An exclusive keeper-led tour of the Cheetah Conservation Station, to be scheduled between April and September 2017.  Tour is limited to ten guests and will be scheduled on a date and time mutually acceptable to the winner and Cheetah Conservation Station staff. At least one adult must accompany the tour. 
  • Honorable Mention: FONZ will award one Honorable Mention prize to each category runner-up.

Entry Fee

There is a $25 non-refundable entry fee for this competition, which must be made with a credit card during registration.


  • Only one entry per person or team will be accepted.
  • Entry must be original – no gingerbread kits allowed. All entries must be solely constructed by the individual or group entering the competition. Adults in the Family or Youth Team competitors should provide ample assistance with operating the oven and/or stovetop.
  • With the exception of two ½” strips of undecorated edges on the base, all visible surfaces must be made of edible items.
  • Entries must have the individual or team captain’s name and entry number on the underside of the base.
  • Entries must include a typed, half-page description with the gingerbread habitat. Include any unique features about the habitat and the materials used in the construction process. The top of the sheet should have the title of your gingerbread habitat and the entry number. Please DO NOT include your name in the description of your gingerbread habitat.

Materials, Design & Construction

  • The entry must be delivered in completed form attached to a sturdy base, such as ½” or ¾” plywood, enabling it to be freestanding.  Bases shall be no bigger than 15” L x 12” W.  Bases must have a ½” of undecorated surface on two opposing edges so that the habitat can be easily picked up and moved.  You may color the edges with paint, markers, etc. to match the theme of your habitat surface.
  • With the exception of two ½” strips of undecorated opposing edges, ALL visible surfaces must be edible. You must use a sturdy non-edible base, and may use internal support framing and structures. Edible materials are not limited to sweets. “Edible” materials include candies, nuts, cereal, cookies, crackers, pasta and any other food item that does not include a wrapper, stick or other non-edible material.
  • Habitats may be treated with clear, preservative shellac. FONZ staff reserves the right to discard, at any time, any habitat in decay or disrepair.
  • Entries must have the individual or team captain’s name and entry number on the underside of the base.

Judging Processes and Criteria

Select staff of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo will judge this competition. Entries will be judged based upon overall appearance, originality and creativity, and consistency of theme (theme of the competition is “Safari in the Snow”). Winners will be notified and prizes awarded by email by Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. All rulings by the judges are final.

Entry Intake, Display Information and Entry Pick-Up

Competitors will receive a “confirmation of registration” form including an entry number by email within five business days. You must bring this form with you when you deliver your habitat. You must also include the entry information on the underside of your habitat. Completed entries must be delivered to The Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Visitor Center auditorium between the hours of 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19 or Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. 

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s address is 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20008.The auditorium is located within the Visitor Center near Connecticut Ave.; the closest parking is in Lot A or the Bus Lot. Vehicles will be allowed thirty minutes for unloading entries. Entrants are responsible for the full transportation of their habitats from their vehicle to the Visitor Center auditorium. Carts will not be available for transporting gingerbread habitats. Smithsonian’s National Zoo staff and Friends of the National Zoo staff are not permitted to assist in the transportation of any gingerbread habitat entry. 

Entries will be on display at the Visitor Center auditorium beginning Friday, Nov. 25, 2016 and ending Sunday, Jan.1, 2017. Unless participants make arrangements with the competition coordinator, habitats will be discarded on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017.

Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) reserve the right to photograph entries for promotional purposes. 

Shuttles: Every Saturday night enjoy a complimentary shuttle ride from the Woodley Park Metro station to the Zoo, generously provided by Big Bus Tours. Look for the burgundy and cream double-decker buses running every 20 minutes

Parking & Rates: Parking is limited. 

Members: $11
Non-members: $22

PLEASE NOTE: The Beach Drive entrance to the Zoo will be closed as part of the National Park Service’s Beach Drive rehabilitation project. Zoo visitors are encouraged to avoid Rock Creek Parkway and use the Harvard Street NW entrance, or the Connecticut Avenue NW entrance. Detailed maps and detour information can be found on the NPS website. Commuters and visitors can also call 202-895-6232 for road closure information

Event Contact: 202-633-3045

To Visit the National Zoo Website for additional details please click HERE

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