Wheeling, WV; Charleston, SC; Lake Lanier, GA & Pine Mountain, GA
Christmas Light drive-thrus are a relatively young phenomenon, but one which is growing annually in terms of both numbers and popularity of displays. The concept takes the old neighborhood drive-by Christmas light viewing concept to an entirely new level. Most of the best-known displays can be found in the American South and Midwest, often located on the grounds of extensive resorts or parks, with miles and miles of illuminated displays which require either a car or, if available, a trolley.
There have been drive-by viewings ever since the first Christmas light was put on display outside of a house. But the modern, massively organized driving exhibits found their first full fruition at the Oglebay Resort Hotel outside of Wheeling, West Virginia. Begun in 1985, the Oglebay’s Winter Festival of Lights is the oldest major Christmas light drive-thru in the country. It is also recognized as one of the very best. Covering over three miles, the course includes over seventy light displays, from a Christmas tree forest to a jaw-droppingly huge wreath and candle. The displays are updated and added to annually.
Although there are at least a dozen other excellent Christmas drive-thrus around the United States, there are three in particular worth mentioning. The Holiday Festival of Lights in Charleston takes over James Island County Park for Christmas. It features a three mile course with over a hundred displays as well as a Santa Village. The other two can both be found in Georgia. The Magical Nights of Lights at Lake Lanier is a seven mile drive through a lakeside resort community. The Fantasy in Lights in Pine Mountain winds its way through five miles of the lush and beautiful Callaway Gardens.
All of the above drive-thrus, as well as most others in the U.S., generally run from mid-November through New Year’s. The Winter Festival of Lights runs nightly through 10:00pm (later on Fridays and Saturdays); there is a requested donation only for car entry. No visitor information was available for the Holiday Festival of Lights. The Magical Nights of Lights runs nightly through 10:00pm; the price of entry is $40 per car ($60 on Fridays and Saturdays). The Fantasy in Lights (hours not available) is $16 per adult, $8 per child (more expensive on ‘premium’ nights). Web: www.oglebay-resort.com/fol (Winter Festival of Lights); www.ccprc.com (Holiday Festival of Lights); www.lakelanierislands.com/mnol (Magical Nights of Lights); www.callawaygardens.com (Fantasy in Lights).