Winter beauty at Nicholas Conservatory. (Jesse Fox, Rockford Park District photo)

Light Up the Holidays!

This winter, check out these holiday light shows that are transforming our region’s landscape into a winter wonderland.

Winter beauty at Nicholas Conservatory. (Jesse Fox, Rockford Park District photo)
Winter beauty at Nicholas Conservatory. (Jesse Fox, Rockford Park District photo)

Rockford Light Displays

Thanks to the Rockford Park District and the Rockford Convention and Visitors Bureau (RACVB), opportunities abound for families and friends to enjoy a city that’s a little bit brighter.
Once again, Rockford Park District, in conjunction with Rockford Fourth of July Committee, presents The Holiday Festival of Lights, an annual display of twinkling against the scenic backdrop of Sinnissippi Park, 1401 N. Second St. The festival has grown immensely since it began in 1989 with only 11 displays. Now, visitors can drive through the park’s winding roads and admire more than 50 dazzling showcases that include Santa Claus, reindeer, snowmen, nativity scenes and more, all sponsored by local businesses and organizations.
“This familiar family favorite continues to change every year,” says Laura Gibbs-Green, public relations manager for the Rockford Park District. “This year, the end of the route is extra-spectacular with special glowing features. We’re very proud and happy to present this to the public.”
Driving through The Holiday Festival of Lights is free, though donations are appreciated. The displays are aglow on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 27 from 5-10 p.m., and will stay on all night Christmas Eve and until 10 p.m. on Christmas Day. Visit for more information.
Just across the street, Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, 1354 N. Second St., hosts All Aglow Holiday Display through Jan. 6. Sparkling holiday lights and beautiful floral displays enhance the already merry conservatory, while the outdoor grounds are also aglow for the season. Admission (resident/non-resident) is $6/$8 adults; $4/$6 seniors (65 and up); veterans and children ages 5-17; $1/$2 children ages 3-4; and free for children under age two. Hours are from Tues.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
“The grounds are completely transformed by more than 160,000 lights – it’s really above and beyond this year,” Gibbs-Green says. “Santa and Mrs. Claus often stop by, and the tropical backdrop provides a magnificent scenery for family photos, making this a great event for families to enjoy together.”
Visit for more information.
Crossing the river, RACVB’s Rockford River Lights is brightening the downtown cityscape through Jan. 2. A palate of brilliant color that’s noticeable from near and far illuminates the riverside every evening from Thursday through Saturday, from 4:30-11 p.m. On these evenings at 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30 p.m., light shows choreographed to music can be seen free of charge.
“Viewing is best from the walking path that makes its way through the light show on the west bank of the Rock River between the State and Jefferson street bridges,” says Josh Albrecht, director of marketing for the RACVB. “River Lights illuminates downtown Rockford’s riverbanks in a way the community hasn’t experienced before. The sight will take your breath away.”
Visit for more information.

More than 37,000 lights adorn Rotary Gardens in Janesville. (Marsha Mood photo)
More than 37,000 lights adorn Rotary Gardens in Janesville. (Marsha Mood photo)

Walk The Gardens in Janesville

The Holiday Light Show at Rotary Botanical Gardens, 1455 Palmer Drive, in Janesville, returns for its 20th year with more to see than ever before.
More than 20 acres of the gardens glow with 370,000 lights, 100 decorated trees, animated displays, local music, seasonal food and drink, and more. This year, visitors can follow illuminated colored milk cartons and explore the new Woodland Walk path. The new route, which extends the walkway from the Observation Pier to the Gazebo Garden, is filled with displays of colorful gingerbread men, penguins, snowflakes and more.
This year’s light show also includes more interactive elements, such as a series of “selfie stops” where visitors can take photos and enter their images into the Gardens’ Facebook and Instagram photo contest. Young ones can explore the child-size Santa house and elf workshop. On select evenings, local entertainers will perform carols along the paths to add to the holiday cheer.
“Most of the other area light shows, while beautiful, are made to be driven through, but ours is one of the few walk-through light shows in this region,” says Susan Melton, marketing director. “So, it’s a very interactive experience and can be very powerful. You feel totally immersed in the beauty of the lights.”
Open from 4 to 8 p.m., this year’s light show promises special events on select weekends in December. The 200-foot electric model train display, created by the Wisconsin Garden Railway Train Society, will be open to viewing Dec. 17-23 and on Dec. 26. A free shuttle service from Dawson Field will be available from Dec. 17-23 to accommodate extra visitors. Santa makes an appearance around 5:30 p.m., from Dec. 19-23; guests are encouraged to take their own photos. On Dec. 21 and 22, live reindeer join the festivities in the Reception Garden. After Christmas, there’s just one last weekend to see the light show, on Jan. 2 and 3.
Last year, the light show brought in more than 27,000 visitors, making it one of the Gardens’ largest fundraisers for the year.
Tickets cost $5 and can be purchased online or in person. Admission is free for children age 2 and younger. For additional details and to check weather-related show cancellations, visit