What’s better than staying toasty warm in the comfort of your car while coasting through the region’s largest drive-thru holiday light display? Roasting marshmallows on a bonfire! The annual Holiday Lights on the River is one of Columbia’s best Christmas light displays – but there are a few things to know before you leave home.
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Holiday Lights on the River Map
How to use this map: Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.
Holiday Lights on the River Schedule in 2023
The Holiday Lights on the River opens on November 23 and continues nightly until December 31, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
The drive-thru light display is open from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m.
The entrance gate on St. Andrews Road opens with Saluda Shoals Park earlier in the day. But shortly before sunset, the road is closed near the enormous parking lot beside the sports fields. The parking lot becomes a winding loop staging area for the long line of cars before the event begins at 6 p.m.
Pro Travel Tip
Plan to arrive an hour early to drive through the Holiday Lights on the River. Arriving later guarantees a 1-2 hour wait before starting the drive through the lights.
Holiday Lights on the River Admission
Admission to the Holiday Lights on the River is $25 per vehicle, $50 per passenger van, and $75 per bus. Visitors can pay with cash or a card, but a transaction fee is added to all cards.
Holiday Lights on the River
Over a million lights are the heart of the Holiday Lights on the River. The two-lane, unmarked road is a one-way thoroughfare during the event. The light displays are on both sides of the road and hanging in the trees.
Many displays are sports-themed because the Irmo-Chapin Recreation Commission operates Saluda Shoals Park. But you’ll find plenty of Christmas displays, like Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and elves riding bicycles. Animated displays like Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus playing tennis, snow falling over Santa in his sleigh, and signs along the road added to the wonderland.
There was a lot to see, with lights on both sides of the road and sometimes hanging over the road. More than half the route was surrounded by dark woods and profoundly peaceful.
It takes about 45 minutes to drive through the 2.5-mile light display.
Holiday Lights Activities
The Environmental Center is about two-thirds of the way through the driving route. Several activities at the public building are perfect for stretching your legs and enjoying the festive event.
Vendors sell marshmallows, hot chocolate, and hot apple cider. If you bring your own s’mores ingredients, you can roast the marshmallows on the roaring firepits.
Santa’s Claus’et Gift Shop is inside the Environmental Center. The small gift shop features arts and crafts from local artisans that might make a great Christmas gift. Children can write letters to Santa at a small crafts table.
Catering by Tin Can Kettle Corn provides a tasty snack during the respite from the drive.
Pro Travel Tip
The only restrooms at the Holiday Lights on the River are in the Environmental Center.
2023 Holiday Gift Guide for Travelers
Find the best gifts for travelers, road trippers, coffee lovers, and stocking stuffers with the annual guide – including my top gift recommendations.
Santa at the Holiday Lights on the River
Santa appears at the Holiday Lights on the River on select nights. Professional photos and packages are offered during the event.
Get photos with Santa on Friday and Saturday nights from November 24 until December 9 and then nightly from December 15-23.
Getting to the Holiday Lights on the River
The first thing to know about getting to the Holiday Lights on the River is that you do not use the Bush River Road entrance! During the Christmas holiday light display, Bush River Road is the exit.
The entrance to the Holiday Lights on the River is on St. Andrews Road. If you’re using GPS navigation or Google Maps, use the address 6071 St. Andrew Road, Columbia, SC, to get the correct turn-by-turn directions.
Tips for the Holiday Lights on the River
The Holiday Lights on the River is an easy Christmas event in Columbia to attend. But with some extra preparation, it could be the best Christmas event of the year. Here are a few tips to make the most of it:
- Arrive at least an hour early, especially on the weekends. Once entry begins, getting the cars in the waiting area into the park can take up to thirty minutes.
- Bring snacks and drinks.
- Bring cash for the admission fee.
- Turn off your headlights and use only the daytime running lights or parking lights while driving through the display.
- Use your brakes sparingly, and the person behind you will be thankful.
- The road through the park is an unmarked two-lane road. If you want to stop for a moment, tend to the family, or capture some photos, pull off to the side so the other cars can get around.
- Stop somewhere to use the restroom before getting in line – it takes about 30-40 minutes to reach the Environmental Center from the entrance.