Tips for Your Trip to the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

Where can you see 5,000 jack-o-lanterns illuminated as you walk along a dark trail?  Where can you see carved pumpkins of all sizes, some carved in so much detail they look like works of art?  Where can your family spend a fun evening seeing something new?  The answer is…at the Minnesota Zoo!  This year’s Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular is absolutely fantastic, and an event that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen!

Here’s the rundown of what you need to know before you go to this unique event, and you’ll be ready for some Halloween fun!

What You Need to Know Before You Go to the MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

Tickets for the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular are only available for purchase thru the Minnesota Zoo’s website.  Ticket prices for ages 13 and up are $20, and kids ages 3-12 and seniors 65+ are $18.  Kids are under age 3 are free, but will still need a ticket (just add a free child ticket to your online order).  There are special prices available for zoo members.

You will need to print your tickets, and they will be scanned at the zoo entrance.

If you are not a zoo member, but thinking about purchasing a membership, you’ll receive an email the day after you attend the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular that has a promo code for $25 off any membership level.  This promo code is good thru November 10, and is emailed to the email address that your tickets were sent to.

Tickets are non-refundable and the event will be held if it’s raining (or snowing) out.  Tickets can not be rescheduled for another night.  If the zoo cancels the event, you can use your ticket for another night.

Minnesota Zoo Jack o Lantern Spectacular

This year’s theme is Around the World, and this is the display for Japan.

Once you pick the day you want to attend the event, you’ll have to buy your tickets for an entrance time.  There are usually three entrance times for weekdays and four times on the weekends.  Take note that some of the earlier entrance times on the weekends are already sold out.

The entrance times are typically 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, and on the weekends there’s a 10:00.  You do not have to enter the event at these exact times.  Your entrance time is the start of an one hour window for your entrance, so they just ask that you arrive before your one hour entrance window is up.

If you read the event info on the MN Zoo’s website, it suggests you arrive one hour before your ticketed entrance time.  The website also says you can get in line to enter the jack-o-lantern display 45 minutes before your ticketed entrance time.  After attending the event on Saturday, October 5, I don’t agree with either the arrival time and the time to get in line.  There are not enough activities on the Central Plaza (see below “what you can expect” info) to warrant that early of an arrival, and there is absolutely no reason to get in line 45 minutes before your entrance window starts.  (Keep reading and I’ll tell you why.)

funnel house menu mn zoo

Here are your dinner options at the Central Plaza.

The earlier entrance times usually mean more little kids and more strollers on the trail.  If you have older kids, consider a later entrance.

If you’re trying to decide on bringing the stroller, or not, you’ll want to bring it.  Yes, the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular trail is only 1/4 mile long, but first you’ll be walking from your car to the zoo entrance, then from the entrance through most of the zoo to the Spectacular entrance, then when you’re done you have to go ALL the way back to your car.  The trail through the pumpkins is fairly wide, and the most crowded area is near the half way point where the large carved pumpkins are.

Strollers (and wheelchairs) are available to rent on a first come first served basis.  Wagons are also allowed on the trail.

around the world at MN zoo

This is the England display at the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.

Don’t expect to visit the zoo during the day, and stay into the evening for the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.  The zoo closes at 4:00 this time of year, and the doors to the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular don’t open until 6:00.

This year’s Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular is held from October 1 – November 3, and you might be wondering how those pumpkins are going to look towards the end of the event.  They’ll look just fine, because pumpkins are rotated in and out of the display as needed.  While there are 5,000 pumpkins on display, event organizers expect to go through 20,000 pumpkins during the 33 days of this event.

What You Can Expect at the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

On the weekends, you can only enter and leave the zoo from one direction, and there are police officers directing you at the main entrance off McAndrews Road.  To enter the zoo, you need to be driving west on McAndrews Road and you will turn right onto Zoo Blvd.  To leave the zoo, you can only turn right (west) onto McAndrews Road.  I don’t know if this is enforced on weekdays.

Parking is free, and you will be directed to the Tiger and Toucan parking lots.  The event entrance is at the East Entrance to the zoo.

After your tickets are scanned, each person will receive a wristband to wear.  The color of your wristband is based on your entrance time.  The wristbands are long, and a little awkward to put on small wrists.  Be prepared for a back-up of families at the entrance because of this.

From the East Entrance, everyone heads to the Central Plaza for some fun activities.  The entertainment schedule is on the zoo’s website, but there really isn’t much there.  On weekdays, there is a small straw maze, a gift shop, and the Funnel House is open for food and drink purchases.  On Friday and Saturdays, there is also music (a DJ was there when we went), costumed characters for photo ops, and games set up.  If you are visiting during MEA break (no school for MN kids) there is additional entertainment.  Most people were just walking thru the Central Plaza activities and heading straight to the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular entrance the night we were there.

MN Zoo map

You’ll park in the tiger and toucan lots and then look way to the top left of the map to see where the event is held.

After leaving the Central Plaza, you walk, and walk, and walk by the Family Amphitheater, a couple of food and drink vendors, the carousel, and then you get to the line to enter the Jack-o-Lantern trail.  But if you have good timing…you will walk right on by all the people standing in line.  Seriously!  First of all, it takes about 10 minutes to walk from the Central Plaza to the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular event entrance and since it’s dark, there’s not much to see.  Our tickets were for the sold out 8:30 entrance time, and we left the Central Plaza at 8:45.  We got to the line of people at 8:55, and a volunteer asked us what color our wristband was.  We said “orange,” and she said “you can keep walking into the event.” Apparently the 50+ people in line were waiting for the 9:30 entrance time.  The key is to time your arrival at the trail entrance for the middle of your entrance window.  You can walk right in, and you avoid the crowd of the people who entered the trail at the very start of the entrance window.

Minnesota Zoo pumpkins

No two are alike!

So now you enter the MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular, and it is DARK.  Not pitch black, because there are some LED lights, but it’s pretty dark.  Tell your kids what to expect, and maybe bring some glow sticks from home to help you keep your kids in sight.  When you get to the more crowded section of the pumpkins, it’s very easy for people to get separated.

You are probably going to take a picture or two while you are there, so figure out how to turn off your camera’s flash before you arrive.

The trail through the jack-o-lanterns gets crowded in only one spot, almost half way through.  There are large pumpkins on display that are surrounded by 100’s of smaller pumpkins, and this is where you and everyone else will want to take a few pictures.  Just be patient and you’ll easily get your photos.

jack o lantern spectacular at mN zoo

This is what you came for!

Guess what you have to walk through about 2/3 of the way through the jack-o-lanterns?  A gift shop!  It’s small and crowded, and I can imagine it being a pain to get through with a stroller.

There are a couple of spots to buy snacks and drinks as you walk through the event.  Snack options included $4 caramel corn and popcorn, $5 kettle corn, $6 pretzels, $4 nachos, and $6.50 mini donuts.  Water, soda, Powerade, beer, spiked seltzer, hot chocolate, and hot cider were some drink options.

It took us just under an hour to walk through the MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.  We took our time, stopped for photos, and had pretty decent weather so we were in no hurry.

After you get to the end of the Jack-o-Lanterns, there’s that LONG walk back to the car.  Or maybe your kids will want to ride the carousel first, it’s only $2.

The Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular at the Minnesota Zoo is a fun and unique way to celebrate the Halloween season.  Your kids will definitely be talking about it for a long time and maybe you’ll have a few new ideas on how to carve your own pumpkins this year.

Other Things to do Near the Minnesota Zoo:


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