2020 Bentleyville Tour of Lights – Tips for Your First Trip

Is your family ready to get into the Christmas spirit?  Well, there’s no better way to do that than to visit the 2020 Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth, Minnesota.  How many lights are there?  Only five million!  There’s Christmas music playing, Santa Claus listening to little kid’s wishes, and twinkling lights everywhere you look.  Duluth, Minnesota is a family-friendly and fun city to visit anytime during the year, but you definitely don’t want to miss Christmas time!

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Bentleyville opens on November 21, 2020 and runs nightly thru December 31, 2020

Well things are a little different this year, I know….an understatement, so here’s what is new for Bentleyville 2020:

  • This year, Bentleyville is a drive through event.  Your family will enjoy the Christmas sights and sounds from your own vehicle.
  • There is a $10 admission fee, per vehicle.  In the past, Bentleyville has been free, but this year organizers had to charge a fee to make up for the potential loss in donations that they usually bring in as people walked thru the display, loss of parking fees, and to cover some of the construction costs for the wooden pathways that you will be driving on.
  • There are no ticket presales.
  • The $10 admission can be paid with cash or credit card.
  • Vehicles must be under 8 feet high and less than 20 feet long.  I looked at the wooden pathway recently, and it is pretty narrow with some tight turns.
Drive thru path Bentleyville

You’ll be driving on a wooden pathway thru the holiday displays.

  • Kids ages 10 and under will receive a knit stocking cap and a bag of cookies.  Santa’s elves will be handing out these treats in front of Santa and Mrs. Claus’ new house.  This is located right after the first tunnel, and can be bypassed if you aren’t interested in seeing the big guy.
  • You don’t need to wear a mask since you are required to remain in your vehicle during the drive through display.  A mask is required if you leave your vehicle to use the restrooms.  The restrooms are located before your vehicle enters the display.
  • There is still a Bentleyville gift shop!  It has been moved to Grandma’s Sports Garden in Canal Park for 2020.
  • Bentleyville is still accepting non-perishable food items, and new unwrapped toys for the Salvation Army.
  • You’ll be able to tune your car radio to a specified station to hear the Christmas music of Bentleyville.
Bentleyville tree

The tree is still the highlight of the display!

  • You will arrive into Bentleyville on Railroad Street.  The only way in, is arriving from the west (driving to the east).  You’ll enter the line just off of Railroad Street.  There are about 60 signs to read as you drive through the line, and costumed characters to entertain you, but you may want to have something else along to pass the time.  Here is a fun Christmas trivia game that would be perfect.
  • If you arrive at Bentleyville driving the wrong direction on Railroad Street, you will be directed to Garfield Avenue to turn around.  If it’s a week night, with no line, you’ll be able to drive in from either direction.
  • I’ve heard that if you aren’t in line by 8:00 on busier nights, mostly Friday or Saturday, you will be turned away.  There have also been nights, even weeknights, when the line was closed down for a period of time.  Watch their Facebook page for updates.
  • Plan to go during the week, if you can!  The lines will be so much shorter, and this can really make a difference in the experience that you have!
  • Turn off your headlights while driving through the light show.
  • After driving through Bentleyville, you will exit the area near the Amsoil arena.  The exit route is set to go around the back of the DECC and into Canal Park.
  • There are no fire pits set up this year for roasting marshmallows, but wouldn’t it be fun for the family to roast marshmallows when you get home?  Here is an indoor marshmallow roasting kit that the whole family can use for a unique way to end your Bentleyville evening.

The following tips are for normal years, but some of them will still apply to your drive through experience in 2020….

Here are 25 tips for your first trip to Bentleyville Tour of Lights:

  • Give back during your visit and bring an unwrapped toy or food item to donate to the Duluth Salvation Army.  There are boxes for these donations near the entrances.  Bentleyville has free admission, but they do appreciate any cash donation that is made at the various donation boxes throughout the display to “keep the lights on”.   You can also find donation information on their website.
Entrance to Bentleyville Tour of Lights

This is the entrance nearest to Amsoil Arena.

  • If it’s the weekend, Bentleyville Tour of Lights will be very crowded.  I would highly recommend visiting during the week, if possible.  Check the crowd calendar on their website before planning your trip, so you know what to expect.  One year we went on a 26 degree Wednesday evening and it wasn’t very busy at all, it was the perfect night.  Also check the event schedule at the neighboring Amsoil Arena and DECC so you can anticipate parking issues and crowds.
  • The five million lights are turned on at 5:00 each evening.  If you are there at the opening (and you should be), you can take part in the countdown to the lights turning on.  Bentleyville is open on Sunday-Thursday from 5:00 – 9:00, and Friday-Saturday from 5:00 – 10:00

Main sign for Bentleyville Tour of Lights

  • If you arrive at Bentleyville before 5:00, and don’t want to wait outside, step into the gift shop.  It’s open, warm, and full of Bentleyville Tour of Lights souvenirs.  There are Christmas ornaments, shirts, and every color of stocking cap that you can imagine.
  • If you are there at opening, and want to visit with Santa, go right to the Santa line first (follow the signs).  The line will be the shortest, and you’ll have plenty of time to see the light displays and get some treats once you are finished.
roasting marshmallows at Bentleyville Tour of lights

Stand by the fire and enjoy a marshmallow or two.

  • At the half way point around the tour of lights, there are fire pits for roasting marshmallows.  One building advertises s’more fixings, but you’ll have to pay for them.  Go across the way to the marshmallow hut for a roasting stick and two free marshmallows per person.  Roast your treat and return the sticks where designated.  Maybe have a few wet wipes in your bag for the sticky fingers.
  • Since you’ll be outside while walking thru Bentleyville, dress warm!  Snow pants, hats, scarfs, the whole nine yards.  Part of the tour has you walking along the shore of Lake Superior, and the wind can be unbearable.
lift bridge in duluth

Take a moment to enjoy the view of the lift bridge from Bentleyville.

  • The first goodies that you’ll come to in Bentleyville are the free cookies and hot cocoa.  Cups will only be filled about 2/3 full, but it may be too difficult for the kids to walk thru the crowds while holding the warm drink.  The cookies are good though, and piled up on platters at the cocoa window.
  • The second treat on the tour is a bag of popcorn.  You can stay warm while snacking on this by standing next to a fire, or bring the bag home for later.  It might be too cold for those fingers to come out of their mittens.
  • There are restrooms, but brrrr.
  • If you get there before Bentleyville is open, the fire pits will be burning to keep you warm.  You just have to arrive extra early for a spot by the fire.  Both of the entrances (main entrance and Amsoil Arena entrance) have small fires to stay warm by, and there are numerous fire pits half way through the tour that you can stand by for a quick warm up too.
The Bentleyville tree

The tree is 128′ tall and the center of the holiday display.

  • Bentleyville is a one way tour, and goes in a counter-clockwise direction.
  • It will take almost an hour to make your way through the holiday light tour, this is excluding a visit to Santa.
  • If you post any photos on social media, tag them with #Bentleyville2020.  You will see the giant reminder when you are there. The best spot for a photo of the giant Christmas tree is by the firepits where you roast your marshmallows.
  • Kids can visit with Mrs. Claus too.  She has her own display and hands out candy canes.
  • You can add your kiddos names to the naughty or nice lists that are displayed by making a donation through the Bentleyville website the week before you are going to attend.  The amount is $5 per name.  The lists are posted by the fire pits where you roast your marshmallows.  See this page for more info.  It’s fun to watch the kids hunt for their names, but think twice before you add them to the naughty list.  The lists are in alphabetical order by first name and grouped by the week the donation was made.
  • Drive by Bentleyville on I-35.  You can take in all of the lights at once, and it really is something to see from a distance.
  • If you are planning to spend the night in Duluth, check out the area hotels for special rates.
dinosaurs at Bentleyville

Kids love the dinosaur display!

  • Bring a shoulder bag into Bentleyville.  You’ll probably have to hang onto cookies, bags of popcorn, and your usual supplies that keep the whole family happy!
  • If your plan is to visit with Santa, follow the signs that point you where to go.  The first 25,000 kids, 10 and under, get a free stocking cap from Santa.
  • Read thru the parking info and print out the parking map that’s on the Bentleyville website.  On weekends, you’ll probably have to take a shuttle or even the holiday train to Bentleyville.  On weekdays, you’ll likely be able to park in one of the lots nearby.  Cost to park is $5.  Free lots are indicated on the parking map.  There are signs up along Railroad Street that direct you to the parking lots.
  • Take a short walk or drive to Canal Park, and dine in one of the many restaurants before or after your walk thru Bentleyville.
Bentleyville 2017

Happy holidays!

  • Bring hand warmers for cold fingers.  Also, throw a few blankets into the car so kids can bundle up in them on the drive home.
  • Was it a family tradition to drive down to Park Point and walk through the light display at Marcia Hales’ house on Lake Ave?  Her display ended in 2019, but her lights have been moved to Glensheen.  The Glensheen light display is closed in 2020 due to covid.
  • If you are spending the weekend in Duluth, be sure to visit the Great Lakes Aquarium that is adjacent to Bentleyville.  For an extra dose of holiday spirit, take a Christmas tour at Glensheen Mansion (closed thru 12/18/20 due to covid).

Your whole family will get into the spirit of the holidays after a walk thru Bentleyville Tour of Lights, and you may be starting a new tradition.

Happy holidays from all of us at That Was a First!

Here’s more info for your visit to Duluth:

A holiday season in the upper midwest is not complete without a visit to Bentleyville in Duluth Minnesota! Here are 25 tips for your trip! #Duluth #Minnesota #thatwasafirst #holidaydisplays
Visit the Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth, Minnesota to see the largest walk thru display of lights in the US, that's free!

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