17 Dec Bentleyville Tour of Lights and Ice Skating at Bayfront Park
We were up in northern Minnesota scouting out winter and holiday scenes for a video project when we came across the Bentleyville Tour of Lights at Bayfront Park in Duluth, aka the “America’s Largest Free Walk Through Lighting Display”. There is also an ice skating rink out front, so we figured it would be a perfect place to stop for some filming. We couldn’t have made a better choice for a festive evening–we were surprised to find an overwhelmingly enchanting display of lights flickering and dancing all around us.
But, before the evening even began, we decided to do some skating at the rink out front. The rink was more of the rustic variety, i.e. a flooded grass park and not entirely even, but that didn’t matter. We strapped on our skates and glided around all the way through to sunset.
Once darkness fell and the lights switched on, a magical glow was cast across the entire Bayfront Park. We were welcomed with a toasty fire pit and holiday tunes blasting over the loudspeakers—it was as if we had stepped into a Christmas fantasyland. The tree was dancing in time to carols, while penguins, snowmen and reindeer swayed along with the beat. Tunnels of lighted canopies led you through scene after scene of lighted Christmas stories, from the Island of Misfit Toys, to the 12 Days of Christmas and more!
Snacks were also being served at a few spots throughout the park. There were cookies, hot chocolate, popcorn, candy canes and marshmallows to roast over the fire. We had so much fun roasting the marshmallows—on a chilly winter night, that warm, gooey deliciousness was a treat. Santa also makes a nightly appearance at Bentleyville, so if you want to sit on the big man’s lap, you can get your fix amidst all the lights.
Oh, and did I mention it’s all free? Well, besides the gift shop, of course. Donations are welcome, and after seeing all the work that is put into the event, we didn’t hesitate to chip in. Bentleyville is also a collection site for the Salvation Army, so if you feel so inclined, you can donate non-perishable food items or unwrapped toys.
Bentleyville all started back in 2001 at the house of Nate Bentley in Esko, MN. Bentley began decking his house out in lights, and each year the grand display grew larger. In 2003, his yard was transformed into a walkthrough event for the first time, and Santa came to visit during the weekends. A neighbor soon started calling the display Bentleyville; clearly, the name stuck. After the family moved to a country home in Cloquet during 2004, the display grew even larger and more grandiose to entice people to visit. Santa was now visiting nightly, entertainment was added, and treats were handed out. Over the course of 5 years, the display grew and so did the people visiting—the crowds grew so large that nearby parking lots and shuttle buses were added so neighbors didn’t have to deal with such an increase in traffic. After taking 2008 off to reevaluate how his system was working, Duluth’s mayor approached Bentley in hopes to get the display moved to Bayfront Park in Duluth. The rest is history—Bentleyville ended up settling into its new home and now hosts over 200,000 visitors a year.
As I said before, the event is free to attend, but if you feel so inclined, you can donate money to keep the display running or bring food or toys for the Salvation Army. Parking on site is $5, but there is free parking available in downtown Duluth after 5:30pm and shuttles, or should I say Jingle Busses, are also offered. The display operates from the end of November through December, and is open 5pm-9pm Sunday-Thursday and 5pm-10pm Friday-Saturday.
This was our first year attending the Tour of Lights, but I can guarantee you it won’t be the last. We were drawn into the magical setting and Christmas cheer and hope to make it a yearly tradition!
Have you ever been to Bentleyville? Do you have a favorite walk through light display in your area?