The light show at the Turtle Back Zoo is back on for 2021.

Take a winter stroll through the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo this holiday season under the sparkling lights with over 50 winter and animal characters.

The holiday tradition, Essex County’s Holiday Lights Spectacular at the Turtle Back Zoo, begins this weekend. 

The Turtle Back Zoo will be turned into a winter wonderland with seasonal lighting exhibits and costumed characters. Visitors can stroll the landscaped paths of the zoo illuminated with holiday lights such as toy soldiers and penguins. The event is held on weekends, Nov. 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, Dec. 3, 4, 5, and every night from Dec. 10 to 31 from 5 to 9 p.m. (closed Dec. 24 and25.)

Admission is free, but  visitors are encouraged to bring donations of nonperishable food items, new unwrapped toys, and new and gently used winter coats to help families in need.                

About 50 animal and holiday-themed figures will light up the winter night in Turtle Back Zoo and the surrounding Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex. Over 1 million lights will illuminate figures of bears, tigers and elephants, along with holiday lights designed to look like wooden soldiers, stars and winter scenes. Several animal exhibits will be open, including the Sea Lion Sound, Essex Farm, Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve, Tropical Currents Aquarium and the Reptile Building. The Endangered Species Carousel will also be open, with ride tickets for $2.

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Myrtle the Turtle, the mascot of Turtle Back Zoo, and several friends will be on hand to greet visitors at the zoo. In addition, there will be special appearances by Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, and ice sculpture demonstrations and carol sings.

The Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular is sponsored by PSE&G, Covanta Energy, the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Parks Foundation. Hot chocolate and other refreshments will be available for purchase. For more information, call Essex County Turtle Back Zoo at 973-731-5800 or visit

The light show at the Turtle Back Zoo.