A Walk Through Minnesota's #1 Winter Wonderland: Bentleyville "Tour of Lights"
Whether it’s an over the top home display like in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation or the professional wonderland of Walt Disney World, nothing gets me in the Christmas spirit better than a good ole Christmas light display!
I grew up in the small town in southern Illinois that is known for Candy Cane Lane so a trip to “see the lights” is something I just HAVE to do at least once a year. Call it an addiction if you must, but I’ve gone as far as Niagara Falls, Canada not for that famous waterfall but to see the "Winter Festival of Lights".
So, when we pulled into Duluth, Minnesota back in late summer and I immediately began to see the requests on social media for volunteers to set up for the Bentleyville "Tour of Lights", my excitement started to build. Not only would I have a Christmas light display in town, but it was going to be in walking distance!
The Bentleyville "Tour of Lights" opened on November 17th, I was there opening night and twice just this week. I never expected anything as elaborate and beautifully done as this! It really is magical! With every visit, I'm in awe and manage to see something new.
Bentleyville is located in Bayfront Festival Park right on Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota.
They accept the donation of non perishable foods and new unwrapped toys for those in need but it's not a requirement to get in. It's free to visit both Santa and Mrs. Claus until December 23, too.
Closing night, Bentleyville will go out with a bang! They have a fireworks display scheduled for 6:30pm that night.
I like to use the CROWD-O-METER on Bentleyville's website to determine when to visit. I prefer to go on slow nights since they are really packed on the weekends.
During the 2018 season, Bentleyville is open seven days a week from November 17 - December 26. On Friday and Saturday, the hours are 5pm to 10pm. The rest of the week they close at 9pm.
Look at that Christmas Tree! It is 128’ feet tall and is covered with 150,000 LED lights The lights dance to the music making it a lot of fun to watch.
It’s an interesting story, how Bentleyville came to be...
Although, Bentleyville is now in its 15th year, it has only been located in the Bayfront Festival Park for the last ten. The origin of this light display actually began in the front yard of Nathan Bentley’s home in Esko, Minnesota. For two years, his home was known as the “House with all the lights in Esko”. Originally a “drive through” display, he changed it to a “walkthrough” display with Santa visiting on the weekends in 2003. As the display evolved and became more elaborate, Mr. Bentley’s friends began sarcastically call it “Bentleyville” in reference to the town of Whoville from Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The name just sort of stuck when even the visitors began calling it Bentleyville, too.
In 2004, when Bentley and his family moved to Cloquet, Minnesota, the display had to become even grander in order to entice people to drive all the way out into the country to visit it. Santa became a nightly guest, handing out free winter hats and bags of cookies to the children. Nathan added fire pits for roasting marshmallows, paved the walking paths, added a cookie house, a popcorn building and started a food and toy drive to collect for the Salvation Army. Two years later, close to 35,000 people were visiting Bentleyville each Christmas and the neighbors were not very happy about the traffic congestion and parking issues on what had once been a quiet dead-end county dirt road. Nathan built parking lots in some of the neighbor’s fields and started busing people in.
After 5 years, of hosting Bentleyville at his home, and transporting over 72,000 people back in forth to the event, Nathan decided to take a year off in 2008 to “re-think Bentleyville”. That fall, the city of Duluth proposed Bayfront Festival Park as the new location and Nathan accepted a one year trial. The Bentleyville “Tour of Lights” greeted visitors at Bayfront Park for the first time on November 27, 2009 and the rest is history….
The next images are of some of my favorite displays at the Bentleyville "Tour of Lights".
I'll leave the rest for you to experience for yourself!
parking lots and 12 buses to transport visitors on busy nights. You can even ride the North Shore Scenic Railroad to Bentlyville from Fitger’s
This is no longer Nathan Bentley’s 2 month hobby. It is a year around enterprise. He's out at Bentleyville every night. He’s the guy strolling around in a red staff coat and a red ball cap that says “Mayor Bentley”.
At the time of this posting, the Bentleyville "Tour of Lights is ranked #1 out of 20 for "Best Public Holiday Lights Display" in the USA Today "10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards for 2018". Voting ends on December 10, 2018. Winners will be announced on the USA Today website on December 21. If you would like to vote or check out the winners, click HERE.
Today, it was also announced that Bentleyville will be on ABC's "The Great Christmas Light Fight" TV Show sometime in the 2019 season. The exact air date has not yet been announced but here's the article in the Duluth News Tribune.
As a side note, Candy Cane Lane in my hometown Christmas light display was shot for "The Great Christmas Light Fight" this year, as well. That episode will air on December 9th, 2019. My fingers are crossed that they will not be in the same episode. I want them both to win!
Boy, it's going to be a long year!
The Minnesota Collection and Wisconsin Collection mostly focus on the Lake Superior area.
See anything you like? You can purchase Susan's work in The Art Gallery. All images in the her collection are available as wall art, fine art prints, on home decor, gift items and apparel.
12/2/2018 07:07:39 pm
12/3/2018 11:18:39 am
Thank you, Sharon! I appreciate you taking the time to visit my blog and comment, as well!
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I am the 8th photographer in 4 generations of my family. Back in 2006, my husband accepted a job traveling, and I jumped at the chance to go with him.
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