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Illumination Frequently Asked Questions

Illumination Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


What is Illumination?

Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum is an exhibition featuring an unparalleled spectacle of color, light, and music to highlight the beauty of trees in winter. This year, it consists of a two-mile driving experience set to a special soundtrack that will be accessed through your vehicle’s radio. The driving route lasts approximately 30 to 40 minutes and takes visitors past multiple dazzling winter displays throughout the Arboretum grounds.

When is Illumination?

Friday, November 20, 2020, through Sunday, January 3, 2021. 

How are tickets sold?

Tickets are sold per vehicle rather than per passenger. Each vehicle will require one timed ticket. Available times begin at 5:00 p.m.; tickets are sold in 15-minute time slots, the last being 9:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10:00 p.m Friday and Saturday.  Please plan to arrive in the 15-minute interval between your given time and the next entry time. Tickets will not be sold at the gatehouse during Illumination hours.

Where can I purchase tickets?

Tickets are available for purchase on The Morton Arboretum website or at the Arboretum Visitor Center between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. daily. Visitors purchasing tickets at the Visitor Center will be asked to choose a day and time that they will return in their vehicle for the Illumination exhibition. Visitors who enter The Morton Arboretum during daytime admission hours need to leave by the daily closing time at sunset, and return if they plan to attend Illumination. Tickets are also sold over the phone at 630-725-2066. All phone orders and ticket exchanges will incur a $5 processing fee. You must have a prepurchased, timed ticket for entry into the exhibition. Tickets will not be sold at the gatehouse during Illumination hours.

What time will the Arboretum close before Illumination opens?

During the period Illumination is held, roads on the East Side of the Arboretum will close at 3:00 p.m.  The Visitor Center will close at 4:00 p.m.  The grounds will close at sunset, when all visitors must depart, even if returning later to attend Illumination. The Illumination exhibition will open at 5:00 p.m. to those visitors with a timed Illumination vehicle admission ticket for that day and time.

Why is Illumination a driving experience this year?

Given the uncertainties and precautions related to the coronavirus pandemic, a driving experience was determined to be the safest option for guests. The exhibition is in alignment with various stages of the Restore Illinois plan. This year’s exhibition, converted from a walking to a driving experience, provided the opportunity to extend the route from one to two miles, add completely new displays, and reconfigure past displays in a driving format.

Will I be able to stop or get out of our car to take pictures?

Guests must stay in their vehicles for their safety and the safety of others. Traffic will keep moving at a slow speed (no more than 5 mph) throughout the experience. The route is approximately two miles long and takes about 30 to 40 minutes. This minimal speed provides ample time to enjoy each light display. Staff and volunteers will monitor compliance throughout the exhibition. Guests will be relied upon to contribute to a positive experience for everyone by following the directions for the exhibition.

Can I bring my pet to Illumination? 

As a driving experience with no stops, all pets must be left at home. Service animals are always welcome. 

Can we drive through more than once?

Tickets are for one time through the exhibition only. Once you drive through the exhibition, you will be directed to the exit.

What kind of music will be played? 

The music will be a specially curated collection reflective of the Illumination focus on trees and nature in winter. It will include classical music often associated with the winter holidays, as well as contemporary music.

How will we hear the musical soundtrack that plays with the exhibition?

The music will be available on 88.5FM, a dedicated radio channel. Guests have the flexibility to control the volume, or listen to their own choice of music at any time during the experience.

Will Illumination have traditional Christmas lights?

Illumination is focused on a celebration of trees in the Arboretum during the winter season. As such, its displays, lights, and music are designed to complement and highlight the beauty of trees within a winter landscape rather than focused specifically on Christmas-themed lights and music.

Will restrooms be available?

Portable restrooms are available prior to the start of the exhibition in Parking Lot 1 (P1, main entrance parking lot). There will not be an option to use restrooms along the driving route of the exhbition or at the end. Restrooms in Arboretum buildings will be closed during the exhibition. 

Will there be concessions?

Concessions will no longer be available at Illumination due to the changing corornavirus situation. Guests are encouraged to bring their own car treats and refreshments for enjoyment along the route. 

Is Illumination accessible?

Accessible restrooms are available in the P1 parking area. 

Does Illumination contain strobe lights, strobe effects, or lasers? 

The exhibition has two laser displays along the route. Illumination does not have strobes or strobe-light effects.

Can members buy as many tickets as they want at the early bird or member discount rate?

Members may purchase as many tickets as they would like at the early bird or member rate based on timed-ticket availability. Please note that rates are per vehicle and each vehicle must show their ticket at the gatehouse for entry. Please also note that AnyDay tickets will not be available for purchase this year.

Can I buy more than one ticket in one transaction?

You may purchase up to five Illumination tickets for one date and in one transaction. You will receive different barcodes for each ticket. Each car must have its own barcode scanned at the gatehouse for entry. Tickets for additional dates may be purchased in separate transactions.

Can I enter the Arboretum either before or after the time on my ticket?

Illumination tickets are for the exhibition only, and may not be used for general Arboretum admission. Because the new driving experience is carefully timed, ticket holders are asked to arrive at or within 15 minutes of the time on their tickets. We understand that people sometimes experience delays and the Arboretum will accept later arrivals when possible, depending on capacity limits.  

If we have a group of several cars, will we be able to enter the exhibition together?

The driver of each vehicle must display a ticket for that vehicle, and will be lined up in the order in which they enter. Unfortunately, it cannot be guaranteed that groups of cars will remain together in a row upon entering the exhibition.


Are any deals or coupons available?

Members are offered special early bird pricing October 1 through 7. Members also receive a discount from the full price at all times. To become a member of The Morton Arboretum and take advantage of special exhibition pricing, along with other amazing benefits, visit the membership page. 

What is the refund and ticket exchange policy?

Ticket purchases are non-refundable. Visitors may be able to exchange tickets a minimum of 48 hours in advance for a fee of $5 per transaction, depending upon event capacity and at the discretion of the Arboretum. Same-day exchanges cannot be accommodated. To exchange tickets or request a refund due to cancellation by the Arboretum, visit the Information Desk at the Visitor Center between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., or call 630-725-2066 between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. (except holidays and days the Arboretum is closed due to inclement weather). 

What is the cancellation policy?

Illumination is an outdoor event in winter and on very rare occasions the Arboretum may cancel an evening due to extreme weather conditions. Ticket purchasers will be notified via email, and notices will also be posted to the Arboretum’s homepage and Facebook and Twitter feeds. Tickets will be canceled and refunded, and guests will be able to purchase new tickets based on availability. For more information, call the ticket line at 630-725-2066 between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on any day (except holidays and days we are closed due to weather). 

How do you determine whether to close or cancel Illumination?

The Arboretum is committed to a safe experience for all guests and staff. If inclement weather conditions create an unsafe environment, the exhibition may be closed temporarily while weather passes, or canceled for the entire evening. Weather producing high winds, lightning, heavy snowfall, or extreme wind chill are a few examples of safety conditions that may necessitate closing. In these instances, tickets will be canceled and refunded, and guests can purchase new tickets, based on availability.

What if Illumination is sold out?

It’s best to secure your ticket early, as popular nights will sell out. If the exhibition does sell out, please check our website for updates and changes in availability.

What classifies as an oversized or 15-passenger vehicle?

15-person passenger vans will be allowed at a higher ticket price. Any vehicle that requires a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) to operate, such as a school or tour bus, trolley, etc., is not allowed. Any standard passenger vehicles, including limousines, that are not 15-passenger capacity will be considered average size and will be admitted with a passenger car ticket.

Why don’t you allow buses or coaches?

A larger vehicle will have difficulty navigating the route in the dark on our roads, which have sharp turns. In addition, they would obscure the view for smaller vehicles. 

What kind of lights are being used in the exhibition?

The Morton Arboretum is committed to sustainable practices and uses energy-efficient, eco-friendly lighting technologies like LED lighting, which consumes far less energy than traditional incandescent lighting, thus reducing power needed for the exhibition by 50% as opposed to traditional lights. LED bulbs also take up less space in landfills and use less energy to manufacture, compared with incandescent bulbs, and can be recycled. 

Will the lights affect the trees and plants?

The Morton Arboretum’s mission focuses on the planting and conservation of trees, and each lighting installation has been carefully planned and placed so as not to disrupt nature and wildlife. The exhibition has no effect on flora. At this time of year, most plants are dormant and not engaged in active growth. 

How will the lights affect wildlife?

We respect and protect the wildlife that lives in harmony with trees at the Arboretum. During Illumination, the Arboretum actively monitors bird and other wildlife activity to minimize any impact. 

Will the lights affect airline flight patterns?


Will there be an Illumibrew event this year?

Illumibrew has been canceled this year. The Illumination exhibition is on a driving route rather than a walking experience, which is not conducive to the format of Illumibrew.