Best family-friendly Halloween in Twin Cities, MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular
Best family-friendly Halloween events in the Twin Cities: 2023 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

Mark your calendars because the 2023 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular is back for the Halloween season in the Twin Cities. One of the best Halloween events and things to do, I highly recommend this family-friendly event. Tickets are now available online only for Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular. This special Halloween event runs Sept. 30 through Nov. 4, 2023, in Apple Valley, Minn. While the Minnesota Zoo hosted my Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular experience, opinions are always my own. Spoiler alert: It’s spectacular! Updated 10.06.23; Originally published 10.28.19.

Best family-friendly Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

One of my favorite pumpkin carvings at the 2023 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular in the Twin Cities.


One of my favorite pumpkin carvings at the 2019 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.

Guide to the 2023 MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular – best family-friendly Halloween event

Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

If you’re looking for the best family-friendly Halloween event in the Twin Cities, then add the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular to your list. Tickets are only available online. This special Halloween event near Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN is set for Sept. 30 through Nov. 4, 2023.

Get some travel-themed inspiration from the
2019 Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular Around the World theme

MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular pumpkin carving takes special talent

Our family’s jack-o-lanterns – no, they are not carved – I’m not that talented.

Pumpkin carving is not my specialty so am in awe of all the talent that we witnessed at the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular. Case-in-point: Finally accepting that our decades-long family tradition of carving pumpkins is stressful for me, I purchased these jack-o-lanterns (pictured) for our family (see link below). And thankfully (and surprisingly) no objections from my two guys. I’ll leave that to the MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular experts and enjoy their creative pumpkin carvings.


Tips for a fun family-friendly event at the 2023 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular
Check out all the intricate detail on this amazing pumpkin carving at the 2023 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.

Tickets for the Minnesota Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular are only sold online (and they do sell out). So make your reservation early for 2023. You will not be able to purchase tickets for this special event at the door. So order your tickets before you go and have it ready to scan when you arrive inside the Minnesota Zoo lobby. MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern tickets range from $18-$24 for adults and $14-$20 for children and seniors. Members receive $2 off general admission tickets. A change fee applies if you change to another available date.

Parking is included in your price for admission to the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.

See the Minnesota Zoo website for 2023 MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular dates, times, prices and additional details.

Special experience packages available at Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

In addition to the regular tickets to tour the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular, you can reserve tickets for some extra special spectacular experiences.

  • Carving & Cocktails (21+ event) unfortunately is sold out. Take note so you can book your tickets earlier next year.
  • Costumes & Cocktails (another 21+ event) is also sold out for 2023.
  • Personalized Pumpkins – Customize your own Jack-o-Lantern, place it on display and take it home at the end of the night. Make your request at least 10 business days prior to your visit.

This pumpkin carving at the 2019 Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular was one of our personal favorites. We are mini-doxie lovers.


2023 MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular FAQs

Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about the 2023 MN Zoo’s Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.

Where is the 2023 Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular located in the Twin Cities?

The 2023 Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular is located at the Minnesota Zoo. The address for the MN Zoo is 13000 Zoo Blvd., Apple Valley, MN 55124.

When is the MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular? What are the dates for the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular?

The 2023 MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular runs Sept. 30 through Nov. 4, 2023.

What are the MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular hours?

Gates open 30 minutes before the first entrance time. The MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular closes 1.25 hours after the last entrance time.

Sept. 30-Oct. 17, 2013; Sunday through Thursday: The 2023 MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular gate opens at 6:30 p.m. and gate closes at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday: The 2023 MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular gate opens at 6:30 p.m. and closes at 11 p.m.

Oct. 18-Oct. 22, 2013 (MEA); Wednesday through Sunday: The 2023 MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular gate opens at 5:30 p.m. and closes at 11 p.m.

Oct. 23-Oct. 29, 2013; Monday through Thursday: The 2023 MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular gate opens at 5:30 p.m. and closes at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday: The 2023 MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular gate opens at 5:30 p.m. and closes at 11 p.m.

Oct. 30-Nov. 4, 2013; Monday through Thursday: The 2023 MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular gate opens at 5 p.m. and closes at 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday: The 2023 MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular gate opens at 5 p.m. and closes at 10:30 p.m.

A Night Access Time with reduced capacity and reduced music volume and fog is 5:30 to 7 p.m.

When should I arrive for the MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular?

Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular Butterfly pumpkin carving

The Minnesota Zoo advises arriving for the 2023 Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular event 30 minutes before your timed ticket. Gates open 30 minutes before your timed entry. Our entry time was 7 p.m. We arrived around 6:40 p.m. and left a little after 8 p.m. That included spending some time in the MN Zoo Discovery Bay area (where you can watch the sharks and the monk seal). Also me: Taking photos of every single one of the 5,000 carved pumpkins. Not really, but I took a lot.

Where can I purchase tickets for the 2023 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular?

You can purchase your tickets for the 2023 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular online via the MN Zoo website.

How much are tickets for the 2023 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular?

MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern tickets range from $18-$24 for adults and $14-$20 for children and seniors. Members receive $2 off general admission tickets. A change fee applies if you change to another available date. Tickets are not refundable unless the event is closed for inclement weather. Additional discounts are applied to late-night tickets: $4 off for 9 p.m. tickets; $6 off for 10 p.m. tickets.

Can you take photos at the MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular?

Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

Yes, you can take photos and videos at the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular. But don’t use your flash. You’ll come away with better photos. And your fellow Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular spectators will appreciate it. That unexpected flash can be a little blinding. Additionally, tripods and selfie sticks are not permitted.

Mobile phone photo tip: Wait for the low-light timer to count down to avoid blurry pics.

What should I wear to the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular? Is the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular at the MN Zoo indoors or outdoors?

Dress warm as the entire Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular trail at the MN Zoo is outdoors. Temps were in the 30s when we experienced the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular the first time. I’m not a cold-weather fan, but was comfortable in my Under Armour shirt and socks, winter coat, stocking hat, and gloves. And wear comfortable shoes.

We saw a lot of strollers with blankets. If it looks like rain (or snow), dress for that weather.

Are MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular tickets refundable in the event of inclement weather? Can I change my tickets?

The Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular is open rain or shine. The only exceptions are heavy rain, high winds, or other severe inclement weather. Ticket holders will be reimbursed for inclement weather. Or you may reschedule if another day and time is available.

Otherwise, tickets are not refundable. However, you can change your tickets if there is other availability. A $10 change fee is applied to any date or time changes per ticket. You must call the MN Zoo Box Office at least 24 hours in advance.

How long does it take to see the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular at the Minnesota Zoo? How long is the walk?

Oktoberfest with German woman carved into a jack-o-lantern pumpkin
Oktoberfest pumpkin carving at the Minnesota Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

The Minnesota Zoo estimates it takes 40 to 50 minutes to walk through the entire Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular. The fully accessible Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular trail itself is only ¼ of a mile, but expect to be on your feet for some time. Consider that you’ll be walking from the parking lot (which can be a bit of a hike). And then a 10-minute walk from the Minnesota Zoo entrance to the start of the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular. Also, you may need to spend some time in line at the queue. The line moved steadily when we attended the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.

What ages are appropriate for the Minnesota Zoo Spectacular? Is the MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular scary?

Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

The 2023 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular is fun for all ages. This family-friendly Halloween event is not scary.

And it’s not just for kids. The Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular is also fun for the adults. And they serve adult beverages if you need a little Bailey’s to warm you up.

Do they serve refreshments at the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular? Is there a gift shop at the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular?

Yes. You can find other refreshments (including funnel cakes and beverages). Outside food or beverages are not permitted (with the exception of water and baby bottles). You can also find a couple of gift shops at the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular. This is where you can purchase light-up necklaces for children (or yourself) and other souvenirs.

Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular gift shop
Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular gift shop

Are strollers allowed at the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular?

Yes. Yield to strollers and children. The Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular pumpkin trail can get a little crowded at times so children in strollers may have a little harder time seeing some of the jack-o-lanterns. But don’t let that deter you. Stay to the right (or the far left) for the best views. And let the kids in front of you so they can view the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular. They won’t block your view.

Is the MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular wheelchair-accessible?

Yes. The MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular is wheelchair-accessible. Please note that the trail has some elevation changes and an incline. Golf cart transportation to the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular Trail is first come, first-served during the Nightly Access Times (5 to 7 p.m.)

Can you rent strollers and wheelchairs at the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular?

Remember to look up to see some amazing pumpkin carvings above our head at the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.

Yes. Strollers and wheelchairs are available to rent at the Minnesota Zoo on a first-come, first-served basis.

Are public restrooms available at the MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular?

Yes. Restrooms at the Minnesota Zoo during this special event are available in the Discovery Bay exhibit. You’ll find them to the left after you enter the zoo from the parking lot. Additionally, you’ll find a other restroom areas along the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular trail.

What’s the theme for the 2023 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular?

Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular Minnesota Vikings Justin Jefferson Griddy pumpkin carving

The 2023 theme for the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular is Seasons of the Year. The path takes you through the year with lots of Minnesota-themed pumpkins. You’ll see Minnesota’s state bird (the mosquito), JJ doing the Griddy, curling, hot dishes, Boundary Waters, and more.

Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular Minnesota Vikings You Betcha pumpkin carving

Are the animal exhibits open during the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular?

Animal viewing at night during the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular is available in Discovery Bay until 8 p.m. Other animal exhibits are only open until 4 p.m.

Is the Treetop Trail open during the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular?

No. The new Minnesota Zoo Treetop Trail is only open until 3:30 p.m. Only exceptions are the two 21+ special events, which are sold out for 2023.

Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular photo gallery and fun facts

Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular pumpkin carving
Beautiful pumpkin carvings at 2023 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular


I hope the following photo gallery inspires you to visit the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular event yourself in 2023. In the meantime, please enjoy a few of the more than 5,000 carved pumpkins from Passion for Pumpkins artists. This section also features a few fun facts about pumpkins and the MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.


Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular pumpkin carving
Two dozen pumpkin artists create the more than 5,000 pumpkins. About half of the creators were located in Minnesota.

MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular fun fact: 5,000 jack-o-lanterns

Day of the dead jack-o-lantern pumpkin carving
Day of the Dead / Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday celebrated to honor friends and families who have passed away.

More than 5,000 jack-o-lanterns are lit up by LED lights at the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.

Hauntingly good pumpkin carvings at the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular – taken at 2019 event.

All 5,000 of the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular pumpkins are designed by an organization called Passion for Pumpkins from Oxford, Mass. They produce shows around the U.S. Half of the pumpkin carvers are located in Minnesota.


Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular pumpkin carving
Lots of pumpkin carvings for inspiration so you can create your own jack-o-lantern spectacular this Halloween.

MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern fun fact: Zoo animals enjoy leftover pumpkins

Carvers go through ~20,000 pumpkins during the 33-night run. Pumpkins carved at the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular are composted. Any leftover pumpkins are given to zoo animals for enrichment.


Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular pumpkin carving
Ode to the Minnesota state bird at the 2023 Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular at the MN Zoo – the mosquito

Proceed benefits

Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular cats pumpkin carving

Proceeds from the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular support the Zoo’s animal care, environmental education, and local and global conservation efforts.

Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular fun fact: Pumpkins can weigh up to 2,000 lbs.

Now that’s a great (big) pumpkin from the 2019 Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

The big pumpkins carved for the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular are called Big Macs and Prize Winners. They weigh 100 to 250 pounds. The really ginormous Atlantic Giant pumpkins weigh up to 2,000 lbs.


Best Halloween event in Twin Cities MN Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular thank you pumpkin carving

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Skeleton sitting in the front of a trolley bus
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Check out the time I accidentally booked a stay at one of the most haunted hotels in the United States. The Hawthorne Hotel is also considered the most haunted hotel in Salem, Mass.

Author

Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller

74 comments

  1. This is a really cool event! Even if it was 30 degrees! Dressing warm and enjoying all these amazing displays looks worth it!

  2. This is so neat! Our zoo did something like this a couple years ago. It’s crazy what someone can do with a pumpkin!

  3. Whoa, these carvings are a work of art, amazing! My fave is also the Doxie, reminds me of my little dachshund. I need to check this place out!

    1. Same! Last year I finally accepted it was too much stress and much more sustainable (and more creative) pumpkins with our names carved into them that we can share every year.

  4. This sounds like such a fun October outing! If I’m in the cities with my kids near this time of year, I will check it out!

  5. This is such a great festival idea. Can’t believe the talent of some of these people. Like you I’m not a talented pumpkin carver, mine always look awful. So much respect for these.

  6. What a fun event! It’s a shame that covid ruins another thing though.

    These people have such great talent. I’d never be able to do that! I haven’t thought of a carving a pumpkin for this year yet. Maybe I’ve just been inspired to 🙂 🙂

  7. Our daughters would love this. We need to take them to the US for Halloween one year. I especially like the Luke Perry Jack O Lantern. I adored him in 90210 and was sad when he passed away.

    1. The Luke Perry one made me so sad, but happy they honored him in their own special way. I’d be curious to learn how Halloween is celebrated in Australia. So funny that sometimes you forget old traditions aren’t celebrated the same way around the world.

  8. What a gorgeous event and more artsy than spooky! I really enjoyed taking this virtual tour; I don’t think we celebrate pumpkins in the same way in Italy!

  9. It’s absolutely incredible how talented these carvers are! I would think they were carved on actual pumpkins as the details are so intricate. Love to see all of these one year!

  10. I’m so glad this event is carrying on this year! It really seems like fun for the whole family. Absolutely love the creativity and artistry involved in the carving! PS – you didn’t have to tell us that you didn’t carve your family’s pumpkins! 😂😂

  11. What a cool event! I’d love to see all of these pumpkin sculptures, they’re so creative! Great tips on visiting too.

    1. Thanks! The Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular at the Minnesota Zoo is pretty spectacular! One of the best things to do in the Twin Cities during the Halloween season.

  12. Wow 20,000 pumpkins, that’s a lot! Glad to know they are composted.
    The Jack-o-Lantern spectacular would be fun for us to visit. We don’t have anything like that in Perth.

  13. Oh my gosh, it looks like they actually do a really great job with fall/autumn/Halloween decorations! So many places advertise Halloween events, but when you go it feels a little lack luster. It seems like this place wouldn’t disappoint!

    1. The Minnesota Zoo definitely knows how to put on a Halloween show! Love the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular – one of the best things to do in the Twin Cities for families.

    1. If you husband loves Halloween, then we would love the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular. And love that it’s at the Minnesota Zoo – great thing to do for families.

    1. October is a great time to enjoy all the fun family-friendly events in Minnesota. Especially love the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular – the best pumpkin festival in the Twin Cities.

  14. Halloween makes me think scary, but it’s great to have all these family friendly halloween events too. The Minnesota Zoo Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular reminds me of the Zoo Boo we used to attend in Detroit.

  15. I live seeing the artistry on these pumpkins especially the Mexican Catrinas and animals. I had a co-worker who had this type of carving talent. And as a former animal trainer, pumpkins were always fun enrichment to give to the animals!

    1. I am so in awe of those with these creative pumpkin carving skills. And the ones at the Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular are amazing. t’s the perfect family-friendly Halloween event in the Twin Cities.