Make a Day of It – Christmas Festival of Lights at The Grotto

Run Oregon loves running – that’s no surprise. But we also love the Pacific Northwest and all that it has to offer. Running is a part of us, but it does not fully define us. In our “Make a Day of It” feature, we aim to showcase some great local non-running events and highlight where to run and how to make the most of your experience!

The next installment of this series is the Christmas Festival of Lights at The Grotto in NE Portland.

First the running: Because The Grotto is adjacent to Rocky Butte Park, our suggested run to explore this area is involves some hills! Here is a MapMyRun link to a loop just over 4 miles, starting and ending at Madison High School, that will take you through neighborhoods to Rocky Butte Park. Once there, you’ll run up, up, up, enjoying views of Portland and, if it’s clear, a great view of Mount St. Helens. Then you head back down and enjoy a decline and some flat roads back to Madison.

Add mileage by heading west from Madison to Rose City Park. Or, run the hill again!

Now to the details of the Festival of Lights experience itself:

The Grotto is a Catholic shrine that welcomes everyone to enjoy it’s beautiful, peaceful grounds and gardens. The Christmas Festival of Lights has long been a flagstone of the Christmas experience in Portland with spectacular light displays and an extensive schedule of local choirs, and this year they are celebrating their 30th anniversary of the Festival of Lights. Plan on spending around at least an hour there, so you have time to take in all the lights and enjoy the performances – it’s a relaxing evening and keeps the focus on the spirit of the holiday.

Grotto 1When my family visited on Friday, December 1, I was surprised at how spacious the pathways were. Even though it was around 7:30p on a Friday night, it was not too crowded and I didn’t have to worry about losing my kids in the crowd. Upon entering the path, displays with speakers told the story of for the travels of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus, with impressive colorful light displays on the other side of the path.

A short distance along this path is a wide-open plaza, where tents are set up and a wide variety of performances are given. When we were there, we saw a small band playing Christmas music, caught a puppet show, and then heard another musical group playing in these tented areas as we walked back to the car. Benches offered places for people to sit and enjoy the entertainment. There was food and drink available for purchase, as well.

The choirs perform inside the church, a beautifully decorated space with excellent acoustics. We were able to watch the performance by Century High School’s choir, including a solo. In addition to high school choirs, there are some collegiate and community singers performing over the next few weeks, and a few instrumental artists as well, including a flute quartet and a harp performance. You can see the full choir performance schedule here.

The pathways are all paved and have only minor inclines and declines. The area to the rock cave is up a few steps, but there is a railing. The amount of walking is pretty minimal, so it’s great for little ones whose legs can’t handle a lot of distance, or anyone who has trouble walking long lengths. There are also three different restrooms at the venue, easy to find and access. I note all of this because we were with someone that has mobility issues, and he had no trouble navigating the paths.

You’ll want to dress warm and be prepared for rain, even though the performance areas are all covered. You probably can get away with leaving the stroller at home for any kiddos that are already walking; besides, if you have little ones they’ll want to be lifted up to see just how high up the lights have been strung to create the holiday displays. I should also note that they have volunteers directing parking and they do an excellent job keeping things moving smoothly – their efforts and smiles were most welcome because parking at some events can be a challenge, so I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to park and walk a short distance to The Grotto.

Grotto 2

My camera doesn’t do the shrine justice – it’s an impressive, beautiful place, and to each side are candles people can light in prayer or memory.

Event Dates:

  • The Festival of Lights at The Grotto opened the day after Thanksgiving and runs through December 30, but is closed on December 25th.


  • 5p – 9:30p each night


  • General admission is $11, and seniors and members of the military get tickets for $10. Tickets for kids ages 3 – 12 are $6 and for 2 and under it’s free.

“The Grotto” name is drawn from a rock cave that is carved out of a cliff, at which a replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà is centered. Around the grounds, there are other small shrines to other Saints, which was really nice, and found a statue of my favorite Saint, Therese the Little Flower, inside the church. The Grotto also hosts Catholic Mass, so if you want to attend one, you can look at the Mass schedule here.

About Author

We started the Run Oregon blog in February 2007, because felt like running in Oregon and SW Washington deserved more positive coverage. We also wanted to level the playing field so that small, non-profit races could compete with big events; and to support local race organizers.

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