Saturday will mark the start of the holiday season in downtown Missoula, when the 13th annual Parade of Lights closes off Higgins Avenue.
About 3,000 people are expected to come see about 23-some floats, said Topher Williams, membership and events director for the Missoula Downtown Association, which organizes the annual shindig.
"The Parade of Lights is one of the best family-friendly events in downtown Missoula all year round," Williams said.
The parade doesn't start until 6 p.m., but businesses and groups will host activities all day, varying from snowflake-making to horse-drawn carriage rides. Some are free, and others have a fee of $1 to $10. (See the full list below.)
Starting at 1 p.m., Santa will be available for photos at the Florence Building, 111 N. Higgins Ave.
One new event this year is an Instagram scavenger hunt. Teams can come up with their own hashtag and pick up a list of locations at one of the different businesses listed below.
Each time they take a picture at places like the Desmond's mannequin, or shoot a selfie on a horse-drawn carriage, they should post it with hashtags for their team and also "#zootownlights."
Each picture is worth a different amount of points. The winning team will receive a $100 MDA gift card, good at participating restaurants and businesses.
The MDA, a nonprofit organization with more than 400 members, promotes downtown through activities such as Out to Lunch, Downtown ToNight, and the Parade of Lights.
"We receive large amount of positive feedback from local businesses," Williams said. "Bringing thousands of people into downtown during the winter months is critical to making sure our businesses stay successful."
Ahead of the parade, businesses prepared for holidays by dressing up their windows for the MDA's annual decorating competition.
Judging takes place on First Friday, and the decorations will stay up throughout the season.
The parade starts at 6 p.m. and goes from the Hip Strip on Higgins Avenue to the Red X's.
Some of the participating organizations are Missoula in Motion, Nature's Best, Bitterroot Flower Shop, Mountain Line, Neptune Aviation and more.
The downtown tree will be lit when the parade reaches the X's.
Awards will be given to the best float designs in five categories. The winners will be announced Monday on the MDA's Facebook page.
Here's a list of Parade of Lights activities Saturday. Some are free and some cost a $1 to $10 fee.
- Hip Holiday Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Lowell School.
- Story Time, 11 a.m., Missoula Public Library.
- Beaded snowflake making, 12-3 p.m., Bathing Beauties Beads.
- Christmas card making, 12-3 p.m., Zootown Arts Community Center.
- Popcorn garland making,12-3 p.m., KornUtopia.
- Snowman craft, 12:30-2 p.m., Children’s Museum Missoula.
- Horse drawn rides, 1-5 p.m., East Pine Street.
- Family yoga, 12-2:40 p.m., Hot House Yoga.
- Holiday braids, bows and buns for kids, 12-3 p.m., Boom Swagger Salon.
- Letters to Santa, 1-3 p.m., Noteworthy Paper & Press.
- Drop-in holiday workshop, 1-3 p.m., Missoula Art Museum.
- Drop in crafts, 1-4 p.m., Missoula Public Library.
- DIY ornament making, 1-5 p.m., Upcycled.
- Cookie decorating, 1-5 p.m., Bernice’s Bakery.
- S’more making and carousel rides, 1-5 p.m., A Carousel for Missoula.
- Classic holiday films, 1-5 p.m., Roxy Theater.
- Santa cookie plate making with the ZACC, 2-4 p.m., Black Coffee Roasting Co.
- Chromatography and neuron making, 2-5 p.m., spectrUM Science Center.
- String ornaments, 2-5 p.m., La Stella Blu.
- Fortune telling and palm reading, 3-5 p.m., Betty’s Divine.
- Cupcake decorating, 3-5 p.m., Taste Buds Kitchen.
- DIY paper garlands, 3-5 p.m., the Dram Shop.
- Games, face painting, card making, 4-6 p.m., Community of Saint Columba.
At 5 p.m., the bonfire will be lit with music by the Christian Life Center Choir. Free coffee, cocoa and cookies are available.
Free gift-wrapping will be offered at the MSO Hub, 140 N. Higgins Ave.