NC Arboretum’s Winter Lights Returns in Dazzling Display

A BEAUTIFUL SIGHT — Winter Lights at The North Carolina Arboretum is presented nightly through Dec. 31. See nearly 500,000 energy-efficient LED lights twinkle, sparkle and captive visitors in this family-friendly outdoor exhibit/ Paul Viau photo

The North Carolina Arboretum’s Winter Lights holiday light show has returned with even more lights, new interactive displays and more family-friendly pricing. Now in its fourth year, the lively holiday light display delights visitors from 6 to 10 p.m. nightly through Sunday, Dec. 31.

Winter Lights is an outdoor walking tour of the Arboretum’s nationally-acclaimed gardens, with beautiful lighted displays — all designed to accentuate the landscapes of the NC Arboretum. The garden light display is an easy stroll for visitors of all ages and physical abilities.

“Over the years, Winter Lights has truly become a holiday tradition in Asheville and Western North Carolina,” said George Briggs, executive director of The North Carolina Arboretum. “Last year, we welcomed nearly 30,000 guests hailing from across the Southeast and throughout the United States.”

Winter Wonderland

“Walk through a winter wonderland and enjoy uniquely-lit displays and landscapes composed of nearly 500,000 energy-efficient LED lights,” said Whitney Smith, NC Arboretum marketing manager. “Listen to the sounds of your favorite holiday tunes or enjoy a cup of holiday-inspired cocoa.”

Start the walk at the spiral lights of the Baker Exhibit Center, the official entrance to Winter Lights. While indoors, see the “Wicked Plants” exhibit, before heading to the garden displays. Visit the outdoor Cocoa Shack for hot chocolate and s’mores kits. Children will enjoy using the kits the at the three fire pit S’mores Stations throughout the gardens. Winter Lights volunteers help with sticks for roasting marshmallows and everyone can enjoy the fire pits to take the chill off the night air.

After walking through the Rock Candy Cottage, follow the lighted gum-drop walkway and be dazzled by the 50-foot animated Tree of Light and the lighted Dream Quilt garden, with lights ‘dancing’ to holiday music. For the best view, walk up the short rock staircase to the garden overlook.

Below the Tree of Light is the family-favorite Rocky Cove Railroad G-scale (garden scale) model railroad.

Beyond the quilt garden, the white lights of the Shimmering Stream embody an “all is calm” feeling, followed by the colorful Winter Walk on the way to the “Plantasia” Light Show and Wishing Tree.

The Nature’s Ballroom display of lighted chandeliers hanging from the Arboretum’s trees is stunning — and a visitor favorite.

Continue the walk to Sparkling Falls Plaza, with a cascade of blue lights tumbling as a waterfall. On the plaza, new features include interactive motion sensor “Reindeer Games” for children and light activities, including writing a holiday wish and placing it on a Christmas tree for visitors to read.

Enjoy the family-friendly Storytime at Woodland Cove animatronic children’s program and craft station in the education center. Or relax at the Savory Thyme Café for a dinner buffet and shop at the holiday market gift shop, stocked with fanciful holiday decorations. Being ‘Asheville,’ there is also a Winter Bier Garden.

Finish the stroll walking though Snowflake Way, a tunnel of lights, on the way back to the parking area.

“Since its inception, Winter Lights has become the Arboretum’s largest single event fundraiser for The North Carolina Arboretum Society and has helped us expand and improve our educational programs, exhibits and facilities throughout the year,” Briggs said. “We are incredibly thankful for the community’s support and are excited for the new additions and features in this year’s show.”

Transportation options

  • The Trolley Company — offers transportation from Asheville and Hendersonville to the NC Arboretum, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights during Winter Lights.

The Winter Lights Holiday Tour Trolley rides include a complimentary cup of hot cocoa, admission to Winter Lights and music to and from the Arboretum. Tickets for The Trolley Company’s Winter Lights Holiday Tour are $28.50 per person and must be purchased in advance at

  • Leap Frog Tours — offers Winter Lights packages for groups of six or more, including tickets, a cookie and transportation in Leap Frog’s comfortable vans. Leap Frog can design before- and after-Winter Lights activities, too. Call (828) 246-6777 or book at

Winter Lights Downtown

For the second year in a row, the Arboretum will partner with the City of Asheville for Winter Lights Downtown, a holiday light display in downtown Asheville’s Pack Square Park, between the Vance Monument and the Hoss Haley Fountain.

Winter Lights Downtown will be on display nightly through mid-January. In addition to the light display, the NC Arboretum has partnered with the city of Asheville to refurbish its downtown holiday wreaths with updated, fresh decor.

“Partnering with the City of Asheville allows us to further expand our connection with the local community beyond the Arboretum’s 434-acre property,” Briggs said. “We are excited for the opportunity to collaborate with the city again and share the joy of Winter Lights with locals and visitors alike.”

Arboretum ticket information

Tickets are date-specific and must be purchased in advance. No tickets are sold at the gate. Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for children (5 -11), plus sales tax and handling fees. Children age 4 and under are free. NC Arboretum members receive a $2 discount on tickets.

Special offerings for Winter Lights include the Arboretum’s “Friends and Family” night every Tuesday. Tickets will be discounted to $15 for adults and $10 for children; Arboretum Society member discounts still apply. Group tickets are available ($15 per person, minimum 20 people).

Winter Lights tickets are available for purchase at

The North Carolina Arboretum is an affiliate of the University of North Carolina, and works “to cultivate connections between people and plants.” The North Carolina Arboretum is off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 393. From I-26, take Exit 33, and follow Blue Ridge Parkway signs for two miles to the entrance ramp. A standard $14 per vehicle parking fee is required for non-members during daytime visits. Special events and after-hours activities may require additional fees. For information, call (828) 665-2492 or visit

By Carol Viau