Holiday spirit surrounds Asheville and one of the best ways to enjoy it is the NC Arboretum’s dazzling Winter Lights display, presented from 6 – 10 p.m., through Jan. 4. This is the sixth year of the display and every year, it lights up the night with even more holiday joy.

The family-friendly event provides the opportunity to enjoy winter, strolling through the gardens, listening to holiday music and sipping hot cocoa. This outdoor walking tour of the gardens presents more than half-a-million energy-efficient LEDs in fanciful holiday displays.

Winter Lights entrance

Enter the Winter Lights display through the Arboretum’s Baker Exhibit Center. / Carol Viau photo

“Winter Lights has truly become a signature holiday event for Asheville and the entire Western North Carolina region,” said George Briggs, executive director of The North Carolina Arboretum. “Walking through the Arboretum’s gardens at night and seeing our landscapes covered in more than half-a-million lights brings a whole new light to the natural world during the holiday season. It is really a unique experience that visitors have enjoyed coming back to year after year.”

All the light displays, beautiful and spectacular in their own right, compliment and emphasize the beauty of the Western North Carolina mountains.

Winter Lights walkway

FESTIVE FOR THE HOLIDAYS — Visitors to the Arboretum’s Winter Lights display will be surrounded by holiday lights.

Winter Lights is a beautifully bright holiday tradition — and it is the Arboretum’s largest fundraising event of the year. Proceeds help support the Arboretum’s educational programs, exhibits and facilities year-round.

New this year

It’s hard to choose which display is the standout, but judging from the crowds it drew, the new “Magical Maples” display seemed to be the delightful focal point.

“The Arboretum launched its new ‘Magical Maples’ display, which showcases Western North Carolina’s native red maple tree through lights, music and art,” said Whitney Smith, NC Arboretum marketing and PR manager. “Featuring four signature trees located alongside the Arboretum’s grassy knoll, the display illuminates to musical hits from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.”

Event-goers were mesmerized by the lights dancing to James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” as the trees seemed to burst with fire, followed by rain.

Winter Lights has always had plenty of activities for children. New this year are three see-through igloos with games to keep children busy, located in the Winter Wonderland section next to the Education Center. While in the Education Center, stop at the Bent Creek Bistro and get a cookie for children to decorate themselves in the adjoining room.

Returning favorites

Returning this year are the Arboretum’s signature 50-foot animated Tree of Light; the lighted Quilt Garden, best viewed from the stone staircase; the Rocky Cove Railroad garden scale model train; the Nature’s Ballroom chandeliers; and the ever-popular animatronic children’s program, “Storytime at Woodland Cove.”

Winter Lights Tree of Light

Enjoy the Arboretum’s signature 50-foot animated ‘Tree of Light,’ a focal point in the Winter Lights garden. / Photo by Paul Viau

Walk through a winter wonderland

Start at the Baker Center, then visit the nearby Cocoa Shack. The stroll begins with brightly lit large-scale ornaments and trees decked with lights, chandeliers and a tree decorated with a larger-than-life woodland owl.

The Quilt Garden, with its raised rock viewing area, provides a view of the 50-ft. animated tree “Tree of Light” and an up-close musical experience of changing quilt patterns, timed to music.

Continue through the brightly lighted stream garden to see the fanciful lighted heron — and across the path, trees lighted like cherry trees. At the walkway’s end, see the large lighted Winter Lights sign and gorgeous blue-lighted Snowflake Way, leading to the plaza and Education Center, where children can play games and enjoy animatronic bears.

Celebrate winter traditions with food and beverage, to compliment the nighttime stroll.

“Festive food and beverages, including hot cocoa, s’mores, wine and beer, are available for purchase throughout the gardens and inside the Arboretum’s Education Center,” Smith said.

Trolley transportation

For visitors seeking transportation from Asheville, The Trolley Company offers Winter Lights Holiday Tour, from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. This chartered package includes a complimentary cup of hot cocoa, admission to Winter Lights and a scenic ride filled with music to and from the Arboretum.

Pick-up locations for the tour will be at the Renaissance hotel in downtown Asheville and the DoubleTree hotel in Biltmore Village. Tickets for The Trolley Company’s Winter Lights Holiday Tour are $29.50 per person and must be purchased in advance at www.thetrolleycompany.com.

Winter Lights in Asheville

For the fourth year in a row, the NC Arboretum will partner with the City of Asheville for Winter Lights Downtown, a holiday light display in Pack Square Park — and light displays in Prichard Park and Biltmore Village.

The kick off for Local Lights took place Nov. 22, at Pack Square Park in Asheville.

Biltmore Village will celebrate its light display, during its the tree lighting ceremony Friday, Dec. 6, at the 32nd annual Dickens Festival.

“The Local Lights partnership really showcases the power of Asheville’s collaborative community and enthusiasm to provide residents and visitors with a special, artistic experience during the holiday season,” Briggs said. “We are proud to produce this show and help ‘Light up Asheville’ this holiday season.”

Winter Lights sign

HOLIDAY TRADITION – Snow may or may not be glistening, but the NC Arboretum’s Winter Lights display brings holiday joy.

Winter Lights ticket information

Tickets for Winter Lights range from $8 – 25 and are date- and time-specific. Children four and under are free.

“This year, the Arboretum is offering Flex Tickets for purchase, which give visitors the option to easily exchange the date of their purchased ticket for another night without any additional penalty,” Smith said.

The Arboretum also offers several discounted ticket opportunities, including the “Friends and Family” Tuesday night promotion (excluding Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve) and “Arboretum Week,” Dec. 2 – 5.

Arboretum members receive $2 off each ticket purchased.

“Many nights, including weekends and holidays, are likely to sell out, and visitors are strongly encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance,” Smith said.

Tickets for Winter Lights can be purchased online at www.ncarboretum.org/winter-lights.

The North Carolina Arboretum is an affiliate of the University of North Carolina, and works to cultivate connections between people and plants. The 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. Call 828-665-2492 or visit www.ncarboretum.org.

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