Is Winter Lights at The NC Arboretum in Asheville, NC worth it? Absolutely! From the nature-themed holiday light displays to s’mores and hot chocolate in the gardens, this is a “must” winter tradition for us to get into the holiday spirit. Learn all that you need to know from locals and Arboretum members; we attend every year.
Table of Contents
Top Things To Know About The NC Arboretum’s Winter Lights In 2023
If you are in a rush, find dates, ticket prices, and more here. Then, keep reading to discover our favorite Winter Lights displays.
5 Best Things To Do
Winter Lights in Asheville is one of our favorite places to see holiday lights in all of Western North Carolina along with Biltmore at Christmas and The Omni Grove Park Inn. These are just a few activities to get your money’s worth.
1. Find the most creative light displays
Start the holiday season off right with vibrant lights throughout the gardens, featuring forest critter shadow boxes, a unicorn, giant deer, a narwhal, and nature-themed displays such as flowers and a heron. Walk through lighted tunnels and rainbows, including the famous caterpillar. I adore the garden gnomes and might just have to make one at home.
Then, watch lighted trees “dancing” to music, and don’t miss the iconic 50-foot tree of lights behind the lighted Quilt Garden, surrounded by chairs and firepits. Spy the Rocky Cove Railroad outdoor model train, which is lit up for the holidays too. The river of lights is pretty creative.
2. Enjoy delicious treats
Purchase s’mores kits sold at the Bent Creek Bistro and pull up to a firepit with Santa, weather permitting (rain or wind/burn bans). Located within the gardens, find a Cocoa Shack and a newer Cocoa Cabin selling beverages and snacks. We bought a delicious vegan and gluten-free gingerbread cookie with local craft beer and wine. I also always order a sweet hot apple cider but you might prefer hot cocoa.
Never Miss Another Asheville Update
Experience Asheville like a local with our free attractions, dining, hiking, and day tripping guides straight to your inbox from Christine.
3. Listen to live music
Catch live music – jazz, country, folk, and holiday – at the Education Center and Baker Visitor Center. We enjoy listening to the harp next to the blazing fireplace at the visitor center.
4. Shop for Christmas ornaments
Shop at the NC Arboretum’s Winter Lights pop-up Christmas shop filled with nature-themed ornaments and warm winter apparel. This shop inspired our Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas tree in our home office. The tree is now covered in foxes, bears, birds, and owls purchased at the event.
5. Make a wish
Every year, the wishing trees change just a bit. Grab a blank little note/ornament and write your wish.
Audience, Accessibility, and Policies
Winter Lights at The NC Arboretum is truly a magical experience sure to get you in the holiday spirit, young or old. This is one of the most family-friendly things to do in Asheville in the winter. It is also a great event to attend with friends and is quite romantic for couples. Solo travelers will be surrounded by smiling people.
Just know that while The NC Arboretum is pet-friendly most times of the year, you cannot have a dog/pet at Winter Lights unless it is a service animal. The event is accessible for guests with limited mobility and wheelchairs. Find paved pathways throughout the gardens.
There are multiple on-site restrooms at the Visitor Center and Bistro/Education Center. You cannot enter with or use bicycles, roller skates, rollerblades, or skateboards while at Winter Lights
Dates, Tickets, and Pricing Details
To have the best experience at Winter Lights in Asheville, we suggest:
- Purchasing advanced tickets online, especially if you have a specific date set in mind; they might sell out closer to the holidays/weekends
- Visiting on a Monday through Wednesday evening to beat the crowds and prices; grab that 6 PM time slot so you can arrive any time before 9 PM
- Dressing in or packing extra layers; the NC Mountain weather is unpredictable and angsty this time of year
- Grabbing dinner at one of our favorite nearby Asheville restaurants before going
Winter Lights at The NC Arboretum goes from November 17 to December 31, 2023. Tickets are sold per vehicle based on vehicle size and not by person, costing around $35-$80 per personal vehicle. The cost of Winter Lights varies by date. Purchase advanced tickets online for a discount or pay a higher price at the gatehouse. Members receive a $5 discount.
Tickets are timed for the event; select a 6:00, 7:00, or 8:00 PM entry slot. Ticket holders may enter any time between their chosen entry time and 9:00 PM. Gates close at 9 PM, and the event commences at 10 PM. You must leave the property by 10:30 PM.
The North Carolina Arboretum’s Winter Lights tickets are date and time-specific. The event happens rain or shine. Tickets are non-refundable unless you purchase a Flex Ticket.
Best Time To Visit
Prices rise in December and at peak times through Christmas and New Year’s. Weekends are more expensive than earlier weeknights. We try to attend on a Monday or Tuesday evening in November to beat the crowds. By 7:30 PM, entering traffic may thin out versus the opening time slot. However, we suggest reserving the 6 PM time slot to get the most for your money.
Time To Budget For The Event
Although everyone is different and the weather might be with or against you, we budget about 1 to 2 hours for Winter Lights in Asheville.
More Details About Visiting The NC Arboretum
We have been North Carolina Arboretum members since moving to Asheville. The property boasts gorgeous picnic spots along with terrific hiking and mountain biking trails. A membership grants you unlimited access to the property during working hours.
If you are visiting the Arboretum during the day and not for their Winter Lights Festival, which requires a separate ticket, pay for a one-day parking pass or show your annual membership card.
A non-event parking pass starts at $20.00+ for a personal/standard vehicle and $60 for larger vehicles. Members park for free, and they have numerous tiered memberships. The two basic plans start at $50 for an individual and $75 for a household.
Aside from the parking fee and special events, there are no other admission charges on the property. You may wish to purchase food and drinks at the Bent Creek Bistro, though, or buy gifts in their shop. Read our complete guide to visiting The NC Arboretum.
If you love these gardens, try… Asheville is full of both public and private parks and gardens. You might also enjoy the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, Beaver Lake, and Biltmore Estate’s Walled Garden. For public parks, we frequent Carrier Park and French Broad River Park.
Contact Info & Directions
Address: The North Carolina Arboretum
100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way
Asheville, NC 28806
Directions: Located in southwest Asheville off of the Blue Ridge Parkway and NC-191/Brevard Road, The NC Arboretum is a part of the Pisgah National Forest. Use “The North Carolina Arboretum” for GPS or “20 Frederick Law Olmsted Way Asheville, NC 28806.” If you are coming from Downtown Asheville or North Asheville, expect a 25+-minute drive.
Before you go…
Where is your favorite place to see lights in Asheville? Have you attended The NC Arboretum’s Winter Lights? What did you think? Let us know in the comments. You might also enjoy these guides:
- Best Things To Do In Asheville
- Indoor Activities If It Is Raining/Snowing
- More Of Asheville’s Hottest Attractions
Christine (pronouns: she/her) is the owner and lead writer of Uncorked Asheville. After falling in love with those gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, Christine and her husband Tom decided to call Asheville, North Carolina home. When her pointy Italian nose isn’t stuck in a book, Christine is adopting all of the kitties, getting lost in the forest, and drinking an ESB. She has a BA in English and History from Smith College, her MLIS from USF-Tampa, and is a former U.S. Fulbright Scholar - Indonesia. Christine also owns The Uncorked Librarian LLC with books and movies to inspire travel.