Spending the holidays in the Blue Ridge Mountains brings to mind cozy fireside nights under homespun quilts, a brisk family outing to find the perfect Christmas tree on a local farm, and the very the best slopes for skiing and sledding. We’ve rounded up all this and more in our guide to festive winter fun in the communities along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
But Isn’t the Parkway Closed in the Winter?
A popular misconception is that the Blue Ridge Parkway closes for winter. It doesn’t! The Blue Ridge Parkway is open year-round, weather permitting. What this means is that it’s important to check the Road Closure Chart during winter if your travels include a drive on the Parkway. Rapidly changing weather conditions, snow and ice at higher elevations, and strong winds that can bring down trees do close sections of the Parkway sometimes in winter.
Just plan ahead and know that many official NPS facilities (like visitor centers on the Parkway) do close for the season – but there are no shortage of friendly shopkeepers, restaurants, and other services in communities just off the Parkway via any Access Point. Remember that you can still get to the towns and destinations here by taking a major highway if you do find a section of the Parkway closed.
What to Do for the Holidays Along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Lights, Cocoa, Santa
Nothing makes the holidays twinkle like lights. You’ll find dazzling light shows and towns decorated in all their yuletide finery in any region of the Parkway and neighboring communities. Expect appearances from everyone’s favorite resident of the North Pole at any of these celebrations. Here’s just a sampling of what there is to see.
Located north of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Shenandoah National Park Region, Winchester, Virginia hosts the Winter Wonderland light show at Clearbrook Park. This annual tradition offers hot cocoa, food vendors, live entertainment and more.
The Bedford Welcome Center, with easy access from the Parkway at Mileposts 63.8, 86 or 121.4, presents the annual Festival of Trees through early January. Veterans and history enthusiasts will appreciate Bedford’s Flames of Memory nighttime illumination event at the National D-Day Memorial with 4,413 luminaries in tribute to honor fallen soldiers and all who served.
If you’re in the Roanoke, VA area, check out Illuminights at Explore Park, where you’ll find cocoa, artisan crafts, and over 600,000 lights sprinkled across a half-mile wooded walking path, plus additional family activities that vary by date.
The wildly popular walk-through Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum is an experience to behold and tends to sell to capacity well in advance, so purchase your tickets ahead of time if your holiday excursions bring you to the Asheville area. The NC Arboretum is located right at the Parkway entrance ramp at MP 393.6.
Appalachian Christmas at the Shelton House in Waynesville, NC offers an outdoor Tinsel Trail lit each evening from dusk until dawn throughout December.
Millions of lights, life-sized snow people, arts & crafts, and music and stories are just some of what you can experience during Winterfest held throughout the holiday season in the towns of Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge, TN. All three are located near the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Great Smoky Mountains region.
Enjoy a nighttime train ride surrounded by twinkling light displays, a live Christmas show and a visit from Santa at Tweetsie Christmas at Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock, NC on select nights in November and December.
Charming holiday favorite The Polar Express comes to life for the holidays. Experience the Polar Express train ride yourself on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City, NC.
You can catch performances of The Nutcracker at many stops along the Parkway. Just a few of your options for catching this seasonal tradition include:
Southwest Virginia Ballet performs The Nutcracker in Roanoke, Virginia. Read all about planning a holiday getaway to Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
For more delightfully joyful seasonal performances, check out Barter Theater in Abingdon, VA (the state theater of Virginia), Flat Rock Playhouse near Hendersonville, NC (the state theater of North Carolina), Blackfriar Playhouse in Staunton, VA, and Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre in Wytheville, VA.
Let It Snow
While there are lots of reasons to visit the mountains, finding the best hills for sledding, tubing and skiing is high on the list. There are plenty of free places on the Parkway if you have your own gear or sleds including Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, Explore Park, and Beech Mountain‘s municipal sledding hill.
Haywood County and popular Maggie Valley, NC are conveniently located near both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains for experiencing the best the mountains have to offer for the holidays. Find all there is to see and do in the area, including skiing at the Cataloochee Ski Area on their Winter Fun page.
Nothing says yuletide in the mountains like the scent of evergreen boughs – and picking out your own Christmas tree from a farm or mom and pop shop. Here are your Parkway area best bets for getting a real tree.
12 Ridges Tasting Room and Vineyard also offers Christmas trees grown on their property located right on the Parkway at Milepost 25. Here, you can have a glass of wine after selecting your Fraser fir.
Christa’s Country Corner is located right across from the Blue Ridge Parkway Access Point at Milepost 312. An experience in itself, the general store will take you back in time, fill your belly with good food, give you a hay ride from the store to their Christmas tree farm, and send you on your way with your own Fraser fir.
Beside the obvious reasons to stop off at Snowy Mountain Christmas Shop & Sweets (located near Parkway Milepost 317.4) this holiday season, you can cut your own Fraser fir from their 60 acres of trees.
Access Boyd Mountain Log Cabins from Parkway Milepost 443.1 in Waynesville or Milepost 455.7 in Maggie Valley at Soco Gap. The 150-acre property includes 40 acres of Fraser fir Christmas trees for you to choose from. They’ll cut it for you and even tie it to your car!
Festive Food & Drink
You’ll find many towns and shops sharing snacks, hot cocoa and libations in good cheer at this time of year. Here’s a couple special events this winter for wine lovers.
Surry County Winter Wine & Beer Passport provides a tasting at 10 Yadkin Valley wineries and two craft breweries. Passports also include discounts for local restaurants, shops and lodging. Find more about the Surry County, NC wineries and other holiday festivities on their website.
The Hendersonville Cheers! Trail showcases beer, wine, cider and mead. Passports and brochures are available at the visitor center. The Cheers! Trail is available year-round, but makes for an enjoyable winter activity and the passport is a great gift!
One of a Kind Winter Adventures
If you’re on the search for a unique holiday experience to entertain the family, here are a few of our favorites you won’t find just anywhere.
The Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum (ATOM) is the best in quirky holiday fun and we’re told it’s world-renowned. The collection of aluminum Christmas trees is on display at the Transylvania Heritage Museum in downtown Brevard, North Carolina mid-November through mid-January.
See the beautifully decorated Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC and its famous National Gingerbread Competition throughout the holiday season. Enjoy drinks, hot cocoa or dinner and a self-guided tour of the youth exhibits and architectural wonders in gingerbread house construction displayed around the inn.
The whole town gets involved with retro ski fashions, vintage car shows, karaoke and a variety of other throwback contests where you can celebrate all things eighties at the Beech Mountain Totally ’80s Retro Ski Weekend.
From local art to outdoor gear to games, you’ll find something for everyone on your list in the shops throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville, NC at MP 384 is open year-round and carries all your favorite Blue Ridge Parkway souvenirs and a sweet selection of books and educational toys. Gift sales at official Parkway visitor centers benefit the Blue Ridge Parkway – NPS to support operations and an enjoyable drive for everyone. Just two miles away at MP 382, the Folk Art Center offers artisan crafts and live demonstrations.
If you need help getting in the seasonal spirit or to find that perfect keepsake, a visit to the South’s largest Christmas Village will delight young and old alike. The Incredible Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, TN also boasts the South’s largest angel tree.
For more gift ideas, check out shopping along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Keep in mind that this list is just the tip of the proverbial Christmas tree; many towns have numerous holiday events to choose from to suit most every interest and ability level. However you choose to celebrate, we wish you a joyous holiday season and a happy New Year!