Lifestyle Outdoors

NC Arboretum Shines with Winter Lights

Mushrooms. David Lewis, artist

By Natasha Anderson

Now in its 8th year, Winter Lights returns to the North Carolina Arboretum from Friday, November 19, through January 1. Last year, with COVID precautions in place and a newly-announced drive-through version, the display attracted an estimated 105,000 visitors. This year, the Arboretum brings the walk-through experience back to its largest annual fundraiser, allowing guests more freedom to explore the gardens and see one million lights shining throughout.

“I am grateful that we can continue hosting Winter Lights for the families that have supported us over the years and now attend as a regular part of their holiday celebration tradition,” says Clara Curtis, the Arboretum’s senior director for mission delivery. “The show is all about making memories in a place that is very special to me and to our region.”

Heron. David Lewis, artist

This year’s theme, Forest and Garden Whimsy, brings some new surprises alongside old favorites like the 50-foot Tree of Light and the Illuminated Quilt Garden. Guests can expect to see mystical forest creatures including a giant, walk-through caterpillar and gnomes frolicking around giant mushrooms.

“So many have turned to the Arboretum’s forests and gardens for respite during challenging times and we wanted to honor that experience in our designs,” says Mary Rose Ridderbusch-Shearer, the Arboretum’s guest services manager. “This year’s displays highlight the beauty of the forests and gardens that bring such joy, but with a sprinkle of magic.”

The return of the walk-through experience also means the return of hot cocoa, snacks, bonfires and s’mores at various locations on the grounds. Also reappearing is live music from local performers, story time at Woodland Cove and the Rocky Cove Railroad, which will be decked out as the Polar Express.

Some important changes to this year’s Winter Lights production include streamlined ticketing and check-in processes. Tickets will be sold per vehicle, at the same price regardless of the number of passengers, and will be for specific dates and times, to improve traffic flow and parking on busy nights. Tickets will also be priced in a tiered system based on peak and off-peak days.

Other changes include multiple starting points, fewer indoor gathering spots and an expanded gift shop space. Face coverings are currently required for everyone five years of age and older while indoors, and are encouraged outside where social distancing is not possible, in accordance with Buncombe County mandates.

“Our team is always thinking about the guests, their safety and the experience we can offer them at Winter Lights,” says Curtis.

The North Carolina Arboretum is located at 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville. Winter Lights tickets are $30–$60 for standard size vehicles (up to 20 feet long) when purchased online in advance, $75–$125 for XL vehicles (21–29 feet long) and $400–$600 for XXL vehicles 30 feet or longer. Members receive a $5 discount. Admission is available at the gate for standard and XL vehicles for an additional $10 on the night of the event. To learn more or purchase tickets, visit

Leave a Comment