Coming up to its 66th year, McAdenville’s Christmas Town USA in North Carolina prepares once again to delight hundreds of thousands of visitors.
As December approaches, the town strings lights on more than 375 trees, some taller than 90 feet.
Each house along the main route takes part with their own decorations. Think of it as over a mile of houses decorated in Christmas lights. That’s not counting the side streets that also do their part.
The amount of lights and effort that go into putting on this spectacular and free Christmas show is astounding. Is it any surprise in 2020 USA Today named it #4 in the nation for the Best Public Holiday Lights Display? We’re lucky to live so close.
The Elephant in the Room
When 600,000 visitors descend on a tiny town of less than 700 residents, there’s going to be traffic challenges. Every year we see online reviews complaining about how they waited 2.5 hours in traffic. Then arrived when the lights shut off.
We say that’s just poor planning. We’ve been coming to the festival almost every year since we moved to Charlotte. We only got stuck that very first year, which definitely wasn’t fun.
As we want you to appreciate the McAdenville’s Christmas Town USA experience as intended, we are sharing our secret with you.
Where is McAdenville's Christmas Town USA?
Located in Gaston County, North Carolina, McAdenville is about 30 minutes from Charlotte and around 2 hours from Asheville. Unless you get stuck in that pesky traffic challenge we mentioned.
Where to Stay for McAdenville's Christmas Town USA
There are no hotels in McAdenville.
Nearby Gastonia is a good choice and has a decent selection of hotels.
- Hilton Garden Inn – With no traffic, the festival is about a 10-minute drive from the Hilton in the east side of Gastonia.
Plan on visiting more than just McAdenville? Consider staying in Charlotte as there are several other Christmas light events in the area.
- Hilton Charlotte Uptown – Offers great value in the heart of Charlotte’s uptown. It’s within walking distance of the smaller holiday attractions, like the ice rink and holiday market. However, parking in the city center is expensive in general, and parking at the Hilton is no exception.
- Aloft Charlotte Airport – If you don’t mind staying near the airport, this area of Charlotte offers really good value, easy transportation routes, and free parking. Plus, it’s just around the corner from the Billy Graham Library, which also has a lovely Christmas lights display with horse drawn carriages.
- The Ballantyne Hotel – If you’re after something a little fancier, the Ballantyne drips luxury (though with free parking). It’s a little further out, but a lovely area of Charlotte and not far from the city’s ring road, making it easy to get around.
When Does McAdenville's Christmas Lights Start?
The season kicks off with the Tree Lighting Ceremony in the plaza in front of the YMCA. In 2021, the Tree Lighting Ceremony will take place on Wednesday, December 1st. The ceremony starts at 5:00 pm and the lights will turn on at 6 pm.
When is the Yule Log Parade?
McAdenville is full of traditions; this one dates to 1950. Children pull a sleigh carrying the Yule Log to an open fireplace in Legacy Park on Elm Street. Once the Yule Log is lit, a special evening of festivities begins.
In 2021, the Yule Log Ceremony will start at 5 pm on the lawn of the Pharr Corporate Office, but the parade won’t start until around 5:50 pm.
What’s the “Secret” to Escaping the 2+ Hours of Traffic and Enjoying McAdenville's Christmas Town USA?
Get there 30 – 45 minutes early. Seriously, it really is that easy to avoid a world of frustration.
Our second “secret” to enjoying McAdenville’s Christmas lights is getting out of the car. Many folks treat it like a drive-through. Instead, bundle up, get out of the car, enjoy the music, and take it all in.
Lights come on at 5:30 pm. We usually arrive between 4:45 and 5. Grab a parking spot, browse the little shops on Main Street. I love the Kinkade Gallery. Or grab a hot coco at the bakery and wait for the lights to come on.
They say traffic is lighter Monday thru Thursday, but the first year we went was a Thursday and we got stuck for hours. We swore never again.
Since then, we’ve only been able to go on weekends, but we go a little early, so we have never had any more problems with traffic.
What If We Can't Walk the Route?
One of our readers made an excellent point, sometimes you or someone in your party, are not able to walk the route. How can you still enjoy the lights but also miss the traffic?
For those walking the route, we recommend waiting in the center of town for the lights to come on. But, if you plan to drive the route, this means you will miss half of the lights.
An easy solution is to get there early like mentioned earlier. Instead of waiting in the center, you can wait in the parking lots of the McAdenville Wesleyan Church or McAdenville Elementary until just before the lights come on at 5:30 pm.
This way you are at the start of the route, and basically will be one of the first “in line”.
Don’t wait too long after dark as the traffic will get busier and busier.
How Do I Get to McAdenville?
At 5:30 pm the police close off a few roads in the area, including Hickory Grove Road at the bridge and I-85 North Exit 23. There are plenty of signs to direct you, use the signs instead of the sat navigation.
If you arrive after dark, there will be lengthy lines at the interstate exits. The later it gets, the longer the lines get. Drive slowly and be prepared to come quickly to a complete stop.
- If you are coming in via I-85 North, Gastonia or Asheville, use Exit 22.
- Coming in from Charlotte, I-85 South, use Exit 23.
- Alternatively, from Charlotte get off at Exit 26. Then make a right on Hwy 29-74 Wilkinson Blvd. It will be a ways up, but at Wesleyan Drive make a right. Look for the Burger King on the left.
The highlighted area in blue on the map below, shows the main route of lights. The red Xs are road closures including the bridge into town.
Though Church and Academy are closed to traffic, you can still walk through these streets. It is much quieter and some of our favorite decorated houses are on Church Street.
Where Can I Park?
Most of the parking is in the town center. There are three free lots you can use. There is also free street parking on Main Street and Elm Street.
- Behind the McAdenville Baptist Church, accessed by Elm Street
- On Poplar Street behind Main Street
- Beside the lake is the parking lot for Pharr textile mills
If you’re arriving via US Highway 29-74. There is another free parking lot at McAdenville Elementary School. The school is also a great starting place for your walk as it is on the edge of town. It is easy to walk into town on one side of the road and walk back on the other.
Our Favorite Walking Route
We park in the town center and start our walk towards the lake and Wesleyan Dr.
- There’s a lovely spot just across from the fire station to get photos of the fountain and the lights around the lake.
- We then follow Wesleyan Dr. up towards the big, beautifully decorated neo-traditional homes. This is the main section that everyone comes to see.
- At the top of the hill, we pop onto Academy Circle. Usually, we find only the first few houses really go all out. But every year more houses seem to participate.
- We then cross over the roundabout to Church Street. This is our favorite area. There are less crowds and no traffic.
- Right at the start there are a few houses that really go all out. Even if you don’t completely follow this route, definitely check out the houses near the roundabout.
- Turning onto Cedar Street, our second favorite house is where the road curves.
- Making the left on Lakeview Dr., we follow the road to the path that cuts behind the lake and back to Wesleyan Dr.
Here’s a map of our typical walking route.
Where to Eat in McAdenville
Until recently, there have not been many choices for eating during McAdenville’s Christmas light celebration. However, Terra Mia Italian restaurant and Spruced Goose Station sandwich shop opened in the center of town a couple of years ago.
Unfortunately, we were not able to try either restaurant. Packed by 4:30 pm on Saturday (2019), Terra Mia was reservation only, and already had a long line for take away. If you’re interested, make reservations for their dine in.
For some reason, Spruced Goose closed between 4:30 – 5:30 pm (2019) despite their opening hours of 6:30 am – 8 pm. We are not sure what happened because there were a lot of folks looking for a place to eat before the lights. Hopefully this year they will be open.
The bakery in town always has a good line going. Wisely, they extend their hours for the busy season. Grab yourself a nice treat as you wait for the lights.
Even outside of town, restaurants are sparse, so they stay very busy in December. We usually just head back into Charlotte to eat or bring something with us.