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Visiting McAdenville’s Christmas Town USA, the Right Way – 2020 Guide

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Coming up to its 65th year, McAdenville’s Christmas Town USA in North Carolina prepares once again to delight hundreds of thousands of visitors.

YAY! Christmas (Town) isn’t canceled! However, I’m sure it’s no surprise there are some changes for 2020, which we’ll go over.

Visit McAdenville - Christmas Town USA in North Carolina

Typically, as December approaches, the town strings lights on more than 375 trees, some taller than 90 feet.

Each house along the main route participates with their own decorations. Think of it as over a mile of houses decorated in Christmas lights, 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.

However, in 2020 residents may choose not to decorate. Though to live in McAdenville you have to love Christmas, so we are betting there will still be plenty of lights and Christmas spirit.

For us, the biggest disappointment was to hear the tree-lined lake right in the center of town won’t be lit in 2020 to keep crowds from congregating.

Though it may not be the spectacle we are use to, even at half the lights it would still be the biggest free Christmas celebration we know of.

McAdenville Christmas Town USA Lake surrounded by trees decorated with Christmas lights

Lights on: Evenings from December 1st to December 26th from 5:30 – 10 pm nightly.

General Admission & Parking: Free

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 want you to appreciate the McAdenville’s Christmas Town USA experience as intended. And yes, with everyone itching to get out and enjoy the season safely, we think this may be McAdenville’s busiest year yet. Even with the reduced decorations.

Let’s get straight into what you need to know to enjoy your visit to this beautiful Christmas village, the right way.  

House decorated in white lights for McAdenville's Christmas celebrations, Christmas Town USA, NC

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.

White Christmas lights decorate porch, Christmas Town USA, McAdenville, NC

When Does McAdenville's Christmas Lights Start?

The season usually kicks off with the Tree Lightening Ceremony in the plaza in front of the YMCA. However, in 2020 the Tree Lighting Ceremony is canceled to keep crowds from gathering.

Fountain in the middle of the McAdenville lake lit for Christmas, Christmas Town USA, NC

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 commences.

The Yule Log Parade is another sad victim of the 2020 cancellations. 

Blow up penguins in lawn, McAdenville, Christmas Town USA, NC

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. Bundle up, get out, enjoy the music and take it all in. Yes, you can still walk the town in 2020 (maybe bring your mask).

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. Grab something at the bakery, then 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.

Traffic backs up waiting for McAdenville Christmas Lights, Christmas Town USA, NC
Traffic at Market Street and Wilkinson Blvd by 6 pm

What If We Can't Walk The Route?

One of our readers made an excellent point, sometimes you or someone your are with, 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 McAdenville Wesleyan Church or McAdenville Elementary until just before the lights come on at 5:30.

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 more and more busy.

McAdenville Christmas Town USA house decorated with lights. Santa's sleigh and reindeer lit up in front yard.

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.

  1. Behind the McAdenville Baptist Church, accessed by Elm Street
  2. On Poplar Street behind Main Street
  3. 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.

McAdenville Christmas Town USA house decorated with lights, Santa and reindeer.

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. Though the lake won’t be lit in 2020.

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. As the name suggests, you can walk the entire 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 my 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, my 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.

House decorated with lights and Santa for Christmas in McAdenville, Christmas Town USA, NC
View of the McAdenville Christmas lights from behind the lake, Christmas Town USA, NC

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 town center and will be open for 2020.

Unfortunately, we were not able to try either of them. 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 insane reason, Spruced Goose decided to close between 4:30 – 5:30 pm (2019) despite their opening hours of 6:30 am – 8 pm.  We are not sure what they were thinking, there were a lot of folks looking for a place to eat before the lights.

The new bakery in town also had 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.

Tree decorated with candy canes in McAdenville, Christmas Town USA, NC

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.  With no traffic, it is about a 10 minute drive from the Hilton Garden Inn on the east side of Gastonia.

If you plan to visit more than just McAdenville, consider staying in Charlotte as there are several other Christmas light events in the area, such Winterfest at Carowinds.

Areas in Charlotte that are good for hotels include:

  • Charlotte’s southwest side of uptown, near the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
  • The Eagle Lake area on the west side of Charlotte. It’s not far from the airport with easy access to the interstates.
  • South Park is a little further from the interstates, but the area around South Park Mall has lots of shopping and restaurants.
Gingerbread house decorate for McAdenville, Christmas Town USA
Frosty the snowman lights up McAdenville, Christmas Town USA, NC

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