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Visiting McAdenville’s Christmas Town USA, the Right Way – 2021 Guide

  • Post last modified:November 11, 2021
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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.

Visit McAdenville - Christmas Town USA in North Carolina

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

General Admission & Parking: Free

The Elephant in the Room

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

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.

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 of course you get stuck in that pesky traffic challenge we mentioned.

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

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

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.

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 begins.

In 2021, the Yule Log Ceremony will start at 5 pm on December 16th on the lawn of the Pharr Corporate Office, but the parade won’t start until around 5:50 pm. 

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. 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. We grab a parking spot and browse the little shops on Main Street. I love the Kinkade Gallery. Or sometimes we 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.

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 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 above. 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.

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 way 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.
  • 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.

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 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.

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.

Gingerbread house decorate for McAdenville, Christmas Town USA
Frosty the snowman lights up McAdenville, Christmas Town USA, NC

Looking for More Holiday Fun?

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Kari Barrentine

    Hi there! These are great tips. How far would you say the walking route is?

    1. Nicole

      Thanks Kari,
      What a great question.
      The walking route we describe is only about 1 – 1.5 miles, presuming you park in the town center. It is slightly uphill as you make your way along Wesleyan Drive, and slightly downhill as you come back via Cedar Street to Lakeview Drive. Nothing strenuous though, especially as you’ll make lots of stops for photos along the way.
      We hope you have an amazing time!

  2. slot88

    Hi there! This post couldn’t be written much better! Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He always kept talking about this. I am going to send this article to him.
    Pretty sure he’ll have a great read. Many thanks for sharing!

    1. Nicole

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed the article. Hope it brings back fond memories for your old roommate. It’s such a special place. 🙂

  3. Jill

    Thank you for providing a positive review about avoiding the wait times. One of our family members has “bad” knees so walking is not an option for us. But, from what you’re saying, if you arrive 30 – 45 minutes early, even on a weekend night, you should be able to avoid the traffic problems. Thanks again for the helpful information.

    1. Jeremy

      Hi Jill,

      Yes, absolutely. Once night night falls the traffic gets worse and worse to get into the town.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


    2. Nicole

      Hi Jill,
      I just wanted to expand on Jeremy’s response. You make an excellent point for those who can’t walk the route!
      What you can do, is get there early as described but go to 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”.
      Jeremy is right, once it gets dark it just gets more and more busy.
      Hope that helps!
      – Nicole

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