Four years ago, Hill Ridge Farms, the popular pumpkin patch destination, extended its season, adding a Christmas light event.
Since then, a visit to the Youngsville farm has become an annual tradition for many families, who visit to play on the various play pieces and, once the sun goes down, take in millions of sparkling lights on a hay ride.
The place was just starting to get busy when my family and mom arrived just as it opened at 4 p.m. on the day after Thanksgiving. There, we met up with my sister and her three boys, visiting from Virginia.
The sprayground was closed. The inflatables also were flat when we were there. But the rest of Hill Ridge was ready for play - including the jumping pillow, barrel racers, giant slide, corn house and kiddie maze. Farm animals waited for kids to feed them. Ponies walked around in a circle with kids on their backs. The kiddie train pulled in and out of the depot.
As the sun went down, the light displays across the play area lit up the place. They draped the trees and were strung up in arches over the sidewalks. Sunset also signaled the start of the hay rides that take visitors out into fields adorned with dozens of Christmas displays and even more strands of lights.
Our wagon was filled with kids, but it was pretty incredible just how quiet we all were as we watched the displays go by. Christmas music playing from a loudspeaker in the wagon matched the displays, including "Do You Hear What I Hear," and "12 Days of Christmas." If you go, at the end, get ready for a little bit of "snow."
My crew of kids - ages 2 to 11 - had a fantastic time hopping between the play pieces and then, settling in on the hay ride to see the lights.
Visitors can warm up by bonfires or make s'mores over them. S'mores kits are $4. A marshmallow stick is $2. The farm's Chuckwagon Grill also serves up burgers, chicken tenders, sandwiches, soups and more.
The Festival of Lights runs nightly through Dec. 31. Hours are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday. To beat the crowds, I definitely recommend getting there when they open. By the time we left around 6:30 p.m., there was a line of people waiting to get tickets.
And, speaking of tickets, from Sunday to Thursday, they are $10 and $9 for ages 65 and up, military and groups of 10 or more (one person must pay). On Friday and Saturday, tickets are $12 and $11 for seniors, military and groups of 10 or more. Kids under 2 are free. Tickets for the train ride are $3.
And Santa sits for pictures nightly through Dec. 23, but it's best to get their early if you want a chance to see him. You can take your own picture with him.