I grew up in central New York where Christmas tree farms seemed to be on every corner. Each year, my family would trudge through the snow - my dad with saw in hand - to pick out our tree, cut it down and haul it home.
So, when a friend, who travels to the N.C. mountains each year to pick her family's tree, told me about the arrangement, I was intrigued.
I checked in with Suzanne Brown, my contact over at the N.C. Department of Commerce's tourism division
, who tells me that many Christmas tree farms in our state offer packages for families that let you choose your tree, cut it down and stay a night or two. Hayrides, hot cider and cocoa, along with weekend offers with local hotels and bed and breakfasts, are often part of the package.
Some fun North Carolina Christmas tree facts, courtesy of Brown: The state is the second largest U.S. producer of Christmas trees.
And, for the 12th time, a Christmas tree from North Carolina will rise in the center of the Blue Room, the oval-shaped parlor at the White House. The 19-foot Fraser fir, a species native only to the highest elevations of the southern Appalachians, was grown at Peak Farms in Laurel Springs.
Cool Springs Nursery in Deep Gap will provide the 2012 tree for the vice president's residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory.
Here's the information Brown shared with me on Christmas tree farm packages.
Obviously, these can be pricey options for some families. So stay tuned tomorrow for more information about farms much closer to home!
RRR Laurel Knob Tree Farm
Just north of Boone, RRR operates two separate tree farms where tractor-pulled wagons carry shoppers across the fields to pick out the perfect Fraser fir. The chosen tree is tagged, and then the buyer can cut it himself or have someone from the farm do the honors. Overnight visitors can also choose from a dozen or more lodging packages that include reliable chains from Boone to Wilkesboro, an independent inn (Mountainaire Inn & Log Cabin in charming Blowing Rock), a B&B (Taylor House Inn in idyllic Valle Crucis) and a vacation rental through West Jefferson-based Ashe High Country Realty. Packages include a voucher for a tree up to 7 feet tall.
Sugar Plum Farms
Families find almost as many photo ops as Fraser firs at Sugar Plum Farms. A hayride to the fields, ducks and dogs, visits from Santa — all camera-ready. Hot beverages are complimentary, and visitors can take home jars of honey and homemade apple butter — and maybe a couple of trout if anyone’s inclined to fish. The list of accommodation partners for choose-and-cut packages include the Vance Toe River Lodge (less than 2½ miles away) and the Pine Bridge Inn in Spruce Pine (it occupies a former schoolhouse).
Big Ridge Tree Farm
Banner Elk, N.C.
A Fraser fir might be the top order of business, but it can be mixed with a lot of pleasure on this scenic farm. A free, mile-long hayride heads through the woods and across a valley to a 100-year-old log cabin on the property, and visitors can also check out crafts and tabletop décor and enjoy a drink and goodies. Valle Crucis B&B is among the accommodations that partner with the farm for choose-and-cut packages.
What Fir Tree Farm
If the weather's nice, you can take a hayride to the top of the ridge, go for a hike or fish in the pond. And if it's not? You can go sledding (bring your own or borrow one from the farm). The shop offers warm refreshments as well as holiday crafts, jewelry and pottery — and a chance to meet the artisans or watch a wreath-making demonstration. What Fir has partnered with the Green Park Inn in Blowing Rock, a grande dame where presidents have stayed, for a Cut n Stay package that includes a 7-foot tree.
Inn at Yonahlossee
In an area thick with Christmas tree farms, visitors have a choice of where to choose and cut a Fraser fir to take home. And at the Yonahlossee resort, can take their pick of activities, including the fitness center and indoor pool, and area attractions. The Christmas Tree package covers two nights’ accommodation at the inn or a studio cottage and an 8-foot Christmas tree. Price ranges from $299 (weeknight stay at the inn) to $599 (studio cottage over Thanksgiving weekend). (The inn has not yet announced its tree-growing partner.)
Circle C Tree Farm
Hike through the fields until you’ve found Mr. Right Tree, then enjoy a cup of hot chocolate while it’s netted and loaded for the journey home. Hayrides are offered on weekends (weather permitting), and field transportation is available to those who prefer. Shoppers will also find wreaths, garlands and centerpieces on sale in the barn. Circle C partners with the Hemlock Inn in Blowing Rock, which features rooms and suites in its Christmas Tree Package, which includes a tree up to 7 feet tall.
Papa Goats Tree Farm
Talk about one-stop shopping — this farm offers Fraser firs and white pines, hayrides to the tree fields, a marshmallow fire pit, hot cider and cocoa, a children’s play area, a gift shop and general store, farm animals, visits from Santa — and a cabin that can accommodate up to six people. Perfect for the shopper who needs to sleep on it before deciding on a tree.
Joe Edwards Christmas Tree Farm
You can choose a Fraser fir or Colorado blue spruce at this 85-acre family farm, then find an accent piece for your holiday decor or a one-of-a-kind gift at the Blue Ridge Gallery of Fine Art. The farm has partnered with Harmony Hill B&B on a one-night package that includes a wine and cheese social hour, a gourmet breakfast, dinner for two with a bottle of wine, and a 5- to 7-foot tree for $230.
Little Switzerland Fraser Firs
A stone’s throw from the Blue Ridge Parkway, Little Switzerland Fraser First partners with inns and B&Bs in Little Switzerland (the Switzerland Inn), Marion (Hampton Inn, Comfort Inn) and Spruce Pine (Pinebridge Inn, the Richmond Inn and the Spruce Pine Mountain House). And Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree, a special artisan shopping experience in Spruce Pine, is an irresistible stop.
Tom Sawyer Tree Farm
Lake Glenville (near Highlands)
In the true mountain-heritage spirit, Tom Sawyer Tree Farm creates a full-blown family experience beyond the selection of a Fraser fir. The experience includes an Elf Village, Meet and Greet with Santa, a Horse Drawn Carriage and a post office for the children to mail letters to Santa. The Old Edwards Inn and Spa, a luxury-minded retreat in Highlands, has partnered with the farm for its Christmas Tree Package, which includes accommodations, a $50 gift certificate for Madison's restaurant and a voucher for the tree farm. The one-night package starts at $275, based on double occupancy.
Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm
A big family needs room to spread out, and Boyd Mountain extends an opportunity to do so on a 130-acre tract that includes hiking trails, a stocked trout stream, a Fraser fir farm, and seven hand-hewed log cabins that date back 150 to 200 years and sleep two to 10 people. Anyone looking for more to do on a choose-and-cut holiday will find the Cataloochee Ski Area a convenient option, and one with a special deal for weekday visits.