By Leigh Ann McDonald Woodruff

Despite the fact that I have lived in North Carolina (a state that leads in production of Christmas trees, particularly the popular Fraser fir) my whole life, I had never actually been to a Christmas tree farm for the “choose and cut” experience. Our Christmas tree selection process had never been more of an adventure than driving up Robinhood Road.

So in the interest of expanding my children’s minds and educating them about where Christmas trees come from, I said to my husband Kelly: “Let’s be a more gung-ho, experiential, educational family and go to a Christmas tree farm this year. Maybe we’ll even start a new family tradition!” He agreed, I think, so we headed up to the mountains for an after-Thanksgiving getaway.

We decided that Blowing Rock in Watauga County, also known as the “Choose and Cut Capital,” would be our destination for a quick overnighter. Kelly and the two boys — Wills (almost 10) and Joseph (7) — left Winston-Salem late Friday afternoon  (after a little Black Friday shopping) and arrived in downtown Blowing Rock just after dark during Christmas in the Park & Lighting of the Town. I have to say, Blowing Rock’s lights for the holiday season are breathtaking. Sipping on hot chocolate in the park helped to ward off the bitter cold winds that were swirling through town, and we enjoyed some of the singers before we decided to slip into a few of the Main Street shops to warm up.

For dinner, we chose Bistro Roca Antlers Bar for delicious hamburgers, wood-fired pizzas, house-made chips with blue cheese and French onion soup. The warm and cozy restaurant has a varied children’s menu and lively atmosphere, perfect for kids, and a delicious house white wine, perfect for moms.

After dinner, we drove back to The Green Park Inn, where we had checked in right after we arrived in Blowing Rock. The Victorian style hotel, built in 1882, has been recently reopened after a renovation and refurbishment. Still, you feel as if you are stepping back in time in a place that has hosted such guests as John Rockefeller, Eleanor Roosevelt and Margaret Mitchell. The hotel is currently having its “soft opening” and will have a grand opening sometime in the spring once its Fine Dining Restaurant and Divide Bar are officially opened. (Right now, guests can enjoy the bar and its two large-screen televisions on a BYOB basis.)

On Saturday morning, the kids were raring to go after their Continental breakfast of waffles and Danishes. We had chosen Big Ridge Tree Farm in Banner Elk as our destination because it offered such things as hayrides and miniature donkeys. The farm is in a beautiful setting near the Echota development and has lovely views.

As soon as we arrived, we were given our measuring stick to go in search of the perfect tree. Wills and Joseph raced up and down the hills measuring big ones and small ones until we could find one that was close to 8 feet. Once we all agreed, we tagged it and waved our sticks for someone to come cut it down. The boys and I suggested Kelly stay with the tree while we wandered down to the pond to visit the miniature donkeys.

We traveled back up to the shed to pay for the tree and select a wreath and garland, and surprise! Santa Clause was at the farm for a visit. We enjoyed a visit with the jolly guy, sipped hot chocolate and nibbled on cookies and took a 20-minute hayride to a historic, 100-year-old cabin in the woods.

As we disembarked from the wagon, Wills said, “Can we please do this again next year?” I think we might have a new tradition.

Currently, the Green Park Inn is offering Cut and Stay packages that include accommodations with a Continental breakfast in the Tea Room,
up to a 7-foot tree, your choice of two cutting locations (Banner Elk or Boone), complimentary hayrides, hot chocolate, hot cider, petting farm (petting at Boone location only), and a special holiday gift from the staff and proprietors.

For more information about Watauga County Christmas tree farms, click here.