Celebrate Smoky Mountain Holiday Traditions

Enjoy a cozy and festive holiday escape in the North Carolina Smokies. There are plenty of gorgeous winter-time mountain views to go around. And while several traditional events have been cancelled due to the pandemic, many small towns are creatively adapting their festivities to keep residents and visitors safe in 2020.

Wander among dazzling light displays, enjoy a small town parade on main street, and support local small businesses as you check off the gifts on your shopping list. Take part in the holiday cheer happening across the Smoky Mountains at one of these great events. Please note that scheduled events are subject to change—refer to event websites and organizers for the most up-to-date information. We’ll update this blog as we learn of new events.

Our Top Picks For Holiday 2020 Events in the Smoky Mountains

People boarding The Polar Express in Bryson City
The Polar Express. Photo courtesy of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.

The Polar Express Train Ride

November 6 – December 31, 2020

All aboard! The Polar Express is waiting to take you and your family on a fantastic holiday ride to The North Pole to meet Santa Claus. This 1¼ hour round-trip excursion comes to life as the train departs the Bryson City depot for a journey through the quiet wilderness. Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, guests on board will enjoy warm cocoa and a treat while  they listen and read along with the magical story. Children’s faces show the magic of the season when the train arrives at the North Pole to find Santa Claus waiting. Santa will board the train, greet each child and present them with a special gift as in the story, their own silver sleigh bell. Christmas carols will be sung on the return back to the Bryson City Depot. Excursions in 2020 will operate with reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, and all passengers must wear face coverings.

Franklin’s Winter Wonderland

November 28 & December 5, 2020, 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Kids on ice slide in Franklin
Winter Wonderland in Franklin

Visit the town of Franklin for their 2019 Winter Wonderland festivities! Enjoy unique holiday experiences like living window displays, live sounds of the season, extended shopping hours, and you may even catch a glimpse of Santa! Attendees can witness the annual lighting of the Christmas tree during the first night of the event.

Andrews Magic on Main Electric Christmas Parade

November 28, 2020, 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

The Magic on Main Electric Christmas Parade is Andrews’ crowning jewel for the holidays. Delight in over 50 lighted floats, and see if you can tell who will win the Best in Show trophy. For the 2020 event, no candy will be thrown from floats—look for volunteers handing out bagged candy before the event!

Christmas in Highlands

November 28, 2020, 6:00 p.m.

Highlands, N.C., welcomes you to join them in their holiday celebrations for their annual tree lighting. The trees in  Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park will be switched on promptly at 6 p.m. to be enjoyed by car or on foot. Tune in to WHLC 104.5 FM for a festive program with holiday music, Christmas carols and Santa Claus reading The Night Before Christmas.

Dillsboro luminaries
Dillsboro luminaries. Photo courtesy of Discover Jackson NC

Dillsboro Festival of Lights and Luminaries

December 4, 5, 11, and 12, 2020, 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Named one of the top 20 events in the southeast for December, Dillsboro Festival of Lights and Luminaries is a step back into Christmas past. Experience Christmas magic as the entire town transforms into a winter wonderland of lights, candles, laughter and song. 2500 luminaries light your way to shops and studios. Horse and buggy rides are available each night, shopkeepers provide live music and serve up holiday treats with hot cider and cocoa, carolers sing, and children visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Highlands Olde Mountain Drive Through Festival

December 5, 2020, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Enjoy Highlands’ creative take on an old-fashioned Christmas parade! Floats decorated by community groups will line the center of Main Street all the way down to Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park, plus dazzling lights, fire trucks and bagpipers and a brass ensemble playing holiday tunes. To enjoy the show, get in your car and follow the mapped route through the festivities. Volunteers will be on hand to direct drivers, and downtown storefronts will sparkle with festive displays. Santa Claus and his helpers will also make a special appearance on an antique fire truck!

Sylva NC holiday display
Sylva, NC, holiday display.

Murphy Farmers Market

December 12, 2020, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Head to the L&N Depot in downtown Murphy to shop from a wide variety of vendors. This is a great opportunity to support local crafters and purchase unique gifts for friends and family.

Robbinsville Christmas Parade

December 12, 2020, 6:00 p.m.

The Town of Robbinsville will ring in the start of the holiday season with the Robbinsville Christmas Parade. Floats, Cars, Fire Trucks, Santa, and much more are in store. Bring the family to enjoy the excitement of Christmas.

A Night Before Christmas

December 12, 2020, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Waynesville turns into a holiday playground for children and children at heart. Shop and dine along a luminary lined street, tell Santa (and Mrs. Claus, too!) your Christmas wishes, and enjoy musicians and carolers.