So last year, for Tessa’s very first Christmas, Jonathan and I visited The Christmas Tree forest in Pensacola, Florida to go all primal American and cut our very own Christmas tree. (Click here to read all about it.) This was my very, very first time cutting my own Christmas tree, and now I’m kind of hooked.
So now that we’re in living in Central California, where my only experience in tree hunting is scouring the local shopping center parking lots, I had to sit down and actual research where the best place to cut your own tree would be. After much Google trolling, it appears that Hillcrest Farms in Reedley seemed to be the place of choice – not just because it’s one of the ONLY places that you can cut your own tree in the Central Valley, but because it has a large number of attractions and excursions, making it a worthwhile day outing. (And, ya know, a little easier to swallow the exorbitant fees asked for a soon to be dead tree..)
The cut your own Christmas trees were around the $50 mark (ouch), which is kind of steep for the trees all being of the local, quick growing Monterey Pine variety.. which is not my favorite (the needles are a little too bushy for someone like myself used to the classic Noble and Douglas varieties), but the shapes, sizes and classic Christmas pine scent of the trees coupled with the “I cut this myself” aspect made me more than happy with their selection and.. well, their prices. Plus, military discount! Woot woot!
Anyway, this place truly is a hidden gem in the Central Valley and one I am very happy to have found. What’s interesting about Hillcrest is that the farm itself offers some amazing excursions and activities, but the website doesn’t give you ANY of this information. Like, at all. It makes mentions of trains and a train ride, but ddoesn’tfully disclose what, exactly, they offer. So I was EXTREMELY pleasantly surprised to learn that Hillcrest offers:
– Miniature train set models with tiny Disney-esque landscapes, with the tiny puffers running for the kids to watch, chase and ogle over. (And it seems they LOVE to do this.. even our 1 year old was mesmerized!)
– An actual, live steam train that traverses a large scenic route.. a true rarity in this day and age. The only other places I know of to find legit ride-able steam models in California is at Disneyland Park, Griffith Park, and Old Town Sacramento. And this train was on par with all those places.
– Nature trails with scenic stops (like miniature castles, play houses, tire swings, and bridges) that encircle the property, with views of the pine forests.
– Bonfires next to the live steam train depot stops, where you can sit and sip hot cocoa or complimentary coffee and visit with friends and family while watching the trains go by.
– And, of course, the main event – hunting for the perfect Christmas tree in the pine forests and cutting it down yourself! You can drag your tree to the nearest depot stop to hop the steam train for a ride back to the main checkout area.
Check out some of the photos we took from our visit!
This is one of the many ride-able trains tucked away at Hillcrest Farms. Powered by steam and driven by an actual conductor, this was a real treat. My inner turn-of-the-century loving geek had me squealing with joy each time the steam whistle blew!
These passenger gondolas easily seated four per car. They were clean, strong, and offered smooth riding. Not at all what I expected from a “backyard train ride”!
It was fun watching the kids all fight over who could ride in the caboose. ^_^
The nature trails were also quite impressive.. you wouldn’t believe you were in the middle of Reedley’s farmland!
They provided the saws for the great tree hunting excursion… Jonathan picked out the dullest, smallest, most annoyingly unhelpful one of the bunch. Why? Because it was red. And Tessa wanted the red one. 😉
What happens when we let Tessa pick the tree….
After picking out your tree, you can wait by these train stops to hitch a ride back to the main area!
We had an absolute BLAST. I am far from a “railfan”, as railroad and train enthusiasts like to call themselves, but being a true Disney geek, I can’t help but be smitten with the romance of the turn of the century steam powered train era. So I was tickled pink to discover the functional art of this real, live train haven tucking within a Christmas tree farm. We’ll most certainly be back next year!