Some of Michigan’s best hidden gems can be found where you least expect them. That’s certainly true of the tiny village of Ashley, which is tucked into Gratiot County between Mount Pleasant and Lansing.
The total land area of Ashley covers a little more than half a mile and its population numbers a touch over 500 people. It might be easy to drive through Ashley without a second thought, but this tiny village comes alive in the winter with its Village of Ashley Country Christmas celebration.
This annual Christmastime extravaganza is bursting with holiday magic, inviting visitors to drive to the village or arrive by train, play games, shop for holiday gifts, and so much more.
If you’re looking for a new place to experience the magic of the holidays, use our handy guide to visit this special Christmas celebration.
Making the Trip to the Village of Ashley
No matter which direction you’re coming from, make sure that you’ve got a few of your favorite Michigan road trip snacks on hand.
There are plenty of eateries to visit once you reach Ashley, but if you’ve got a bit of a drive, keep some Better Made Chips and a Faygo close by for some light snacking.
Before you head out, make sure you’re dressed for the occasion. Late November and early December can be chilly and Country Christmas is an indoor/outdoor event that requires attendees to walk between buildings, so make sure you’re dressed warmly enough whether there’s snow on the ground or not.
Arriving in Ashley
Those looking for a nostalgic trip back in time will love visiting Ashley. Country Christmas has been an annual event for more than a decade and runs during select weekends in November and December, usually beginning on Thanksgiving weekend.
Ashley’s history as a train depot serving the Ann Arbor and Great Trunk Western railroads inspired townspeople there to embrace Christmas in the early 2010s with North Pole Express train rides and a Christmas celebration.
The first thing you’ll want to do when arriving is to buy a Country Christmas button. These buttons allow full access to most of the festivities and are required for most activities.
With your buttons in hand and your parking spot secure, it’s time to let loose and have fun!
Hop Aboard and Ride a Train to Ashley
Passengers on the train are encouraged to don their best 1940s and 1950s attire or their favorite pajamas and enjoy a ride aboard the North Pole Express, which is pulled by a famous Pere Marquette 1225 steam locomotive.
North Pole Express tickets generally sell out by early fall. Train tickets must be purchased separately from the Country Christmas event buttons.
The trip begins in Owosso and the train makes its way into Ashley for a two-hour celebration that includes live entertainment and meeting the man in red, Santa Claus. In all the trip lasts 4.5 hours with a 1:15 ride from Owosso to Ashley and back and a two-hour stop in Ashley.
Eating at the Village of Ashley Country Christmas
It may be chilly during Ashley’s winter festivities, but there are plenty of food vendors dishing out tasty dishes to keep festivalgoers warm.
The eatery lineup often includes vendors serving festival favorites like burgers, nachos, hot dogs, and fried goodies. Other offerings include steak sandwiches, corn dogs, chili, and more.
Others will serve sweet treats like freeze-dried fruit and candy, elephant ears, Czech pastries, kettle corn, and deep-fried goodies.
Check Names Off Your Holiday Shopping List
One of the best parts of any holiday festival is the chance for festivalgoers to get some holiday shopping done. The Village of Ashley Country Christmas is no different and has more than a dozen vendors on hand to offer homemade wares.
Vendors at the festival sell everything from pottery, baked goods, custom-made wooden gifts, soaps, floral arrangements, sweets, railroad and train-themed clothing, tumblers, Christmas decor, and much more.
More Country Christmas Fun
In addition to special train rides, holiday shopping, and plenty of good food, the annual Country Christmas celebration offers lots more to see and do for visitors of all ages.
The list of activities for the annual soiree includes chainsaw carving demonstrations, face painting, magicians, street games for kids, toy making in Santa’s workshop, glass blowing, a train village, playtime with the elves, and much more.
Kiddos who have written to Santa can mail it from the village’s antique post office or take time to write one during the festival.
More on the Way to and From Ashley
Ashley’s annual holiday celebration is a good time for visitors of all ages, but, depending on which direction you’re coming from or headed to, there’s plenty to see and do during a day trip to Ashley.
If you want to keep the fun going, consider adding these destinations to your day trip itinerary.
Go Sledding at Lansing’s Hawk Island Park
Mid-Michigan has some great places to go sledding in the winter and Hawk Island Park in Lansing is one of the best. It’s well known for its scenic views and hiking trails, but it’s also great for sledding and snow tubing. It also has a warming lodge for getting out of the cold.
Mount Pleasant also has some great local parks that are perfect for cross-country skiing, sledding, and hiking.
Indulge in More Holiday Shopping
If you weren’t able to check all your friends and loved ones off your list during Country Christmas, there are lots of good places in Mid-Michigan to find the perfect gift.
The REO Town Marketplace Holiday Bazaar brings local businesses together and gives shoppers a chance to buy homemade crafts, Michigan-made gifts, and more. Downtown Mount Pleasant also offers lots of shopping options, including boutiques and specialty shops.
Have Fun at an Indoor Waterpark
One of the most fun ways to shake off the chill of winter is by having fun at an indoor waterpark. One of the closest on your journey to or from Ashley is Soaring Eagle Waterpark and Hotel. The waterpark features a hot tub, a three-story waterslide, a lazy river, and more.
Check Out Magnificent Holiday Light Displays
If you’re still looking for the excitement of the holiday season, some of the best places to find it are in the magnificent light displays that can be found all over the state.
Lansing, Midland, and Freeland are among those cities in Mid-Michigan with great displays and odds are you don’t have to travel far to see a dazzling light display.
Enjoy a Drink at a Lansing Brewery
Michigan’s capital city has plenty of great breweries that are perfect for visiting, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying a drink. No matter what your drink of choice is, there’s something to satisfy everyone.
The Lansing Brewing Company building has been a fixture of the Lansing skyline for decades and offers cream ales, American IPAs, dark ales, imperial porters, and more. EagleMonk Pub and Brewery offers British-inspired pale malts and ales among its many selections.
Plan Another Awesome Michigan Day Trip
One of the best things about cities in Mid-Michigan — Lansing in particular — is that they are easy places to start if you want to take day trips to other parts of Michigan.
No matter if you want to take a scenic drive after the festivities in Ashley, have an outdoor adventure, eat at a new restaurant, or have an overnight getaway, there is no shortage of places to go and explore.
Start Planning Your Trip to Ashley Today
The small but mighty village of Ashley comes alive during the holiday season, putting on an annual celebration that’s fun for the whole family.
So bundle up and come prepared to have fun. There are loads of activities for everyone to enjoy, lots of good food to satisfy even the pickiest eaters, and lots of holiday vendors for shoppers to find the perfect gifts for those who are near and dear to them.
Outside of Ashley, take time to stop and explore more of Michigan. Whether you’re stopping for a drink or a bite to eat, looking for cool Christmas displays, or trying to do some holiday shopping, Ashley is a perfect spot to add to a fun-filled winter day trip in Michigan.