by Lorie Lewis Ham
There is a special KRL reader discount for Hillcrest Farms at the end of this article.
If you’re looking for a great Christmas tree, or some unique holiday fun, you may want to check out Hillcrest Farm and Shops just outside of Reedley. Opened in 1960, it is one of the oldest Christmas Tree farms in the Valley.
Started by Ed and Bonnie Toews, it was sold to the current owners, Sean and Melissa Bautista, in 1992. “Hillcrest started as a tree farm and has grown from there,” said Melissa.
Hillcrest is open seasonally and their seasons are Pumpkin Patch during the month of October, Christmas season from the Saturday after Thanksgiving until Christmas, and Blossom Trail in March when Fresno County is featuring the Blossom Trail. During each one, they feature some special events.
During Blossom Trail, they feature Reedley Rail Fest where they invite steam trains from all over the western US to come and help them open the season. At this event, people can see steam trains they can’t see anywhere else. Even the State Railroad museum in Sacramento brings equipment to run there. There’s also live music, antique cars, tractors and engines on display at that time. Hillcrest is definitely a place for train lovers as they also design and build their own locomotives, cars and track, and they are the only Christmas tree farm with a real steam train.
Reedley resident Sheryl Wall shared that the Pumpkin Patch at Hillcrest is one of her daughter Kiana’s favorite parts of the Halloween season. “She talks about it all year long. It’s a great place for families. We went on the tree house this year for the first time and it was fun. The most memorable for our daughter is the train ride and I quite enjoy the ride too. They also have the train going during the weekends in December for Christmas and we’re hoping to make that part of our Christmas tradition.”
During Christmas season, Hillcrest features Pajama Night where guests can ride the steam train through the thousands of lights at night. “It is truly magical,” shared Melissa. “Everyone wears the funest PJ’s, there’s thousands of homemade cookies and lots of hot chocolate and coffee.” Tickets are sold in advance and some nights were already sold out even before they opened this year.
The Pajama Christmas Night Train is one of the newer things at Hillcrest and according to Melissa, it came about as a result of their old Red Flannel Express. “Way back we used to take the employees around the railroad at night after we closed. Since all the employees wear red flannel shirts, it got the moniker.
“We all thought it would be so cool to let the public experience the magic of a steam train at night. The steam hangs and makes the trees seem like they are floating in the clouds when seen in the star or moonlight. When we offered it the first year it was instantly popular, we didn’t know if the public would wear their PJ’s, but boy did they! We spend a month setting up the lights, tens of thousands of them, and now we use several steam engines to help with the effects. The train activates the lighting as it progresses around the railroad.”
Rosalinda Becerra from Orange Cove has gone to Hillcrest the past two years with her daughter’s class and feels it’s a great place to take kids. While there, the kids were taught how Christmas trees grow and how they are prepared for the season. “The staff is very friendly to the kids and the train ride is really nice.”
Hillcrest offers several types of Christmas trees this time of year from Noble and Fraser Fir’s to Monterey Pine that you can cut down yourself. They provide all the different services for the trees including wrapping, standing, flocking, shaking, etc., and you can even bring the trees in from the fields on the steam train and they offer regular round trip train rides as well. There’s hot food, and drinks, play areas and picnic tables, a tree house and nature paths. According to Melissa, their prices are very competitive, comparable with large department store tree lots, and their location is ideal for families to spend hours there.
Melissa’s favorite part about the farm this time of year is meeting all of the families. “It’s fun to meet all the generations of a family, they all come together to pick out the Christmas tree. Every year we get to see our old friends again, so it’s like a reunion too.”
“I like the people’s attitudes this time of year,” said Kris Kalender, Hillcrest staff member and the Bautista’s nephew. “Everyone is in a good mood; better than at pumpkin patch; and it’s fun to help them.”
In the future, Hillcrest plans on expanding the railroad to the lower half of the farm to tie all the different fields, parking and tree processing together. They think it will make the farm more interesting too. The idea is to get to and from the field by train and to use the train to bring the tree and their guests back to the main station where everything to do with tree handling will take place.
Hillcrest can be found on the corner of Reed and Adams Avenues. They are two miles North of Reedley on Reed. Melissa warned that generally if you use their street address to “Google map” or “map quest” them it will send you to the Reedley cemetery by mistake, so you are better using the intersection. They are open daily from 10 to 5 throughout the Christmas season and train rides and food are available on the weekend. More information can be found on their website or by calling 559-638-2762.
Print out this page and get $5 off your tree at Hillcrest this year. But hurry, they are going fast!