22 Holiday Train Rides to Book before They Sell Out

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The most magical Christmas train rides are back for the 2021 holiday season, but you better watch out—they’re filling up fast! From the Polar Express train ride to vintage steam locomotive rides, we’ve mapped out our favorites from around the country, so you can find the perfect train to board this winter. Keep reading to see them all. 

West

photo: Guy Rhodes

Polar Express | Jamestown, CA

Experience a Polar Express off the beaten track when you head up into the California foothills to Jamestown, a historic gold rush town perfectly preserved for your holiday photo backdrops. All Class tickets enjoy hot chocolate and yummy cookies as you ride along with many of the story’s characters. Once you reach the North Pole, the jolly old elf–Santa himself–will come on board to give each passenger a silver sleigh bell, the “first gift of Christmas.”

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

photo: courtesy Niles Canyon Railway

Train of Lights | Fremont, CA

Board the Niles Canyon Railway's antique coaches for the most joyful ride of the season. The Train of Lights offers a rare opportunity to experience a train ride through Niles Canyon at night, with one trail departing at dusk and another after dark. Expect plenty of holiday music, sweet snacks and drinks on this hour-long excursion that'll keep your kids well-entertained. Tickets go on sale on Saturday, October 9 at 10 a.m. PST. 

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

photo: Mike Brewington | Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum. All rights reserved.

The Polar Express Train Ride | Elby, WA

It’s time to get your ticket to THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride, operated by the Mt. Rainier Railroad & Logging Museum. This delightful ride starts out with a platform performance while families gather and are finally ushered onto the historic trains, ready to carry them to the North Pole. Expect plenty of cookies and steaming hot cocoa on the ride out, alongside a reading of the ride’s namesake book. Settle in and spend time with Santa, who listens intently to Christmas wishes before passing out silver bells that kids can take home.

Editor's Note: Details for 2021 have not yet been posted. Please check the website for updates. 

Find out more: mtrainierrailroad.com

photo: courtesy California State Railroad Museum

California Railroad Museum Polar Express | Sacramento, CA

The California State Railroad Museum’s Polar Express ride has everything your little elf wants in a magical experience. What really sets this railroad adventure apart is the special, vintage train cars where all the fun happens. Once you reach the North Pole, the jolly old elf—Santa himself—will come on board to give each passenger the first gift of Christmas, a silver sleigh bell. Be sure to book your tickets soon!

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

photo: Claire Meyer

Santa Train | North Bend, WA

The Northwest Railway Museum’s Santa Train has been making the trek from the North Bend depot to Santa’s Workshop (in Snoqualmie) since 1969. The trip includes a stop where families disembark for a meet and greet with Santa and his elves. They’ll find cookies and cocoa there, as well as treats to help pass the time as they wait for the all-important photo op.

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

Durango-Silverton Polar Express | Durango, CO

Seeing the old narrow-gauge train lumbering loudly down the track, prettied up for the Christmas season, your little conductor might just think he’s stepped into the classic story this Polar Express ride is named for. The movie magic continues to unfold as families sip hot cocoa, sing songs and nibble warm cookies while the train glides over snowy tracks on its way to the North Pole. They arrive to see Santa and the boy sitting in his sleigh, receiving the first gift of Christmas. On the return trip, wide-eyed onlookers relive this magic moment aboard the train, when they get serious face time with Santa and their own tiny tinkling bell to keep.

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

photo: courtesy Northern Nevada Railway

Nevada Northern Railway Polar Express | Ely, NV

Hop on board the Nevada Northern Rail, aka Santa’s Reindeer Flyer, to kick your holiday season into high gear. Passengers will board the train at the depot in Ely, Nevada before starting their trip to the North Pole. As they ride, they’ll get to hear the exciting story of Santa’s Reindeer Flyers, where both Christmas and the NNR need saving. Kids will have a chance to meet Santa when they finally arrive at the North Pole, whisper in his ear and even deliver a Christmas letter directly to the Big Man. And, yes, pajamas are very much in style on this ride. 

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

Southwest

photo: courtesy Grapevine Convention & Visitor's Bureau

Grapevine North Pole Express | Grapevine, TX

Grapevine’s North Pole Express is a standing favorite among Texas families, and we can see why. This year, expect to hop aboard the festively decorated Grapevine Vintage Railroad train cars, where you’ll be greeted by jolly elves handing out souvenir mugs filled with Frosty Snow Milk. Then it’s on to Reindeer Ridge to meet up with Mrs. Claus, who hands out special bells to each child aboard. It all ends with a Christmas stage spectacular featuring Santa himself, and a post-show photo session your little one won’t soon forget!

Tip: Tickets go on sale Sep. 28 and sell out fast. Be sure to mark your calendars!

Find out more: grapevinetexasusa.com

The Magical Christmas Journey | Clarkdale, AZ

It turns out that Santa and Mrs. Claus like winter in the desert, too. Families can take a Magical Christmas Journey with the jolly pair all season long. It starts at the railroad depot, where kids can get a bird’s eye view of a lighted Christmas town. Then it’s time to board the train (with inside and outside seating options) for a one-hour journey that takes families through a tunnel before emerging at the North Pole on the other side. Once there, riders get to meet Santa and his elves for photos and a simple gift.

Insider tip: Check out the perks that come with the Magical Journey VIP Kids’ Club to add a bit more magic to your holiday experience.

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

photo: Xanterra Travel Collection

Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel Polar Express | Williams, AZ

Before The Polar Express made it to the big screen, back when it was just a classic children’s story, the Grand Canyon Railway was bringing it to life in the wilderness of Williams, Arizona. Just like in the book, the 60-minute ride leaves a sleepy town and heads out into the forest before a clearing in the trees reveals the North Pole, brightly lit for all to see. Don't forget to wear your Christmas jammies! Make this a family holiday tradition and make your reservations today, as space is limited.

Insider Tip: While you can definitely come for the train, many families tack on an overnight stay at the historic Grand Canyon Hotel to fully take in the magic of the season.

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

The North Pole Flyer | Austin, TX

Everything's bigger in Texas, including a ride on the North Pole Flyer, a special two-hour excursion on a diesel locomotive that features a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, all-you-can-drink hot cocoa and a holiday cookie. Each car is decorated for the season where passengers enjoy a live reading of The North Pole Flyer—the railway's own personalized holiday book. Santa “checks your list twice” and poses for photographs before handing out a gift to each child. 

Tip: This trip’s usually sold out by Oct., so if you’re thinking about getting tickets, make the move soon.

Editor's Note: Details have not yet been provided for 2021. Please check the website for updates. 

Find out more: austinsteamtrain.org

Midwest

photo: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Holiday Express on the 1880 Train | Hill City, SD

Holiday revelers can board the oldest continuous running tour railroad in the country for the Holiday Express. The one-hour ride takes visitors through the beautiful Black Hills to the North Pole on the 1880 Train (which gets a holiday makeover of its own) while snacking on cookies, a sweet treat and hot chocolate! When the train stops, Santa gets on and hands out a small sleigh bell to every kiddo. It’s the perfect holiday tradition.

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

The Chicago Union Station Polar Express | Chicago, IL

Instead of over the river and through the woods, Chicago Union Station’s Polar Express click-clacks through neighborhoods, tunnels and rail yards along the banks of the Chicago River. Kids and parents will sit two-by-two in decorated train cars with comfy Amtrak seats and synchronized lights. In addition to a visit with Santa, where he doles out special gifts to good kiddos, travelers can sip hot cocoa (served in a souvenir mug) and snack on cookies while they make their way out to see him.

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

Southeast

photo: Michael Lane

Denton Farmpark’s Country Christmas Train | Denton, NC

‘Tis the season to take a ride on the Handy Dandy Railroad. It’s all part of the holiday activities at the Denton Farmpark, where families can sing carols and hear a Christmas story or two at the church, meet animal friends at the petting zoo and of course, board the festive train to tour the park and enjoy the lights. Settle in to watch the story of the Nativity while you’re on board. Don’t forget to check out the wagon and pony rides after you sit for a pic with Santa (additional fees apply).

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

photo: courtesy Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

Blue Ridge Scenic Santa Express | Blue Ridge, GA

Just a day trip from Atlanta, The Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad’s collection of antique trains that run between Blue Ridge and McCaysville, Georgia includes The Santa Express during the holidays. Go for the Christmas stories, songs and characters—including Santa, of course—and enjoy checking out the quaint town of Blue Ridge following the trip. Children will receive a Blue Ridge Scenic Railway jingle bell, candy cane, and activity packet while on board. 

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

photo: photo: courtesy Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad

Polar Express on the Mountain Rail | Cass, WV

It’s all about believing on this year’s official Polar Express journey that starts at the Elkins Depot in West Virginia. Then it’s on to meet Santa, as you ride by dazzling winter scenes before pulling in at the North Pole. When Santa hops on, he’ll be passing out season’s greetings, alongside a special keepsake bell. Be sure to check your pockets for holes before you board! Feel free to wear your Christmas jammies.

Editor's Note: Details for 2021 have not yet been provided. Please check the website for updates.

Find out more: mountainrailwv.com

Great Smoky Mountains Polar Express Train Ride | Bryson City, NC

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s Polar Express train is one of the best around. The ride mirrors sweet details from the movie, right down to the music playing overhead. At the halfway point of this just-over-an-hour-long round trip, the train will stop at the North Pole to pick up Santa, so he can hand out a special gift to each little boy and girl aboard. Expect music, dancing and sing-along carols! Plan on arriving one hour before your departure time.

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

Northeast

photo: ADK/Mark Simmon

Polar Express on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad | Utica, NY

All aboard for a two-hour round trip ride that leaves from Utica Station and arrives at the North Pole! Guests will interact with hot chocolate chefs, listen to The Polar Express (narrated by Liam Neeson) and have a meet-and-greet with the jolly man in red. Pajamas are encouraged! In order to ensure that you are able to travel on your desired dates, please make reservations early as this event sells out every year.

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

Santa Christmas Tree Express | Honesdale, PA

Your Kiddos can't wait to see Santa and choose your Christmas tree? Well, here's a way to do both in the same trip! The Stourbridge Line in Honesdale runs train rides to Dein Nurseries where you can choose your own Christmas tree, sip hot chocolate on the way there,  and be greeted by a happy Santa. Passengers will have approximately one hour to visit Santa and choose and purchase that special Christmas tree. The trees are loaded onto the train's flatcar. The staff from Dein Nurseries will assist you in securing it to your vehicle at the Honesdale Station for an additional cost of $10.

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

Western Maryland Scenic Railroad’s Polar Express | Cumberland, MD

Take a magical ride over bridges and through tunnels from the Cumberland Station to the North Pole and back on WMR’s Polar Express train ride. You’ll meet Santa, of course, but not before enjoying a platform show, a reading of the beloved children’s book (complete with dancing waiters) and cookies and cocoa to fill your bellies. Dress in your holiday jammies to fit in with the other passengers, and make sure to bring your phone is fully charged to capture those magical memories digitally. You’ll look back on this ride for years to come!

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

New Hope Railroad Santa's Steam Spectacular | New Hope, PA

A leisurely journey through beautiful Bucks County is what you’ll find on Santa’s Steam Spectacular adventure aboard the historic #40 steam locomotive. On board, your kids will be among many others sporting their red and green pajama best, each one clamoring to get a glimpse of Santa and Mrs. Claus. While they’re eagerly awaiting a visit from Santa, kids and their parents can sip hot cocoa, snack on cookies and sing Christmas tunes.

Tip: Be sure to order your commemorative Santa photo to remember this special holiday trip.

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

photo: courtesy Strasburg Rail Road

Holiday Trains on the Strasburg Rail Road | Ronks, PA

The Strasburg Rail Road Christmas trains are a bonanza of holiday goodness because they don’t offer just one train. They’ve got three festive rides for families! Santa’s Paradise Express runs from just after Thanksgiving through Dec. 22nd, and it’s a great way to take the family on the oldest operating train in the U.S. for a meet-and-greet with Santa. You can also book a passage on the Night Before Christmas Train, where a stocking-capped reader will recite the classic Christmas poem to jammie-clad kids as they click-clack along the track. Then there’s Santa’s Christmas Trolley, especially for kids 11 and younger. It’s a chance to sit on Santa’s lap during a 45 minute out-and-back trip to Paradise.

Find out more: tinybeans.go-vip.net

—Taylor Clifton, Allison Sutcliffe & Shelley Massey

 

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