It’s a known fact that the best way to get in the holiday spirit is aboard a holiday train ride, complete with hot cocoa and Christmas carols
The most magical Christmas train rides are back for the 2022 holiday season, but you better watch out—they’re filling up fast! From the Polar Express train ride to vintage steam locomotives decked all out in Christmas lights, we’ve mapped out our favorites from around the country, so you can find the perfect train to board this winter.
Holiday Train Rides in the West
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.”
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!
The Napa Valley Wine Train Santa Train | Napa, CA
They pull out all the stops each year, as the Wine Train fills with the sounds of the season. Guests will be treated to sing-a-longs, games, and stories, as they deliver Jolly the Bear to the North Pole. On the way back, fairies will collect letters for Santa, and the big guy himself will hand out toy bears. It’s a fun-filled, action-packed journey, suitable for all ages.
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.
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.
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.
Holiday Train Rides in the Southwest
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!
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.
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.
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.
Find out more: austinsteamtrain.org
Holiday Train Rides in the Midwest
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.
The Polar Express with the Branson Scenic Railway | Branson, MO
Ride to the North Pole and pick up Santa for this magical ride. During the trip, the book “The Polar Express ” is read aloud and hot chocolate and cookies are served by the Chefs. Santa joins the ride at the North Pole and visits each car giving each passenger a special gift. Christmas carolers and the hobo are also on board the train for extra merriment.
The Polar Express with the French Lick Scenic Railway | French Lick, IN
Hot cocoa and cookies are waiting for your aboard the Polar Express in this fabulous journey that the little ones won’t soon forget. Don your jammies and bring all your holiday cheer to meet Santa and his crew aboard the French Lick Scenic Railway as it is transformed for the holiday season.
Holiday Train Rides in the Southeast
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.
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 Farm Park, 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).
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.
Holiday Train Rides in the Northeast
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.
The Polar Express with the Catskill Mountain Railroad | Kingston, NY
The magic of Christmas is here as soon as you board the Polar Express and set out for the North Pole. Santa’s helpers will be onboard to read this famous story to your family and Santa will board to take pictures with kids and celebrate the holiday season.
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.
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!
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.
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.