All Aboard! The Best Christmas Train Rides in America

This Christmas tradition brings the magic of the holidays to life

There are a wide variety of classic Christmas traditions that families and friends cherish. Caroling, baking Christmas cookies and looking at holiday lights are all ways to get into the holiday spirit and make precious memories. Another winter activity that many people look forward to every December is a Christmas train ride. Companies and railroads around the country offer the experience, but these 15 Christmas train rides are the most magical thanks to their views, charm, on-board entertainment and more.

Christmas Train Rides at Tennessee Valley Railroad (Chattanooga, Tennessee)

Christmas Train Rides at Tennessee Valley Railroad (Chattanooga, Tennessee)
Ryan Tate/Tennessee Valley Railroad

Departing from Grand Junction Station in Chattanooga, the Tennessee Valley Railroad offers a variety of special Christmas-themed experiences aboard decorated vintage locomotives. There’s the family-friendly North Pole Limited with sing-alongs, storytelling and a visit from Santa Claus. The Nightcap with St. Nick ride is a 21-plus, first-class affair with cocktails, desserts and onboard entertainment. And the Christmas Special Dinner Train hosts a four-course meal on board a restored 1924 dining car.

The Magical Christmas Journey at Verde Canyon Railroad (Clarkdale, Arizona)

The Magical Christmas Journey at Verde Canyon Railroad (Clarkdale, Arizona)

Verde Canyon Railroad/Yelp

Passengers aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad’s Magical Christmas Journey can enjoy a cozy seat in a passenger coach or an open-air viewing car ride on this one-hour trip to the North Pole. At the depot, families will hear the story of Princess Noel, and Flurry, the Christmas Eagle, a real live eagle. Elves provide on-train entertainment and serve seasonal drinks before the train passes Santa’s twinkling village before St. Nick himself hops aboard for the return trip.

The Polar Express (Over 50 Locations)

The Polar Express (Over 50 Locations)
(c) Xanterra Travel Collection

The classic Christmas story “The Polar Express” is brought to life on a variety of train lines across the U.S., U.K., and Canada. Passengers sip cocoa, nibble warm cookies and sing carols on the way to visit Santa Claus at the North Pole. Some locations to enjoy this storybook come to life are the Grand Canyon Railway in Arizona, the Branson Railway in Missouri and the Adirondack Scenic Railway in New York. These routes are among the most scenic train rides in America.

CTA Holiday Train (Chicago, Illinois)

CTA Holiday Train (Chicago, Illinois)
Courtesy of CTA

You don’t have to make a trek to a rural railroad to enjoy a Christmas train ride. Chicago’s elevated train system, nicknamed the El, festoons select trains during the holiday season across its eight different lines. Cars on the Holiday Train are decorated with holiday images and twinkling lights, with Santa and his sleigh leading the way on an open-air flatcar. A second decorated train, the Elves' Workshop Train, follows behind with room for more passengers to enjoy some festive transportation. As the trains make their journey, they’ll also deliver food baskets to charities around the city.

The Elf Limited at Durbin & Greenbrier Valley (Cass, West Virginia)

The Elf Limited at Durbin & Greenbrier Valley (Cass, West Virginia)

During the holiday season, the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad offers a one-hour, round-trip train journey aboard The Elf Limited. The trip winds through the forests of West Virginia to The Parliament of Pines, a hidden grove of Christmas trees where elves will compete to become one of Santa’s official Christmas elves.

Santa Train at Napa Valley Wine Train (Napa, California)

Santa Train at Napa Valley Wine Train (Napa, California)
Courtesy of the Napa Valley Wine Train

Get into the holiday spirit and enjoy the scenery of lush wine country aboard the festively decorated, red vintage Santa Train at Napa Valley Wine Train. During the 90-minute trip, families can enjoy hot cocoa and freshly baked cookies, games and on-board entertainment while writing a letter to Santa before arriving at the North Pole. Passengers are also encouraged to bring an unwrapped gift for Foster Kids of Napa.

Train of Lights at Niles Canyon Railway (Niles and Sunol, California)

Train of Lights at Niles Canyon Railway (Niles and Sunol, California)
John Silva / Shutterstock.com

You can experience California’s Niles Canyon at night on a train that isn’t just lit on the inside but on the outside as well. The Niles Canyon Railway’s hour-long Train of Lights excursion includes festive decor, refreshments and holiday music. Passengers can choose from a variety of antique train cars to ride in, including coach, a first-class domed car, a vintage dining car and the caboose. This event is a fundraiser that benefits the Niles Canyon Railway and Museum.

Christmas Tree Train at the Strasburg Railroad (Strasburg, Pennsylvania)

Christmas Tree Train at the Strasburg Railroad (Strasburg, Pennsylvania)
Courtesy of the Strasburg Railroad

Pennsylvania is one of the top Christmas tree producing states, and the Christmas Tree Train ride on the Strasburg Railroad combines a holiday train ride with a trip to a charming grove where families can enjoy hot cocoa, a campfire and carolers before they choose a pre-cut Frasier Fir tree to take home with them. Other holiday-themed trips are Santa’s Paradise Express and the Night Before Christmas trains as well as Santa’s Christmas Trolley.

Santa Pizza Train at Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad (Trego, Wisconsin)

Santa Pizza Train at Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad (Trego, Wisconsin)
Courtesy of Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad

Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad puts a cheesy spin on its holiday train ride by throwing a family pizza party aboard the Santa pizza train. Along with cookies and hot chocolate, passengers can enjoy pizza and soda before visiting Santa on his private train car during this two-hour train ride through a winter wonderland landscape.

Santa Train at White Pass & Yukon Route Railway (Skagway, Alaska)

Santa Train at White Pass & Yukon Route Railway (Skagway, Alaska)

For one day only each December, Santa Claus comes to the town of Skagway, Alaska, aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway. At this charming community event, St. Nick will meet with children before families climb aboard the train for a complimentary ride amid stunning winter scenery. Just remember to dress warm and bring blankets to fight off the winter chill.

Train to Christmas Town at Mount Hood Railroad (Hood River to Parkdale, Oregon)

Train to Christmas Town at Mount Hood Railroad (Hood River to Parkdale, Oregon)
Images Etc Ltd/Contributor/Moment Mobile via Getty Images

Oregon’s Mount Hood Railroad is one of the most scenic train rides in America, but during the holiday season, special Christmas magic is in the air aboard the Train to Christmas Town. Dancing elves and sing-alongs will entertain passengers on a 90-minute trip as they keep warm with hot cocoa and cookies. After arriving to Christmas Town, Santa comes aboard to visit each child and deliver a special gift. Several souvenirs are available, including a picture book based on the train ride.

Santa’s Steam Spectacular at New Hope Railroad (New Hope, Pennsylvania)

Santa’s Steam Spectacular at New Hope Railroad (New Hope, Pennsylvania)

Courtesy of New Hope Railroad

Children and adults alike are encouraged to don their coziest PJs while enjoying a heartwarming, one-hour winter ride through the Pennsylvania countryside on a vintage steam locomotive. Santa’s Steam Spectacular at New Hope Railroad includes musicians performing Christmas carols, hot cocoa and cookies along with a personal visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus, who will gift children with a keepsake sleigh bell.

Santa Express at Blue Ridge Scenic Railway (Blue Ridge, Georgia)

Santa Express at Blue Ridge Scenic Railway (Blue Ridge, Georgia)

Wind through the gorgeous scenery of the Appalachian foothills on a festive one-hour journey with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Onboard entertainment on the vintage locomotive includes a Christmas carol sing-along, a reading of a holiday story and meeting costumed Christmas characters.

North Pole Express at the Steam Railroading Institute (Owosso, Michigan)

North Pole Express at the Steam Railroading Institute (Owosso, Michigan)
Craig Sterken/Shutterstock.com

One of the largest operating steam locomotives in Michigan becomes the North Pole Express during the holiday season, taking passengers on a four-hour-long trip to the Village of Ashley’s Country Christmas. The celebration includes activities, performances, photo ops and arts and crafts. Visitors can choose from five different price and seating options, including coach, the caboose and the adult-only lounge car, but all passengers will receive hot cocoa and a souvenir ticket and bell.

Grapevine Vintage Railroad (Grapevine, Texas)

Grapevine Vintage Railroad (Grapevine, Texas)
Courtesy of Grapevine Vintage Railroad

The Grapevine Vintage Railroad has train options for both kids and adults. The classic North Pole Express is a storybook ride during which pajama-clad passengers will be greeted by Santa’s elves and given chocolate chip cookies on the way to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus. The Christmas Wine Trains are a 21-plus affair in which adults can enjoy the charm of the decorated Victorian-style coaches hors d’oeuvres and glasses of locally made wine. And if you’re still craving some holiday spirit after Dec. 25, the After Christmas Train carries on the Christmas cheer until the new year. If you’re looking for more than a train ride to get into the holiday spirit, consider planning a trip to one of the world’s most magical Christmas towns.

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