While sleighs are all fine and well, nothing quite ushers in the holiday season like a trip on a train. All across the country, you can hop aboard some special locomotives and pretend you’ve landed on the pages of the classic book The Polar Express, to enjoy Santa, hot chocolate, and plenty of carols.

Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Holiday Train Rides

Operating out of its original 1882 depot in Durango, Colorado, the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is frequently on train aficionados’ bucket lists. The 1880s train winds through breathtaking canyons and the remote wilderness of the San Juan National Forest. Not only can you experience the excitement of traveling by coal-fired, steam-powered locomotive, but you can also experience a number of holiday-themed train rides during the winter season. The railroad runs its Polar Express train ride from late November to early January. All passengers sip on hot chocolate while Santa pays a visit and carols reverberate throughout the cars. The round trip ride takes just over an hour and all kids go home with a special gift from Santa.

In addition to the Polar Express, the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad also offers its Christmas Tree Train. Aboard the regular Cascade Canyon Train, passengers get out in the San Juan National Forest and cut down their own Christmas tree. It is then hauled back to Durango on the steam train.

Burlington, Vermont’s Polar Express

After watching the holiday classic film White Christmas, you may have the urge to hop a train to Vermont and pretend Bing Crosby is singing somewhere on board. You can feel a bit like Bing by buying a ticket for the Burlington Polar Express train ride. Offered for two days in December with eight trains daily, the ride begins in Burlington, Vermont. The train heads for the “North Pole”, or in this case Union Station. The round trip ride takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes and includes hot chocolate, cookies, and Christmas carols. The classic Christmas book The Polar Express is also read aloud upon reaching the North Pole. Riders can also mingle with elves and even receive a bell from Santa’s sleigh. All proceeds benefit the Vermont Children’s Trust.

The Leavenworth Snow Train

If Germany is too far away for your holiday travels, you can find a taste of Bavaria in Washington by hopping aboard the Leavenworth Snow Train. With three different train rides throughout the month of December, the snow train takes passengers from Seattle through the Cascade Mountains and on to the very Bavarian looking town of Leavenworth. Riders can enjoy a continental breakfast on board, carolers, magicians, and even an appearance by Santa. The holiday cheer doesn’t end with the ride. You can then roam the town upon arrival as horse-drawn carriages and carolers fill the streets. Riders can experience the town’s annual Lighting Festival before boarding the train for dinner and hot chocolate.

The Niles Canyon Railway Train of Lights

The Niles Canyon Railway in the Bay Area of California truly turns on the lights for the holiday season. The railway’s Train of Lights consists of a train completely lit up with holiday lights. The Bay Area tradition makes a 13-mile round trip journey through the Niles Canyon under the cover of darkness. Passengers board antique coaches and enjoy refreshments, music, and plenty of holiday cheer. You can select to board the Train of Lights either from Niles at dusk or from Sunol after dark.

The Grand Canyon Railway Polar Express

Beginning in Williams, Arizona, the Grand Canyon Railway Polar Express is easily one of the train rides that remains truest to the book The Polar Express. The journey takes passengers from Williams to Santa’s Depot. What makes this holiday train ride even more special is that the entire journey is held at night. You ride through the moonlit wilderness while sipping hot cocoa and munching on cookies. The 90-minute journey is complemented by a visit from Santa before returning to the historic Williams Depot (built in 1908).

Steam Railroading Institute’s North Pole Express

Owosso, Michigan, is the starting point for the North Pole Express, where passengers get onboard the steam locomotive Pete Marquette 1225. Built in 1941, the train was used as a model for the one featured in the film The Polar Express. The four-hour adventure takes passengers to Ashley, Michigan, where they can explore the Village of Ashley’s Country Christmas. You’ll have two hours in Ashley for horse-drawn carriage rides, visits with Santa, and even the chance to see a reindeer or two.

If you really want to get in the festive spirit, why not book a great flight to an awesome destination?

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About The Author

Suzy Guese

Suzy Guese is a travel writer from Denver, Colorado. She caught the travel bug after taking her very first flight at just three months old—she was headed for Disney World—and has been a total travel junkie ever since. From family car trips across North America to stints abroad in Europe, Suzy travels the globe with her redheaded temperament in search of sarcasm, stories, and travel tips to share with anyone willing to listen. She blogs about her travels at http://suzyguese.com.