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The Most Magical Christmas Train Rides in America

The magic of Christmas will always exist for all who believe. Scores of holiday trains around the country embrace that message, offering rite-of-passage journeys that are complete with Christmas treats, music and, of course, meetings with Santa.

Grand Canyon RailwayCourtesy Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon Railway

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The most spectacular Christmas trains operate on historic railways that brim with charm, but few are as magnificent as the Grand Canyon Railway, which runs a 90-minute Polar Express train out of Williams, Arizona, complete with hot chocolate and cookies served by waiters in toques, just like in the beloved children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. Let your kids wear their pajamas for their meeting with Santa. Don’t miss the best Christmas town in every state.

Dates: November 8, 2019, to January 4, 2020
Tickets: From $45/adult, $33/child

Branson Scenic RailwayCourtesy Branson Scenic Railway

Branson Scenic Railway

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This Polar Express train travels from the historic Branson Depot to the “North Pole” and back, all in 90 minutes. The Branson Scenic Railway, in Branson Missouri, operates its Christmas train every weekend, Thursday to Sunday, in November and on nearly every day in the first three weeks of December. There’s an onboard reading of The Polar Express accompanied with hot cocoa and cookies. When you arrive at the North Pole, Santa boards the train to give every child a small gift. You’ll also want to visit the 20 best small towns for Christmas lights.

Dates: November 1 to December 23, 2019
Tickets: From $44/adult, $34/child

Great Smoky Mountains RailroadCourtesy Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

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The Polar Express ride operated by the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad takes about an hour and 15 minutes. As the name suggests, it travels through part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the North Pole and back to the Bryson City, North Carolina depot. Onboard the train, families can enjoy a warm cookie and hot cocoa while listening to a reading of the beloved story. Santa presents each child with a silver bell, just like in the book. Children under age two ride for free. Need more holiday cheer? These are our 20 best Christmas movies ranked.

Dates: November 8 to December 31, 2019
Tickets: From $65/adult, $45/child

1880 TrainCourtesy 1880 Train

1880 Train Holiday Express

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Experience Christmas magic aboard the 1880 Train Holiday Express, a historic train that travels through the Black Hills of South Dakota. During the one-hour roundtrip journey, passengers enjoy hot cocoa, a sugar cookie and a special story on the way to the North Pole, and Santa hands out a special gift to each child on the return trip to Hill City. Kids age 2 and under ride free.

Dates: November 29 to December 28, 2019
Tickets: $35/adult, $16/child

Essex Steam TrainCourtesy Essex Steam Train

Essex Steam Train

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Board the Essex Steam Train’s North Pole Express in Connecticut for a magical nighttime holiday journey. Every coach presents a live musical performance of “The Night Before Christmas” as you celebrate the season with Santa and Mrs. Claus, festive sing-a-longs, hot chocolate, and sugar cookies. Children wear their favorite jammies and each receives a small gift from Santa.

Dates: November 15 to December 29, 2019
Tickets: $37.50/person

blue ridgeCourtesy Lifestyle Photography

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

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Take a ride aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway in Blue Ridge, Georgia, whose one-hour Santa Express train leaves its historic depot for a ride through Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest to the North Pole. Families enjoy a reading of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” visits with Santa Claus and singing carols. Kids receive a candy cane and a small gift. Children under age two ride for free. Don’t miss these 15 Christmas traditions from around the world.

Dates: November 29 to December 23, 2019
Tickets: $48/adult, $31/child

New Hope & Ivyland RailroadCourtesy New Hope & Ivyland Railroad

New Hope & Ivyland Railroad

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All aboard this North Pole Express that choo-choos through scenic Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The 90-minute journey aboard the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad includes hot chocolate, cookies, and Christmas carol sing-a-longs. Children can wear pajamas and will each receive a sleigh bell gift during a visit with Santa.

Dates: November 10 to December 31, 2019
Tickets: From $53.99/adult, $43.99/child, $14.99/infant age 2 and under

Napa Valley Wine TrainCourtesy Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa Valley Wine Train

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‘Tis the season when holiday elves transform the Napa Valley Wine Train in California into a magical Santa Train for families celebrating the season. On the 1.25-hour journey to the North Pole, families can sip hot cocoa, enjoy freshly-baked cookies, and join in games and sing-alongs with a festive cast of characters headlined by Santa himself. Be sure to check out the best Christmas market in each state.

Dates: November 19 to December 27, 2019
Tickets: From $59.99/person

Grenada RailroadCourtesy Grenada Railroad

Grenada Railroad

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During the holidays, Mississippi’s Grenada Railroad offers the Train to Christmas Town, on which families are treated to hot cocoa, cookies and a live reading of the eponymous story by Peggy Ellis. During the one-hour journey, kids get to meet Bumblebee the Polar Bear, Christmas elves and, of course, Santa also climbs aboard to meet everyone with a greeting and a gift. Listen to the best Christmas songs ever on your way there.

Dates: November 18 to December 23, 2019
Tickets: From $27.75/adult, $20.25/child

Virginia & Truckee RailroadCourtesy Virginia & Truckee Railroad

Virginia & Truckee Railroad

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During the holiday season, the beautiful vintage steam train on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad comes alive with Polar Express magic on a one-hour trip to the North Pole, as characters bring the beloved story to life. Kids meet Santa and get a souvenir silver sleigh bell to remember the journey. For an extra special splurge, upgrade to VIP parlor car tickets on the Carson City, Nevada train.

Dates: November 16 to December 24, 2019
Tickets: From $26/adult, $17/child

Strasburg Rail RoadCourtest Strasburg Rail Road

Strasburg Railroad

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A Christmas tradition since 1959, the Strasburg Railroad presents its Santa’s Paradise Express, a 45-minute journey on a historic steam train to Paradise, Pennsylvania and back to the Strasburg depot. Onboard, kids can meet Santa and children age 11 and under receive a gift. Be sure to have your child bring a letter to Santa and a self-addressed, stamped envelope and Mrs. Claus will make sure Santa sends a reply. Next, don’t miss the history behind 10 of your favorite Christmas traditions.

Dates: November 23 to December 22, 2019
Tickets: From $20/adult, $14/child

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher
Award-winning content professional with over 25 years of print and digital experience on topics ranging from travel and lifestyle to health and technology. As the family travel correspondent at, I cover the gamut of traveling with kids, including hotel and destination reviews, tips and advice on family road trips, air travel, and related topics. In my former role as the managing editor for MiniTime, I led the content strategy for a recently launched family travel website, assigning, editing and creating steady flow of travel stories. Previously, I co-founded and built it into a multi-award-winning family travel website and trip-planning resource. MAGAZINES & WEB: Travel+Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler,,, Parade, Travel & Lifestyle, Newsweek, Forbes, Good Housekeeping, Disney's, Parents, Parenting, Woman's Day, American Baby, Budget Travel, Esquire, Travel Holiday, Cigar Aficionado, Boston Globe. BRANDED CONTENT: Walt Disney Parks, Disney Cruise Line, American Express, Visit Philadelphia, Sleep Inn, Motel 6, Quaker Granola Bites.