Holiday train rides carry nostalgia, cheer

- Allison Tibaldi

Singing carols, baking Christmas cookies, and visiting Christmas markets are time-honored ways to ring in the holiday season. And for a growing number of families across the country, taking a Christmas train ride is near the top of the list of holiday traditions too.

Decked out with twinkling lights and sparkling ornaments, Christmast­hemed train rides offer the perfect opportunit­y to snap a photo with a certain white-bearded, red-suited gentleman – and maybe snack on some wintery confection­s while you’re at it.

The best holiday train rides around the U.S. brim with nostalgia and yuletide cheer, and because they typically last no more than a few hours, they’re the perfect length for little merrymaker­s. If you’re in the mood for a magical journey to rival the Hogwarts Express, consider one of these family-favorite, kid-approved Christmas train rides.

1. Napa Valley Wine Train Napa, California

Savoring an elegant meal, sipping fine wine, and watching vineyards roll by from the perch of an antique railcar may sound like an adults-only indulgence, but during the holidays, kids can get into the act when the Napa Valley Wine Train transforms into a festive fantasy for all ages. Guests on the Santa Train Jolly Journeys can choose from three 90-minute experience­s: Santa’s Cookie Car, Gourmet Holiday Express, or the Very Merry Vista Dome.

Each of these Christmas-themed train experience­s includes hot cider or cocoa, carolers, and of course, a ride with Santa. When you book the Gourmet Holiday Express or the Very Merry Vista Dome, you’ll enjoy a three-course meal; on Santa’s Cookie Car, you’ll munch on assorted sweets. The Napa Valley Wine Train partners with Expression­s of Hope, encouragin­g passengers to bring small gifts that will be donated to foster youth.

2. Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad

Trego, Wisconsin

It’s no exaggerati­on to say that in December, Wisconsin’s North Woods look like the inside of a snow globe. This winter wonderland is home to the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad, where each year its Christmas Pizza Party Train Ride combines meeting Santa with feasting on pizza.

The jolly two-hour ride runs for approximat­ely 15 miles and includes glimpses of the region’s vast stretches of snow-capped landscape, plus cheesy pizza, a photo and visit with Santa, cookies, and a hot beverage.

3. 1880 Train Hill City, South Dakota

Sip a cup of hot cocoa and nibble a warm sugar cookie when you hop aboard the 1880 Train‘s one-hour Holiday Express journey with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Trains depart from Hill City in the heart of the Black Hills, near some of the state’s biggest attraction­s, including Custer State Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Adults may purchase a

spiked ticket and enjoy their hot drink enriched with a potent potable served in a keepsake mug.

4. East Broad Top Railroad Rockhill Furnace, Pennsylvan­ia

Constructe­d in 1872, East Broad Top Railroad is America’s oldest operating narrow gauge railroad, situated in what was once the heart of Pennsylvan­ia’s coal country. Each holiday season the Christmas in Coal Country ride evokes the region’s mining history on a onehour Christmas train ride that meanders through the hills, farms, and forests where miners and their families once lived. Snacks and a gift from Santa are the icing on the cake. Tickets also include an additional 45-minute ride on a vintage train car trolley adorned with holiday lights.

5. Skunk Train Ft. Bragg, California

Mendocino County’s old-growth redwood forest, lush tangle of ferns, and velvety moss are on full display for passengers who ride the Skunk Train any time of year. But when you book the Magical Christmas Train, departing from Willits Depot, you and your kids can see all that natural beauty decked out in colorful Christmas lights and other whimsical decoration­s.

You’ll enjoy two hours of onboard treats, games, and songs that are as memorable as the sublime scenery. And when you disembark, there’s plenty of time to visit with Santa.

6. Grand Canyon Railway Williams, Arizona

The Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express is an immersion in holiday cheer. The Christmas train ride starts at the historic depot in Williams, passing high plains desert and a ponderosa pine forest before heading straight to the “North Pole.”

Once the holiday train arrives, Santa and his herd of reindeer greet every child. A memento from Santa’s workshop, hot chocolate, sweets, and a reading of the classic children’s book The Polar Express keep spirits bright for the entire 90-minute excursion.

7. Cooperstow­n and Charlotte Valley Railroad

Cooperstow­n, New York

Cooperstow­n is best known as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but when the snow starts falling this family-friendly New York vacation destinatio­n gets all dressed up for the holiday season.

The Santa Claus Express on the Cooperstow­n and Charlotte Valley Railroad is jubilantly decorated with Christmas lights, garland, and ornaments, and there’s no shortage of holiday music and refreshmen­ts either. Parents are encouraged to bring a small token with their child’s name written on it, which Santa himself will gift to them. The holiday train ride lasts just over two hours.

8. Wilmington and Western Railroad

Wilmington, Delaware

Delaware’s Wilmington and Western Railroad offers two very merry Christmas train rides. On the Santa Claus Express, families are encouraged to bring their cameras and capture a moment with the jolly old elf, who meets and greets passengers on this first-generation diesel locomotive. After posing for pictures, guests of all ages may indulge in tasty treats during the 90-minute ride.

A shorter alternativ­e is the 60-minute Holiday Lights Express aboard 100year-old coaches traversing the Red Clay Valley. The train cars are decked out with thousands of shimmering lights, and many of the houses along the route get in on the action of spectacula­r home lighting displays.

9. Journey to the North Pole

North Conway and Lincoln, New Hampshire

From downhill skiing to snow biking, New Hampshire’s White Mountains are a wonderland of winter adventures for families. And when you hop aboard the Journey to the North Pole, you’ll enjoy a two-hour Christmas train ride traversing frosty terrain straight to Santa’s workshop. Nibbles and interactiv­e activities with Santa and his helpers are a sure way to get into the holiday spirit. The annual expedition departs from the towns of North Conway or Lincoln.

10. New Hope Railroad New Hope, Pennsylvan­ia

Bucks County’s gentle hills paint a pretty picture when dusted with a coating of snow. Situated on the banks of the Delaware River, the cute little town of New Hope is home to the New Hope Railroad and its Victorian-style rail station, which is fully decked out with holiday cheer throughout the Christmas season.

To get in on the holiday excitement, hop aboard the railroad’s Santa’s North Pole train, a one-hour Christmas train ride filled with roaming musicians, chats with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and assorted holiday goodies. Three classes of service offer a ticket price to suit a variety of budgets.

 ?? PROVIDED BY GRAND CANYON RAILWAY ?? Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express.
PROVIDED BY GRAND CANYON RAILWAY Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express.
 ?? PROVIDED BY SAYHELLOTO­AMERICA ?? Santa’s North Pole train.

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