If making the holiday season even more festive is on your to-do list, then we’ve got an activity for you: holiday trains. Of course, train trips to the “North Pole” look a little different this year. Santa will be sporting a mask over his long white beard, and train passengers might only get to visit with Santa’s elves from a distance. Nonetheless, railways are taking extra precautions this year—including increased ventilation and decreased passenger capacity—such that they can continue The Polar Express Christmas train tradition safely.
If your family is hankering for a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the North Pole, don your Christmas jammies and your most cheerful mask to board one of these show-stopping Christmas trains. Here, seven train rides in the U.S. that will surely get you into the spirit of the season and land you on the nice list.
Grand Canyon Polar Express: Williams, Arizona
For 90 minutes, you and your family can not only enjoy a bit of the Arizona wilderness, but also experience a little one-on-one time with the big man himself, Santa. Each year, the Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express takes guests on a glorious holiday journey, starting from Williams, Arizona and continuing to the southwestern “North Pole.” At the end of the round-trip ride, Santa and his little helpers will be waiting to present each rider with a personalized gift (so long as they aren’t on the naughty list). Reservations and masks are required, and this year, the train will operate at only 30% capacity for increased safety. Trains leave each night during the holiday season at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
1880 Holiday Train: Hill City, South Dakota
Here’s the best part about the holidays—there’s magic everywhere. And that magic that means train passengers in South Dakota can reach the “North Pole” in just 60 minutes. During the holidays, the 1880 Holiday Train takes off on a one-hour, round-trip experience from Hill City to South Dakota’s own “North Pole.” There, Santa will board for the return journey, doling out cheer all the way home. During the ride, passengers can indulge in hot cocoa, cookies, and storytime on their way to see Santa. On select dates, guests can also upgrade to the Holiday Express First Class for an even more spectacular train experience. And this year, the train will operate at reduced capacity with the entire staff wearing masks and observing proper social distancing.
River Fox Magical Christmas Train: West Sacramento, California
Aboard the River Fox Train Magical Christmas Train, the holiday season comes to life with sing-a-longs, hot chocolate, and general merriment conducted by Santa and his elves. The West Sacramento-based train invites you to jingle all the way while enjoying holiday treats and the distanced company of Santa’s elves, who line the aisles playing music and encouraging excitement over Santa’s arrival. After the concessions and an afternoon spent basking in Christmas cheer, bring the whole family to the River Fox gift shop for holiday souvenirs.
Georgetown Loop Railroad Winter Holiday Trains: Georgetown, Colorado
Few scenic backdrops say “winter wonderland” quite like Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The Georgetown Winter Holiday Train glides through a gorgeous holiday lights show, traversing the forested area above Georgetown. The hour-long, round-trip train ride includes a socially distanced visit from Santa and his elves. And on select days, during Georgetown’s Victorian Holiday Celebration, you might even encounter Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past. Each cabin is heated, and guests can opt to ride coach, or book the private Parlor, Waldorf, or Tahoe VIP cars.
Cape Cod Central Railroad Polar Express Train: Hyannis, Massachusetts
Departing from Hyannis Depot, this coastal Massachusetts train whisks passengers by beautiful Cape Cod vistas. Cape Cod Central Railroad hosts The Polar Express train ride each year, a 60- to 90-minute train ride to meet Santa. They will continue to uphold traditions—like cookies and cocoa for everyone—this year, though passengers will sit only with their party and must wear masks. Santa and his elves will still greet everyone this year and spread cheer throughout the train cabins, though they’ll be masked and, like the passengers, will benefit from the CDC-compliant air sanitization system on board.
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway Santa Express: Blue Ridge, Georgia
The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway offers stunning trips through the mountainous Georgia landscape, and their seasonal rides—from foliage trains in the fall to Christmas-themed rides in December—are always a hit. The Santa Express runs through November and December, and while Mr. and Mrs. Claus will not be on board this year, they’ll still be available for distanced photos and a quick meet-and-greet in the Christmas caboose. As a keepsake, each child on the train will get a Blue Ridge Scenic Railway sleigh bell and a candy cane.
Arcade & Attica Railroad Train Ride with Santa: Arcade, New York
Venture to upstate New York in your Christmas-themed mask for a 30-minute ride with Santa on the Arcade & Attica Railroad, where kids can meet Santa’s reindeer, take a picture in Santa’s sleigh, and even send a letter to Mr. Claus himself. On this afternoon train ride—departing at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., or 3 p.m. throughout the holiday season—Santa may even make a guest appearance, and he’ll be equipped with presents (and a holly jolly mask).