Hot chocolate? They’ve got it.
Rail lines across the country are adding a bit of whimsy this holiday season as Santa trains and rides themed after the Chris Van Allsburg children’s book and Tom Hanks animated movie “The Polar Express” disembark from stations near and far.
For the young and young at heart, these rides can be the highlight of the holidays prior to Santa’s annual Christmas Eve flight.
USA TODAY Network reporters across Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas compiled this list of Christmas-themed rides that are worth planning for this holiday season and beyond.
Polar Express train rides in Colorado and New Mexico
Colorado Railroad Museum Polar Express
In need of a little Christmas magic? Hitch a ride on the Colorado Railroad Museum’s Polar Express. The authentic coal-fired steam locomotive runs every year from mid-November until just before Christmas, taking riders on a journey to the North Pole by way of the museum’s 14-acre railway park in Golden.
The 90-minute experience is pulled directly from the pages of “The Polar Express” and its movie adaptation, with family carol singing, a cabaret show, hot chocolate, cookies and a dramatic reenactment of the popular children’s book complete with dancing elves and a visit with Santa Claus.
Due to its popularity, 2021 tickets for the Polar Express train ride have already sold out. Mark your calendars for next year, though. Online tickets typically go on sale to the general public the first week of October.
This year, standard seating cost $80 per person aged 2-15 and $100 per person aged 16 and older. Children younger than 2 attend for free. First-class tables for four cost $475.
Learn more at coloradorailroadmuseum.org/polar-express.
Durango and Silverton Train Polar Express
Like the Colorado Railroad Museum, The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad of southwestern Colorado runs annual holiday rides based upon the beloved children’s book. Riders are picked up by the heritage railroad’s train in Durango before setting off for the North Pole.
Hot chocolate and sweet treats are served onboard while the train conductor reads “The Polar Express.” Once at the North Pole, riders are greeted by a light show set to holiday music. On the ride back to Durango, Santa visits with each coach car and hands out his traditional first gift of Christmas.
The Durango and Silverton Polar Express train runs through New Year’s Day. Depending on what coach car you select, tickets can range from $39 to $67 per adult and $29 to $57 for children 2-11 years old. Tickets can be purchased at durangotrain.com.
Georgetown Loop Railroad
Mix a history lesson and holiday tradition together this year with a ride on Colorado’s Georgetown Loop Railroad. From mid-November through Jan. 2, the historic railroad’s trio of steam-powered locomotives take riders on themed holiday excursions like the daytime Santa’s North Pole Adventure, nighttime Santa’s Lighted Forest ride and a Victorian holiday excursion, which takes riders on both day and night rides and features an appearance by Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.
Santa’s North Pole Adventure and Santa’s Lighted Forest rides both operate through Christmas Eve, while the railroad’s Victorian holiday celebration takes place Dec. 26 through Jan. 2. Basic coach class tickets for all of the excursions cost $32.95 per adult and $22.95 per child. The executive class and parlor cars are sold by the table and can range from $75.95 for a two-person table to $170 for a four-person table.
Tickets sell out fast, so buy yours today at georgetownlooprr.com. The Georgetown Loop Railroad operates out of two depot locations in Georgetown and neighboring Silver Plume.
Royal Gorge Railway
The Royal Gorge Route Railroad offers its Santa Express Train departing from the historic Santa Fe Depot, 401 Water St., in Cañon City, and chugging through the scenic Royal Gorge Canyon to the North Pole and back.
This year, the Santa Express Train travels to the beautifully decorated North Pole up to four times daily through Dec. 31 (except Christmas Day) with departures at 9:15 a.m., 12:30, 4 and 7 p.m. The festivities include popular holiday songs, cheerful decor, a team of holiday elves bringing hot chocolate and cookies, and a chat with Santa Claus.
The jolly old elf himself presents a special gift to each child. Costs range from $64 to $94 per child, depending on class of service, and $74 to $104 per adult, depending on class of service.
Tickets are available online at royalgorgeroute.com, or same-day bookings can be made by calling 719-276-4000.
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway
This scenic ride between southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico is not offering a holiday train this year, but visit cumbrestoltec.com for other offerings and future updates about next holiday season.
The North Pole – Santa’s Workshop
Want to visit the North Pole, but don’t want to traverse the globe to do so? Be sure to consider this stop when traveling to any of Colorado’s holiday-themed trains.
The North Pole – Santa’s Workshop is just west of Colorado Springs and features rides, fun and all the yuletide cheer you need to celebrate the holidays. The park, located at 5050 Pikes Peak Highway in Cascade, opened in 1965.
Featured rides include the Candy Cain Coaster, the Antique Car Ride, a vintage carousel, the Dive Bomber, the Peppermint Slide, a Ferris wheel, the Kiddie Commander, the Granny Bug and more.
The North Pole also features a family-friendly train that travels around the park. Children under 46 inches tall must be accompanied by an adult to ride. While on the train, you can take in the sights and learn of the park’s 65-year history.
During the holiday season, cost is $25 per person for those age 3 and up. Children younger than 3 enter and ride for free. An online reservation is required and reservations opened Nov. 1.
COVID-19 precautions are in place. Fully vaccinated individuals do not have to wear a mask, while those not vaccinated are encouraged to wear one.
Park hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Visit northpolecolorado.com for more information.
Polar Express train rides in Oklahoma
Oklahoma Railway Museum Polar Express
Although the tracks through the Sooner State haven’t always been the easiest to navigate, The Polar Express Train Ride keeps chugging along in Oklahoma.
After the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the moving theatrical production in its tracks in 2020, The Polar Express Train Ride is making a comeback this season at the Oklahoma Railway Museum, where the first trains departed Nov. 13.
Merrymakers have the chance to board The Polar Express through Dec. 28 at the OKC museum, which is only open for this event through Jan. 5.
Tickets range from $52 to $67 per child, and $59 to $75 per adult. Children younger than age 2 can ride for free on the lap of a parent or guardian.
The Oklahoma Railway Museum is located at 3400 NE Grand Blvd., Oklahoma City. Visit okcthepolarexpressride.com for more information.
Polar Express train rides in Texas
Galveston Railroad Museum Polar Express
Experience a Christmas from the movies and purchase a ticket to the North Pole on The Polar Express Train Ride. Visit Galveston and get picked up at the island’s railroad museum’s vintage train station at 2602 Santa Fe Place.
Singing chefs will serenade passengers as they serve cookies and hot chocolate. Santa Claus will announce who is on his “nice” list and gift the first present of Christmas — a silver sleigh bell. Polar Express staff encourage guests to wear pajamas.
Once at the North Pole, dancing elves will greet passengers. Once back at the station following the one-hour ride, passengers will have the opportunity to take photos with the crew.
Coach class tickets start at $30 for a child and $35 for an adult, but can go as high as $70-$75 depending if the museum determines the date and time as a higher-demand departure. First-class tickets range from $45-$50 and can go as high as $85-$90. Presidential class tickets start from $65-$70 to $105-$110. Lap infants younger than 2 ride for free.
Trains will depart at several times Thursday through Sunday for the first two weeks of December. Leading up to Christmas from Dec. 20-23, trains will depart at 5:30, 7 and 8 p.m., however, the museum anticipates trains to sell out.
Masks are required and passengers must purchase tickets online. Information: https://galvestonrrmuseum.org/
Texas State Railroad Polar Express
Depart for a train ride to the North Pole singing Christmas carols with iconic “The Polar Express” characters at Texas State Railroad’s depot at 789 Park Road 70 in Palestine.
The one-hour adventure leaves in the late afternoon and evenings with additional times added as Christmas approaches. The week of Christmas will have have five departures Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 2, 3:30, 5, 6, and 8 p.m. Christmas Eve will have 3 departures at 3:30, 5 and 6 p.m.
As chefs sing and recite the children’s book “The Polar Express,” Santa and his elves prepare to pass out gifts once the train reaches Santa’s home. Chefs will also give out sugar cookies and hot chocolate.
Costs range from $30 to $80 per child, depending on class of service, $50 to $100 per adult, depending on class of service, and $60 to $110 per adult with a lap child, depending on class of service.
Masks are optional for the ride. Tickets are available at texasstaterailroad.net.
Whistle Stop trains and Christmas festival
Experience a six-week-long Christmas celebration at Hulen Park at 1010 Hillsboro St., in Cleburne. Be immersed in multicolored Christmas lights decorating trains, cars and homes in the area.
Dec. 3 features a Christmas parade complete with photo opportunities with Santa and Mrs. Claus for $3 on personal phones or $5 for printed pictures.
From Dec. 3-18, Hulen Park will provide children’s train rides from 5 to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, priced at $3 per rider.
Additional information is available at whistlestopchristmas.com.
Are we missing any Santa train rides?
Here’s the thing about the West: It’s big and there’s a lot of ground to cover. If we missed your favorite Santa train offering in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas or Oklahoma, and you think it’s worth traveling for, email Eric Larsen at [email protected]
Contributing: Erin Udell, the Fort Collins Coloradoan; Tracy Harmon and Luke Lyons, the Pueblo Chieftain; Brandy McDonnell, The Oklahoman.
Fort Collins Coloradoan editor Eric Larsen can be reached at [email protected] or 970-224-7745.
Polar Express train rides in Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas