Yes, you can experience a real-life version of “The Polar Express”! Railroads across the U.S. get in on the fun with hot chocolate, sing-alongs, visits with Santa and more. Some polar express train rides are exclusively licensed by the Polar Express, while others offer similar versions — and all are guaranteed to put the kids — and you — in the holiday spirit.
1. Premier Rail Collection – Multiple Locations
Premier Rail Collection offers polar express train rides specifically licensed by the Polar Express. Guests are encouraged to wear their Christmas jammies (just like the kids in the movie) for the rides! Locations include the following: Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts; Santa Cruz, California; Stillwater, Oklahoma; Batesville, Mississippi; Hood River, Oregon; Saratoga Springs, New York; Palestine, Texas; Wolfforth, Texas; Middleton, Wisconsin; Dartmoor, U.K.; and Weardale, U.K. Prices vary by destination.
The following rides are not licensed by the Polar Express, but offer similar versions.
2. Adirondack Scenic Railroad
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad in New York operates its version of The Polar Express out of Utica Union Station. Guests are encouraged to wear pajamas for the polar express rides. Train rides are approximately two hours in length. Children under the age of 2 are free to ride. Keep those pajamas on and stay at Hotel Utica after the ride.
3. Branson Scenic Railway
The Branson Scenic Railway in Branson, Missouri, operates a Polar Express from the historic Branson Depot. Rides last about 1.5 hours and take place Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in November (with a few additional dates), and most days in December. The trip includes a live reading of “The Polar Express” and hot cocoa and cookies. When families arrive at the “North Pole,” Santa boards the train to give each child a gift. Make it a family weekend getaway and stay at Welk Resort Branson.
4. New Hope & Ivyland Railroad
Enjoy a scenic view of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, aboard the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad’s North Pole Express. The polar express train ride lasts one to 1.5 hours and includes hot chocolate, cookies, Christmas carol sing-a-longs, live music and special visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Want to stay overnight? Try the Golden Plough Inn at Peddler’s Village.
5. California State Railroad Museum
The Polar Express Train at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, California, is so popular, it sells out early nearly every year. This ride includes many elements of the movie, including the dancing waiters who serve hot chocolate and cookies! Children receive a silver bell from Santa Claus when they reach the “North Pole.” We recommend staying at Hyatt Regency Sacramento.
6. Grand Canyon Railway
The Grand Canyon Railway, which offers fantastic views of the Grand Canyon, is offering a version of the Polar Express rides, November through January. The ride lasts just over one hour. You can also book a Polar Express Package at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel — it includes overnight accommodations, breakfast dinner; and tickets for the train ride.
7. Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
The holiday journey aboard the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad operates lasts about one hour and 15 minutes, and travels through Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, affording spectacular views. Guests enjoy a warm cookie, hot cocoa and a special souvenir. Children under 2 years old are free to ride this polar express train. Book a ride on Christmas Eve for an extra special experience or stay at a Christmas-themed hotel like The Inn at Christmas Place.
8. Grapevine Vintage Railroad
Grapevine, Texas, just outside of Dallas, is the Christmas Capital of Texas, so it makes sense the city offers a North Pole Express via the Grapevine Vintage Railroad! Families ride the Victorian-style train with Mrs. Claus before stopping at the Christmas Tree Trail to the North Pole, where a Christmas show entertains and Santa makes his appearance. Kids receive a free photo with Santa, as well as a souvenir mug filled with Frosty Chocolate Snow Milk. If visiting from out of town, book an overnight stay at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center to enjoy its holiday events and displays, which include ice-carved creations.
9. Train to Christmas Town
Visit Gastonia, North Carolina, during the winter and enjoy a special ride on The Train to Christmas Town. Guests enjoy hot cocoa, cookies and a live reading of “The Train to Christmas Town.” Kids also get to meet Bumblebee the Polar Bear and Wabash the Squirrel. When the train reaches Christmas Town, Santa climbs aboard to greet everyone and hand out special gifts. The Train to Christmas Town is also available in Watsonville, California, and Alamosa, Colorado. If your family is visiting the railroad near Gastonia, we recommend staying at the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord.
10. Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
In the North Georgia Mountains, take a ride aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which operates the Santa Express, and book a stay at Atlanta Marriott Alpharetta. Beginning at its historic depot, the one-hour polar express train ride for kids takes guests through Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. Families enjoy a reading of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” visits with characters and Santa Claus and singing holiday carols. Kids receive a memento, activity book and candy cane. Children under age 2 are free to ride.