Grand Canyon Railway; Courtesy of Grand Canyon Railway
Infants: 0-2 • Little Kids: 3-6 • Big Kids: 7-9

12 Best Polar Express Train Rides in the U.S.

See recent posts by Lissa Poirot

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. These are the best Polar Express train rides for 2019.

1. The Polar Express Train Ride – Multiple Locations

Child receiving silver bell from Santa Claus on the Polar Express ride at the Adirondack Railroad

Rail Events Inc. (on behalf of Warner Bros.) offers polar express train rides specifically licensed by the Polar Express. Guests are encouraged to wear their Christmas jammies for the rides, which are set to the soundtrack of the movie. Hot chocolate and cookies are served onboard and there is a reading of The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Upon arriving at the “North Pole,” Santa greets each child, who will receive their own sleigh bell—just like the movie!

There are several locations across the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom that offer the exclusive Polar Express Train Ride (including some locations listed below). You can find a full list of locations here.

2. Branson Scenic Railway – Branson, MO

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 Thursdays through 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.

3. New Hope Railroad – New Hope, PA

New Hope & Ivyland Railroad's North Pole Express; Courtesy of Visit Bucks County

Enjoy a scenic view of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, aboard the New Hope Railroad’s North Pole Express. The polar express train ride lasts one to 1.5 hours and includes hot chocolate, cookies, Christmas carol sing-alongs, live music and special visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Want to stay overnight? Try the Golden Plough Inn at Peddler’s Village.

4. California State Railroad Museum – Sacramento, CA

California State Railroad Museum; Courtesy of 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 the Hyatt Regency Sacramento.

5. Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad – Elkins, WV

Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad; Courtesy of

The Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad offers two different holiday train rides: Polar Express and Elf Limited. The Polar Express ride is 90 minutes long and features all of the Polar Express movie fun, including the dancing chefs with hot chocolate, story time and a visit from Santa Claus. The Elf Limited ride, which is an hour long, feature Jinx the Elf, who is vying to serve in Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. Kids can help Jinx complete workshop tests like packaging, snowballing, reindeer grooming and more. A stay at The Greenbrier, which offers Weekends with Santa throughout December, makes this a perfect holiday vacation for families.

6. Grand Canyon Railway – Grand Canyon, AZ

Grand Canyon Railway; Courtesy of 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 early January. The ride lasts about 90 minutes. 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. Historic Blackstone Valley Train Depot – Woonsocket, RI

Historic Blackstone Valley Train Depot; Courtesy of Blackstone Valley CVB

Located less than 30 minutes from Providence, Rhode Island, and near the border of Massachusetts, the Historic Blackstone Valley Polar Express is fun for families based in New England. This 90-minute holiday train ride includes a reading of the story, sing-alongs, hot chocolate served in a souvenir mug, cookies and of course, a visit with Santa! After the train ride, Santa will be waiting for some photo opportunities in his sleigh. There is also a kids’ area where kids are welcome to write a letter to Santa. Stay in Providence at the Graduate Providence Hotel and enjoy ice skating directly across the street from the hotel to round out your winter weekend of fun.

8. Great Smoky Mountain Railroad – Bryson City, NC

polar express; Courtesy of LandKWilliams/TripAdvisor

The holiday journey aboard the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad 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, then stay at The Inn at Christmas Place.

9. Grapevine Vintage Railroad – Grapevine, TX

Grapevine North Pole Express; Courtesy of Visit Grapevine

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.

10. Train to Christmas Town – Multiple Locations

Hop aboard The Train to Christmas Town and help Janice and her brother ride the train for the first time alone as they venture to Grandma’s house. Onboard, families enjoy hot cocoa, cookies and a live reading of The Train to Christmas Town story. Kids also get to meet Bumblebee the Polar Bear and Wabash the Squirrel, while they help Janice and her brother make new friends on the train. When the train reaches Christmas Town, Santa climbs aboard to greet everyone and hand out special gifts. The Train to Christmas Town is available in Batesville, Mississippi; Hood River, Oregon; Dartmoor, U.K.; and Weardale, U.K. Prices vary by destination. If your family is visiting the railroad near the Hood River location, we recommend staying at BEST WESTERN PLUS Hood River Inn.

11. Blue Ridge Scenic Railway – Blue Ridge, GA

Blue Ridge Scenic polar express; Courtesy of Patriot Rail Company

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.

12. Train of Lights – Fremont, CA

Train of Lights; Courtesy of Train of Lights

Less than 30 minutes north of San Jose, families will find the Train of Lights in Fremont, California. The rare, nighttime ride through Niles Canyon is an hour-long round trip filled with music, open train cars and refreshments. The train cars are covered in twinkling lights and decorations both inside and out for an experience that’s guaranteed to get you in the holiday spirit. We recommend a stay at the Fairmont San Jose when visiting the Train of Lights.

Our team of parents and travel experts chooses each product and service we recommend. Anything you purchase through links on our site may earn us a commission.