Every year, New Jersey's railroads get decked out in their holiday best to offer special Christmas-themed rides for the whole family. Wait—Christmas? We know, it's a bit early to start hauling out the holly, but these rides are a popular holiday tradition, and they sell out fast!
Though these trains don't go all the way to the North Pole, most include a visit with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, along with treats, caroling, and stories. One storybook Santa train invites kids to wear their pajamas and hear a classic Christmas story read aloud on the rails, while another ferries passengers to a Christmas tree farm.
Read on to find out where to take a holiday train ride with Santa Claus, and book your tickets as soon as possible. Then you can put Christmas aside for a while and get back to your fall fun.
The Christmas Express – Allaire State Park, Wall Township
The Christmas Express has been a family tradition for more than 35 years. Sponsored by the New Jersey Museum of Transportation and run by Pine Creek Railroad, this popular holiday train ride is about 15 minutes long and includes a visit with Santa. The trains run on November 24, 25, and 26 from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.; December 2, 9, and 16 from 11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; and on December 3, 10, and 17 from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Nighttime rides are scheduled for December 2, 9 , and 16 from 6–8:30 p.m. Trains depart every half-hour. Tickets are not available online; they must be purchased at the ticket office, open whenever Halloween, Christmas, and weekend trains are running. Tickets are $6.
Passengers are treated to a reading of The Polar Express story during the ride.
The Polar Express – Whippany
Take a ride on the magical one-hour Polar Express train ride inspired by the children's holiday classic by Chris Van Allsburg. Santa greets each child as the story is read aloud, music from the Warner Bros. movie soundtrack is played, and cookies and hot chocolate are served. Young passengers dressed in pajamas will be dazzled by the juggling chef and roaming hobos. Trains run on select dates from November 18 – December 10, and then daily from December 17–31, except on Christmas Day. Tickets online.
The Polar Express – Phillipsburg
Act fast: the Polar Express train operated by Delaware River Railroad in Phillipsburg is almost completely sold out!
Tri-State Santa Train – Wayne
The Tri-State Railway Historical Society presents its 25th annual Santa Train, featuring a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, along with some elves and cartoon characters. Each child will receive an activity book and a toy on the ride, which lasts about an hour. Departs December 9 at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children under 12, and free for babies under 2. Tickets online.
North Pole Express – Flemington
Serving up hot chocolate and cookies, plus extra face-time with Santa and Mrs. Claus, the North Pole Express is a two-hour ride that also includes holiday face painting. Rides are scheduled for November 18, 19, and 24 at noon, 2:30 p.m., and 5 p.m.; November 25-26 and December 2, 3, 9, and 10 at 9:30 a.m., noon, 2:30 p.m., and 5 p.m, and December 16-17 at noon, 2:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. Tickets are $29.50 for ages 3 and up.
Pennsylvania Holiday Trains
Santa's Paradise Express – Strasburg, PA
All aboard for a classic holiday ride with Santa to Paradise, PA, and back. Santa's Paradise Express, one of the three-holiday trains operated by Strasburg Rail Road, departs on November 24-26 and December 2-3, 9-10, and 16-17. Children under 11 receive a gift from Santa and his helper. Each ride is approximately 45 minutes. Buy tickets online; prices vary.
Night Before Christmas Train – Strasburg, PA
Channeling the excitement and anticipation of Christmas Eve, this after-dark train ride includes a reading of the classic poem, The Night Before Christmas, and other holiday favorites. Children are invited to wear pajamas and are served milk and cookies on board. Trains run on weekends from November 30 – December 22. Buy tickets online; prices vary.
RELATED: Halloween and Fall Foliage Train Rides for New Jersey Kids
Combine a train ride with tree shopping on the Christmas Tree Train.
Christmas Tree Train – Strasburg, PA
Ride this historic train to Leaman Place Grove to select a pre-cut Frasier or Douglas Fir tree. Trees will be delivered back to the station by flatcar. The Christmas Tree Train runs on December 2 at 8, 9, and 10 a.m. Adults $18, children $3. Tickets online.
On all Strasburg departure days, Mrs. Claus will be at the station from 12–4 p.m. to help children finalize their letters to Santa. Children can also enjoy the Tinsel Trolley, a self-propelled motor car, and storytime inside the heated, stationary caboose.
Top image: Black River and Western Railroad's North Pole Express. All photos courtesy of the railways.
Updated: October 15, 2017