All Aboard: 7 enchanting Pennsylvania train rides for a cozy holiday experience

All aboard: 7 enchanting Pennsylvania train rides for a cozy holiday experience

Photo courtesy of Discover Lancaster/Gabe McMullen

By Kalena Thomhave

November 21, 2023

Whether you and yours ride the rails to visit with Santa, admire snowy scenery, or toast the New Year, taking a ride on a Pa. train is an old-timey adventure that belongs on every Pennsylvanian’s winter bucket list.

During the holiday season, Pennsylvania’s tourist railroads offer merriment on wheels. Whether you and yours ride a train to visit with Santa, admire snowy scenery, or toast the New Year, taking a ride on a Pa. train — steam-powered or diesel-powered — is an old-timey adventure that belongs on every Pennsylvanian’s winter bucket list.

Here are seven great ways to experience the train travel of yesteryear this holiday season:

Strasburg Rail Road – Ronks

The Strasburg Rail Road takes families on steam train rides all year long through Lancaster County. But during November and December, the train offers a number of different Christmas experiences, each tailored to different interests. Via Santa’s Paradise Express, which has been a Strasburg Rail Road tradition for more than 60 years, visitors can ride the train with Santa, where they’ll receive a gift from jolly old St. Nick and get a photo with him. The train also features carolers and musicians. On The Night Before Christmas train ride, passengers are treated to a performance of “The Night Before Christmas,” as well as milk and cookies. The Christmas Tree Train allows guests to travel by train to Leaman Place Grove, where they can choose a fresh-cut Christmas tree for the season and have it delivered back to the train station for pickup. Finally, with the appropriately named Santa Claus Limited, you can choose to ride the steam train for the typical 45-minute ride, with the added bonus that Santa is on board and the station is decorated for Christmas.

Cost: Starting at $27 for adults and $20 for children ages 2-11

Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway – Jim Thorpe

You can travel by train through the beautiful Lehigh Gorge when you ride the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. These vintage trains were built more than 100 years ago; you can experience rail history while reveling in holiday fun on the railway’s 80-minute train rides. The railway’s Santa Claus Train features visits with Santa while his elves provide treats to passengers. The railway also offers Winter Character Trains, which don’t include Santa, but they do include other “winter characters” like penguins and reindeer — a great option for families who celebrate the season beyond Christmas.

Cost: Starting at $22 for adults and $9 for children ages 3-12

The East Broad Top Railroad – Rockhill Furnace

Starting the day after Thanksgiving, Huntingdon County’s East Broad Top Railroad is hosting “Christmas in Coal Country,” during which you’ll take a one-hour train ride aboard a steam train more than a century old. On the Christmas-themed rides, Santa Claus makes an appearance to visit with each family and give each child a gift. Hot chocolate and a cookie for each passenger is also included. Back at the station, you can view a large model train display, write letters to Santa, and grab a meal at visiting food trucks.

Cost: Starting at $25 for adults and $20 for children ages 2-12

New Hope Railroad – New Hope

Visit the New Hope Railroad to explore Bucks County by steam train for the holidays. Santa’s Steam Train Ride takes passengers on a one-hour trip with Santa and Mrs. Claus. They’ll visit each child on the festively decorated train and give gifts of sleigh bells — just like in the popular “Polar Express” book and movie. (In that spirit, the New Hope Railroad encourages adults and children alike to wear pajamas.) The train will also have musicians and carolers on board, and tickets include hot chocolate and cookies. You can also opt for a ride on Santa’s North Pole Express Train, which is the same experience except it’s offered on a diesel train rather than steam train (and is thus more affordable).

Cost: Starting at $72 for adults, $70 for children ages 3-11, and $18 for children ages 0-2

Colebrookdale Railroad – Boyertown

You can regularly ride the Civil War-era Colebrookdale Railroad throughout the Middle Schuylkill region, but during the holiday season, the railroad offers a number of festive train rides to help you celebrate via vintage train car. The one-hour “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” ride is designed for families: Santa, surrounded by child riders, reads the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and gives gifts of coloring books, while passengers drink hot cocoa in souvenir mugs and eat cookies. Santa’s Polar Bear Express is virtually the same ride, except there’s no poetry reading. The 90-minute Snowflake Special is a winter-themed train excursion with no visit from Santa, and instead a focus on the wintertime scenery. Finally, the Colebrookdale Railroad is also hosting a special train ride for New Year’s Eve! The New Year’s Eve Celebration will include drinks, appetizers, desserts, and a glass of champagne to welcome the new year.

Cost: Starting at $40 for adults, $20 for children ages 2-12, and $10 for children under 2

Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad – Middletown

The Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad Company was first founded in 1888 to offer freight train service, which the Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad of today still does — though it has also been offering tourist train rides in Dauphin County since 1986. You can visit the M&H Railroad and take a diesel-powered train ride, featuring narration detailing the history of the region, along 11 miles of Swatara Creek. But during the winter months, the journey veers…to the North Pole. (That is, the North Pole that’s in your heart). Two different holiday excursions — the after-dark Polar Bear Express and the daytime Santa’s Surprise — both feature visits with Santa and gifts for kids, and generally depart Saturdays and Sundays after Thanksgiving and through Christmas.

Cost: Starting at $22 for adults, $18 for children ages 2-11, and $6 for children under 2

Wanamaker, Kempton & Southern Railroad – Kempton

Located in northern Berks County, the Wanamaker, Kempton & Southern Railroad runs on three and a half miles of railroad tracks that were once part of the Schuylkill & Lehigh branch of the Reading Railroad. For the 2023 holiday season, the small, volunteer-powered tourist railroad is offering holiday train rides for families for one weekend only. The Christmas Singalong Celebration with Mrs. Claus train ride (with song-loving elves and Mrs. Claus) will depart the station just once on Friday, Dec. 1, and the Santa Claus Express (with Santa, Mrs. Claus, Frosty the Snowman, and cheerful elves) will ride the rails across ten departures on Saturday, Dec. 2 and Sunday, Dec. 3.

Cost: Starting at $18 for adults, $18 for children ages 3-11, and $2 for children ages 0-2

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