Old-time Northwest railroads deck the railsThere is one sure way to get in the holiday spirit this time of year around the Pacific Northwest: Load the kids into the car and head for one of the region's many holiday trains.
Each train is special in its own right. You'll be able to ride in vintage train cars as they wind through scenic byways and gorgeous winter landscapes. Usually there is a Christmas-related theme and employees are often decked out in costumes to add to the festive feeling of your train ride.
The trains are each a little different. You can ride a train that is primarily in the city -- the Portland Holiday Express is one example -- or you can take an all-day trip over the Cascades from Seattle to the Bavarian Village of Leavenworth.
And there are actually several trains based on popular children's books such as the Polar Express.
But be forewarned -- you'll want to reserve your train tickets early. These train rides are popular with adults and with children and fill up fast every year. And it's easy to see why. They're sure to put you in the holiday spirit and all you really have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
Holiday Express TrainIf you're looking for a big-city train ride, consider the Holiday Express Train in downtown Portland. This one is operated by the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation and has long been a popular holiday attraction for people who live in Portland and Southwest Washington.
You'll travel on one of the railroad's historic trains. It's only a 45-minute round trip but it's scenic and fun for the whole family. The train travels through the Oaks Bottom area along the Willamette River. As you might expect, Santa will be there for the kids.
And it's even more spectacular at night when the train is outfitted with holiday lights.
The train runs from the day after Thanksgiving on up to a few days before Christmas. There are three levels of service and pricing varies depending on the day and time.
For more information, please visit www.orhf.org or phone 503-233-1156.
Leavenworth Snow TrainThere's nothing like a train trip through the snow-covered Cascade Mountains to really bring out that holiday feeling here in the Pacific Northwest. And what could be better than to combine a trip on the rails with a destination that is probably the best place in the whole Northwest to enjoy the Christmas season.
We're talking about the Leavenworth Snow Train, which takes passengers from Seattle over the Cascade Mountains to the Bavarian Village of Leavenworth. Leavenworth, as most people know, really is decked out during the Christmas season with lights, decorations, music and everything you can imagine to put you in the mood for the holidays.
You have to act quickly to book the Leavenworth Snow Train, which is available the first three weekends in December. The train takes you to Leavenworth during the annual Lighting Festival.
Along the way you'll have oom pah bands, carolers, magicians and even Santa Claus himself performing in the aisles.
For more information, please visit www.leavenworthsnowtrain.net or phone 206-935-6848.
Santa TrainThe Santa Train is offered by the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie Washington. If you haven't been to the museum, this place is perfect for the train buff in your family. There's lots of history and authentic, historic railroad engines and cars.
The Santa Train is actually the museum's most popular seasonal program and has been a Northwest tradition since 1969.
Guests travel by train from North Bend for a visit with Santa Claus at Snoqualmie. Once they arrive, they'll enjoy refreshments and children will enjoy a small gift. And if you like cookies, the refreshments are extra special -- they're fresh baked in the depot's large coal stoves.
There's time set aside for shopping in Snoqualmie. Altogether the trip is about two hours.
The Santa Train runs for four weekends -- from late November through most of December. About 11,000 guests are expected to ride the train this season.
For more information, please visit www.trainmuseum.org or phone 425-888-3030 x7202.
Children's book trainsChildren's books and trains seem to go hand in hand, and several historic Northwest railroads pull out all the stops by offering their own version of those storybooks complete with live characters and of course a visit from Santa.
The Mount Hood Railroad, for example, offers an experience based on the Train to Christmas Town. On board, your kids will share seats with woodland animals and meet elves serving cocoa and cookies. There also will be readings from the book.
The Mount Rainier Railroad offers an elaborate version of the Polar Express that follows the book and movie as the train whisks along on its journey to the North Pole.
The Chehalis-Centralia Railroad and Museum also offers a Polar Express experience in which they encourage kids to come in their pajamas. The whole family will enjoy snacks, presents and singing.
These three railroads generally offer their special Christmas excursions from mid-November until just after Christmas.
For more information, please visit www.mthoodrr.com (800-872-4661), mtrainierrailroad.com (360-569-7959) or www.steamtrainride.com (360-748-9593).
PHOTOS: Mount Rainier Railroad
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