It seems too early in the season to start planning for the holidays, but many Holiday, Polar Express, and Santa Trains are now accepting reservations and many will book up way before the season begins!
Christmas train rides are a magical journey for children, and a holiday tradition that your family won’t soon forget. There are a variety of holiday train rides and train events in Ohio where kids will get to visit with Santa Claus or enjoy a Polar Express Ride. Whether you plan a day trip, or make a weekend out of the experience, these train rides will bring a little extra holiday wonder to your Christmas season.
Reservations go quickly, so be sure to book your trip as soon as possible.
Holiday Trains in Ohio
(in order of distance from Columbus zipcode 43215)
SANTA TRAIN at Hocking Valley Scenic Railway (Nelsonville, Ohio – 1 hour from Columbus)
The Santa Train has been running for over 40 years along the Hocking Valley River and is a very popular and affordable option.
- 2018 Dates: Trains begin Saturday, November 24th and continue each Saturday and Sunday through Sunday, December 16th. Two trains depart the Nelsonville Depot round-trip to East Logan each Saturday and Sunday at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. There is also an evening departure time of 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 7th and 14th.
- Length: 2 mile round trip takes 2 hours
- Features: Santa gets on board the train and visits with each child as the train traverses the historic Hocking River Valley. Each coach is decorated, heated, Christmas music plays throughout the train over the audio system, and after Santa’s visit, each child receives a special candy cane treat! Don’t forget Christmas lists to share with Santa! Outside food and drink are permitted, but there are no restrooms on the train. First come, first served seating; arrive early for boarding.
- Cost: Admission is $18 adults, $16 seniors and $14 ages 3-12. Trips typically sell out.
NORTH POLE EXPRESS at LM&M Railroad (Lebanon, Ohio – 1 hour, 15 minutes from Columbus)
The North Pole Express at LM&M Railroad features a true Polar Express-like experience that will be memorable for the whole family
- 2018 Dates: November: 16, 17, 18, 24 25, 30 and December: 1, 2, 7, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, & 30 (select dates have premium pricing of +$2 and/or modified schedules)
- Weekdays: 6:00pm & 8:00pm
- Saturdays: 12:00pm, 2:00pm, 4:00pm, 6:00pm, & 8:00pm
- Sundays: 12:00pm, 2:00pm, 4:00pm, & 6:00pm
- December 24 (Christmas Eve): 4:00pm & 6:00pm
- December 29: 12:00p, 2:00p, 4:00p, & 6:00p
- Length: 9 mile round trip takes 1 hour, 20 minutes
- Features: Before you board, enjoy the decorated LM&M Railroad station area decorated with lights for the Christmas season. Hot chocolate and cookies will be available on the platform while you wait for your train and are included with your ticket. Cookies will be provided by the Sweet Alexis Bakery. Each passenger will receive one cookie that is peanut free, egg free, tree nut free, and dairy free.
During the hour long journey Santa and his elves will make their way through the train to visit with each family. Every child will receive a bell from Santa’s sleigh. We encourage you to bring your own camera, pictures with Santa are allowed and encouraged. Balloon artists will also be on-board the train. Every passenger will receive a FREE souvenir hot chocolate mug. Each child will receive a special “North Pole Express” souvenir train ticket.
Train is heated, but boarding process takes places outside, so please dress for the weather. Outside food and drink allowed; no restrooms available.
- Cost: 2 levels of seating. Free parking is available one block north of the ticket office in a public lot. Departures will sell out – purchase tickets here.
- Deluxe Coach Class – $32 adults, $28 seniors and children 2-16, free for 1 and under. Departures 6 pm and later and on December 23 and 24 are $2-$4 more per ticket. The car features comfortable reclining chairs, and large picture windows. Seats in first class are reserved. Adult deluxe class passengers will receive a LM&M Railroad exclusive christmas tree ornament.
- Lackwanna Coach Class – $22 adults, $18 seniors and children 2-16, free for 1 and under. Select prime departures are $2-$4 more per ticket. Lackawanna coach cars feature traditional railroad “walk-over” style seating. This allows families or groups of 4 to face each other. Coach seats are reserved.
NORTH POLE EXPRESS at Northwest Ohio Railroad Preservation Inc. (Findlay, Ohio – 1 hour, 45 minutes from Columbus)
The North Pole Express at Northwest Ohio Railroad Preservation is a shorter train experience that is perfect for those short on time or for younger children who may not enjoy a longer train ride.
- 2018 Dates: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from November 23 – December 30. Departures run constantly on Fridays & Saturdays from 5:30 pm – 9:30 pm, and Sundays from 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm.
- Length: 1/2 mile track takes 10-15 minutes
- Features: The short ride on a quarter-scale train runs through a Christmas wonderland of outdoor displays. Santa and Mrs. Claus will be there on various nights. After taking a ride through the winter wonderland, families can visit the NWORRP gift shop and museum. No indoor restrooms (portables only), train is open-air and unheated, so dress accordingly and bring a small blanket to cuddle up with, if desired.
- Cost: $3.00 Adults and $2.00 Children ages 12 and under; no advance purchase required.
THE POLAR EXPRESS at Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (Independence and Akron – both approx 2 hours from Columbus).
In addition to the Polar Express (which will sell out quickly when they go on sale in October), they also offered a Christmas Tree Adventure to a tree farm to buy your tree, and Mr. Jingeling’s Holiday Jubilee with holiday songs and stories from Santa’s favorite elf. Check out other special train rides through the year here as they are announced.
Departures for the Polar Express leave from the Rockside Station and Akron Northside Station and are full of Christmas fun and activity on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway.
- 2018 Dates: Saturday, November 10th through Friday, December 21st; closed November 21-22
- Length: 30 mile round trip takes 2 hours.
- Features: This magical Polar-Express re-creation will thrill the whole family. Pajama-clad families board the train for a fun filled evening excursion including hot cocoa, cookies, and a reading of the classic Polar Express story. The wonder continues as the train pulls into the lighted North Pole Village filled with caroling elves and special on board visit from Santa himself. No outside food is permitted; concessions available before and after. Cars are heated and restrooms are available on board.
- Cost: Three levels of accommodations for $45-$85. Pricing is the same for ages 2 and up.
Other Christmas Train Rides on Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Christmas Tree Adventure Train Rides leave from the Rockside Station and Akron Northside Station.
Take the train to a bus to get to Heritage Tree Farm to choose and purchase your perfect tree (tree price is extra) before heading back to your station of origin.
- Dates: Saturday, November 24 and 25 at 9 am for Rockside and 10:45 am for Akron Northside
- Length: 3.5 hours, including the time at the tree farm
- Features: After you purchase your tree, hang out in the Tree Barn near the fireplace and enjoy some cocoa and cookies until its time to head back.
- Cost: $20 for adults, $15 for children (ages 3-12). Children ages 2 without a ticket must sit on parent’s or guardian’s lap.
Mr. Jingeling’s Holiday Jubilee leave from the Rockside Station and Akron Northside Station and features holiday fun with a North Pole Elf!
- Dates: Saturdays and Sundays, Saturday, November 17-18 and 24-25 at 9 am for Rockside and 10:45 am for Akron Northside
- Length: 3 hour round trip, with Mr. Jingeling’s program lasting 1.5 hours.
- Features: Mr. Jingeling will bring the holiday magic on board as he shares traditional Christmas songs and some short stories of life in the North Pole. Bring the young and the young at heart together, and Mr. Jingeling will sign a Good Luck key for all the children!
- Cost: $25 for adults, $20 for children (ages 3-12). Children ages 2 without a ticket must sit on parent’s or guardian’s lap.
THE POLAR EXPRESS at Dennison Railroad Depot Museum (Dennison, Ohio – 2 hours from Columbus)
Hop on board the Polar Express at the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum, where the decorated train transports guests to the North Pole with games, hot chocolate, cookies, songs and visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
- 2018 Dates: December 7-9 & 14-16 2018. Fridays at 6:00 and 8:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00, 4:00, 6:00 and 8:00 p.m.
- Length: 40 mile round trip takes 90 minutes
- Features: Re-enactment of The Polar Express book by Chris Van Allsburg. Storytellers begin the journey reading the book as the train heads towards the North Pole. Festive elves will entertain you with songs, games and activities, while you enjoy delicious hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies specially made by Mrs. Claus. When the train arrives at the North Pole you will see Santa and his workshop out your train window. (Passengers do not get off the train.) The train stops long enough to pick up Santa, who will visit with children on the way back and gift them all with a special silver bell taken from the reindeer’s harness. Purchase a conductor-signed copy of The Polar Express when you order. Train cars are heated, and restrooms are available on board and at the depot. Outside food and drink are not permitted, but gluten-free cookies can be brought for dietary restrictions.
- Cost: Tickets are $42 for Balcony seating, $50 for coach seating and $72 for First Class seating (children under 1 are free). Private compartments (seats up to 5-6) are $395 – $450. First Class seating includes a separate First Class Waiting Room so you do not have to wait outside in the cold. The conductor will personally come and lead you from your waiting room in the Museum’s Panhandle Theater to the train as you will be first to board the train. During your wait to board, children will be able to watch Christmas movies. Each first class child 1-12 will receive an engineer’s hat, wooden train whistle and another special treat on board the train. Tickets go on sale for museum members in MAY and for the public in JUNE. Tickets are sold by phone only Tuesday – Sunday; 740-922-6776.
Christmas Train Experiences in Columbus
These inexpensive, local options are a great experience for children who may be too young to enjoy a longer train ride.
Letters to Santa at Ohio Railway Museum: Worthington, Ohio. December 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, and 23, 2018 from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Letters to Santa will feature Santa letters in the Post Office car, Christmas ornaments and crafts, train rides on the Interurban car, and photos with Mrs. Claus over 2 weekends. Registration isn’t required.
They are also open on Sundays from noon – 4 pm. They will be using the diesel switch engine and passenger car in hourly runs through the Worthington Woods area along the NS and CSX tracks.
- $9.00 – Adults
- $8.00 – Seniors
- $7.00 – Children (4-12)
- FREE – Children under 3
Golden Spike Open House Christmas Celebration at The Depot: Columbus, Ohio. December 16, 2018 from 4-7 pm
The Annual Golden Spike Open House at The Depot features cookies and hot chocolate in the snack shack, a holiday movie while working on a crafts in The Depot, tours of Car 100 and Central Vermont Caboose decorated for the season. You can also warm yourself by the Fire Pit, and take a ride on the Scioto Valley Railway through our display of holiday lights. Admission is a coat for the needy (hats, gloves and scarves are welcome) or 1 unwrapped gift per person for the benefit of Firefighters For Kids Toy Drive and TriVillage Chamber Coat Drive.