All Aboard: Join Santa for a Tennessee Train Ride to the North Pole

Today I’m thinking about just how inseparable trains and Christmas are.

Nostalgic greeting cards depicting Christmas trees often show dolls for girls and toy trains for boys. These wonderful gifts, repeated in countless scenes during the festive season, remain etched in our childhood memory.

Many of us keep these classic toys as touchstones, perhaps as a simple way to go back in time. For boys, a love of trains can last a lifetime.

It used to be that department stores filled their windows with animated scenes of trains coursing through snowy landscapes. These grand old vintage displays are gone from shop windows, but you can still see town settings and model railroads at two museums in East Tennessee. Holiday train excursions also are popular this time of year. After all, trains take you places; they can take you back to your childhood days when Santa brought those perfect gifts.


Train fans at the George L. Carter Railroad Museum in Johnson City.

Members of the Mountain Empire Model Railroader Club love to share their enthusiasm for model railroading. They maintain three large operating layouts in three different scales at the George L. Carter Railroad Museum of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.  You can watch the trains zip through the East Tennessee landscape and enter a vintage town, complete with station, shops, people and 1940’s cars and a large city. The museum is open Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.


Train at the George L. Carter Railroad Museum

Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Miniature Railroad has been up and running since Nov. 9, 2013 and will keep chugging through Jan. 4, 2014. Christmas lights adorn the mountain landscape as trains pass through 1,000 square feet of Appalachia mountains and towns.

Chattanooga was an important railroading center. The Model Railroad Museum at the Chattanooga Choo Choo shares the region’s railroading heritage through its Cumberland Mountain layout with more than 3,000 feet of track. The display features 1,000 freight cars, 80 passenger cars and 120 locomotives of all types. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.


Children on the North Pole Limited in Chattanooga

Also in Chattanooga, you can climb aboard a full-size train at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s Chattanooga Grand Junction station. The North Pole Limited offers a magical, imaginary journey to the North Pole as depicted in the classic children’s tale “The Polar Express.” Excursions are planned for late November and throughout December. They include storytelling, refreshments, Santa visit, and light displays along the route. Special packages are available for an overnight stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, with guest accommodations available in a Victorian train car.


Santa visits on the North Pole Limited

Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus will be the hosts of train excursions Dec. 7, 8, 14, and 15 on the Secret City Scenic Excursion Train in Oak Ridge, operated by the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum.  Holiday decorations will turn the train into a Santaland showpiece.  Trains depart from the Heritage Center in East Tennessee Technology Park on Highway 58.

Santa will climb aboard the Three Rivers Rambler for a 90-minute ride along the Tennessee River to where the French Broad and Holston rivers converge. The steam train makes departures from the gazebo at 900 Neyland Drive in downtown Knoxville. Runs of the Christmas Express begin Thanksgiving weekend and go through the first three weekends of December.


Trains at the George L. Carter Railroad Museum

Do you know of any train displays in your community? Have you experienced the wonder of a train ride with Santa?

Hi! I’m Linda Lange. As a travel writer living in Knoxville, I fully appreciate barbecue, bluegrass and Dollywood. My...Read on


  1. Pingback: All Aboard: Join Santa for a Tennessee Train Ride to the North Pole … | Model Railroading Scenery

  2. avatar

    Erica Morales

    How much does it cost to do the Santa train ride?



    Train excursions around Tennessee please


    Faye Vanasse

    Prices on train excursions


    Tina Smith

    Please email me some information on The Santa Train Ride. We have a family of 8, with one being a year old. Thank You



    I have a three year old little boy and I’m trying to find the polar express or something close I want to take him on a train ride I live in Memphis tn please help me! Thank you in advance

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