The 7 Best Train Rides for Christmas in the Blue Ridge Mountains

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Train rides for Christmas chug back into our lives with a payload of nostalgia on board.

Railroads come from a historic era before automobiles and airplanes had been invented. Yet they come rumbling in from afar with an odd sense of odd familiarity, even for those who’ve never been on a train ride before.

In our experience, it’s this unique trait that makes riding a Christmas train so unforgettable for the young and old alike. But sprinkle in a bit of Blue Ridge Mountains charm and these Christmas train rides seem to resonate even more!

Whether you’re just visiting or live in Christmas towns in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, or Virginia, all of these states offer fantastic Santa train rides through the Great Smoky Mountains and/or Blue Ridge Mountains.

Passenger railways used to tie many of these small mountain communities together, but a lot of those Southeastern rail lines disappeared in the American railroad collapse of the 1970s.  

Trains have been making a serious comeback as tourist attractions in recent years, so perhaps it’s no surprise that there are myriad Christmas train trips in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Pretty much everyone on the BRMTG team loves Christmas, so we’ve put together an in-depth guide to the best train rides for Christmas in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Our list covers 4 states, rides with 7 different train companies, who collectively offer up an awful lot of hot cocoa, cookies, holiday cheer, and memories that families will treasure for a lifetime. 

READ MORE: 20 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Best Train Rides for Christmas Guide

(Arranged geographically by state)

  1. Blue Ridge Scenic Railway (Blue Ridge GA)
  2. Stone Mountain Park Christmas Train (Stone Mountain GA)
  3. Polar Express with Great Smoky Mountain Railroad (Bryson City NC)
  4. Tweetsie Railroad (Blowing Rock NC)
  5. Dollywood Express (Pigeon Forge TN)
  6. North Pole Limited (Chattanooga TN)
  7. Santa’s Scenic Railway (Staunton VA)

READ MORE: Where are the Blue Ridge Mountains? A State-by-State Guide


Christmas Train Rides in GA

Christmas train ride GA -Blue Ridge Scenic Railway in Holiday Lights, part of Christmas in Blue Ridge GA
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway in Holiday Lights, photo courtesy Explore Georgia

1. Blue Ridge Scenic Railway GA

241 Depot St, Blue Ridge GA (877) 413-8724

Official Website

Located in the lovely mountain town of Blue Ridge GA, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway hosts seasonal rides throughout the year. From late November to Christmas Eve, the rail company offers Holiday Special Rides.

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway offers two choices. There’s a 1-hour Holiday Express Tour with no layover, or a 4-hour experience, the Holiday Pavilion Tour, which has a layover in towns straddling the Georgia and Tennessee state line.

Both tours include holiday music and a telling of “The Night Before Christmas.”

Children will get a chance to see Santa Claus and receive a souvenir jingle bell, candy cane, and activity packet. Hot chocolate and snacks are available for purchase in the concession car.

The Express Tour is $52.99 for adults and $40.99 for kids. It runs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from November 24 through December 24, including extra days (Dec 18, 19, 20) in the week leading up to Christmas.

Their Holiday Pavilion Tour goes to McCaysville GA/Copperhill TN, where there’s a 2-hour layover. This route runs on December 2, 9, 16, and 23. Tickets for adults are $68.99, but it goes down to $49.99 for children ages 2-12.

For those who can’t make it to the Christmas train rides in Georgia, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway’s 2-hour Winter Express Tour and 4-hour Winter Extended Tour run on different days.

READ MORE: 25 Fun, Festive Places to Celebrate Christmas in Georgia

Christmas train rides in Georgia - Stone Mountain Christmas
Sing-a-Long Christmas Train Ride at the Stone Mountain Station, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

2. Stone Mountain Park Christmas Train

1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd, Stone Mountain GA (800) 401-3407

Official Website

Stone Mountain Park is famously home to a controversial Confederate Civil War monument. But the privately owned park– the #1 tourist attraction in Georgia– offers much more to its 4 million annual visitors. 

Stone Mountain is a family-friendly theme park with a 4-D movie theater, miniature golf, a dino-themed playground, lake, and farm yard. Other popular attractions include a Summit Skyride and the Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad.

The Scenic Railroad is a 1940s locomotive that goes on a 5-mile, 30-minute loop around the base of the mountain, departing from and arriving back at the Marketplace Depot in Crossroads. 

Their annual Stone Mountain Christmas celebration is filled with holiday cheer. There are nightly parades, performances of A Christmas Carol, amazing light shows, and even a Santa fly-over during the tree-lighting ceremony.

Stone Mountain Christmas is open from November 11, 2023 through January 2, 2024. Seasonal Attraction Tickets are $34.99 for children and $39.99 for adults. VIP tickets cost $10 more.

All tickets include entrance into the Christmas events, Summit Skyride, Scenic Railroad, and other park attractions.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Train Rides in Georgia & Georgia Railways Museums


Christmas Train Rides in NC

Christmas train in North Carolina -Tweetsie Christmas in Blocking Rock
Christmas Lights on the Tweetsie Railroad, photo by Dawson Tozier

3. Tweetsie Railroad

300 Tweetsie Railroad Lane, Blowing Rock NC (800) 526-5740

Official Website

Located between Blowing Rock and Boone NC, Tweetsie Railroad is an ever-popular theme park with a Blue Ridge train ride as its centerpiece.

From late November through December (on most weekends and other select days), Tweetsie Railroad Christmas offers full immersion in the holiday spirit, including an amazing NC Christmas lights train ride.

This 20-minute train ride, a live Christmas show, kid-friendly rides, Santa in a gingerbread house, and roasting s’mores on a fire are all included in the price of Tweetsie Railroad tickets. 

The train passes thousands of Christmas lights depicting several different scenes, and it runs every half-hour starting at 5:30 PM.

Tweetsie Railroad operates two historic narrow-gauge Christmas steam trains: No. 12 is from East Tennessee and North Carolina, and once ran between Johnson City and Boone, while No. 190 is from Alaska’s White Pass and Yukon’s Railway.

Adult tickets for the park are $60, tickets for kids ages 3-12 are $40, and children ages 2 and under get in free.

READ MORE: 10 Great Train Rides in North Carolina

Polar Express train ride in North Carolina
Polar Express Train in Bryson City NC, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

4. Polar Express in Bryson City NC

45 Mitchel Street, Bryson City NC (800) 872-4681

Official Website

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City offers what we consider the premier Polar Express train ride in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains

This railroad offers multiple rides almost every day from November 9 through New Year’s Eve, 2023. But the beloved NC Christmas Event tends to sell out quickly, so we strongly advise booking your tickets as early as possible.

While most Polar Express rides are via diesel-powered trains, there are a few dates on which they run on Christmas steam trains. All rides are 75-minute excursions through the mountainous wilderness around Bryson City NC.

The GSMR has several choices in terms of Polar Express train tickets. 

First Class features large windows, tables, and climate-controlled comfort. Premium Crown Class have windows that open, optional heating, and a restored wooden interior. Guests receive a cookie and hot cocoa in a souvenir mug.

Crown Class has climate-control and large picture windows, while Coach Class has big windows that can open. Guests with either of these tickets get a cookie and hot cocoa, but no souvenir mug.

All rides include Christmas carols, storytelling, and a silver sleigh bell souvenir. Tickets range from $44 to $99.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Places to Celebrate Christmas in NC


Christmas Train Rides in TN

Dollywood train Christmas TN
The Dollywood Express Train, photo courtesy of Dollywood

5. The Dollywood Express Train

2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge TN • (800) 365-5996

Official Website

Running from November 4, 2023, to January 6, 2024, Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration finds the 160-acre theme park covered in 6+ million twinkling lights, with tickets ranging from $89-$129.

Riding the Dollywood Express Train is a fantastic way to see one of our favorite Tennessee Christmas light displays,  with their 110-ton coal-fired steam engine taking guests on a 5-mile journey.

Once the engineer sounds the whistle, you’ll begin a 20-minute ride  through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, with Christmas lights, Christmas trees, and festive Christmas carols ensuring ample holiday cheer. 

Dollywood Express Christmas Trains run every hour, but note that the lines to get on them can be quite long, and the Winter air can get quite cold. So be sure to bundle up nice and warm! 

There’s no visits with Santa or hot cocoa on this Christmas train, but there’s also no additional charge. It’s included with your Dollywood tickets, which in 2023 run from $89 to $129 per person. 

READ MORE: 20 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in the Smoky Mountains (NC & TN)

Polar Express Chattanooga TN
Photo courtesy of Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

6. TN Valley Railroad Museum’s North Pole Limited

4119 Cromwell Road, Chattanooga TN (423) 894-8028

Official Website

Running from November 17 through December 23, 2023 the North Pole Limited is the Tennessee Valley Railroad’s most anticipated annual event.

The train ride lasts for 1 hour and departs from Chattanooga TN, just 14 miles northeast of Rock City’s Enchanted Gardens of Lights. It features refreshments (cookies and hot chocolate), storytelling, and festive music.

Additionally, there are a number of Christmas light displays along the route, and Santa does come aboard for a special visit with kids during the trip.

But the Christmas celebration continues even after the holiday has passed: The Holiday Light Train runs from December 26 to January 1, 2024 as well as on January 6 and 7, 2024.

Ticket options include traditional seating, which includes an ornament for every family. Or choose Santa’s Private Car, with extras like an exclusive boarding area, extra time with Santa, and a TN Valley Railroad Musuem Christmas book.

Traditional tickets are $29 in the day and $39 at night. Rides in Santa’s Private Car are $55 during the day and $65 at night. This train runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until the week before Christmas, when it departs daily.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Lookout Mountain GA/TN


Christmas Train Rides in VA

Santa Train Rides in VA
Photo courtesy of

7. Santa’s Scenic Railway

1 Middlebrook Avenue, Staunton VA • (434) 391-9772

Official Website

If you’re looking for the best places to celebrate Christmas in Virginia, the Virginia Scenic Railway in Staunton VA is a great place to start. 

Widely renowned for their seasonal trips to see Virginia’s Fall foliage, the VSR also offers “Santa’s Scenic Railway” train rides 6 days a week (every day except Monday) from November 25 to December 22, 2023. 

Primarily designed for families with kids, these 50-minute Christmas train rides take visitors from Downtown Staunton through the Shenandoah Valley region, with hot cocoa, tasty treats, and holiday music along the way. 

The highlight of the train trip is the appearance of Santa and Mrs. Claus, who spend time visiting with kids and posing for photos (which parents are allowed to take with their own cameras or phones). 

Santa’s Scenic Railway tickets are $65, but children under 24 months can ride in a parent’s lap for free. Note that festive attire is encouraged, but dress in layers because it gets cold on the train station platform. –by Jonathon Engels & Bret Love; featured photo of Polar Express Train in North Carolina by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett


Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

After visiting North Carolina for the first time, Senior Writer Jonathon Engels and wife Emma spent 2 years exploring Western NC in search of a homestead property. They first lived in Brevard, where Jonathon taught writing at Blue Ridge Community College and extensively explored the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. For the last several years they have lived just off the BRP near Elkin, Southwest Virginia, and the NC High Country. The couple also volunteers with the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, the Elkin Valley Trail Association, and Reeves Downtown School of Music.