Running out of steam this holiday season? Take a seat and let someone else – maybe even Santa — drive for a while. Holiday train rides offer lots of options for some R&R on the rails, whether you opt for a long, scenic trip or a quick loop around your favorite park. Bonus: Besides sightings of the jolly bearded guy in red, you’re likely to snap a photo with his wife and helpers in between sips of hot chocolate.

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Virginia Railway Express’ Santa Train
Santa and the Missus will be riding the rails during this annual event, which promotes rain safety and Operation Lifesaver’s “Look, Listen and Live” campaign. Santa’s helpers give out candy canes and coloring books while high school choral groups and others entertain. Bring a toy for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots drive to make sure you get in good with St. Nick. Note: Tickets go on sale Nov. 20 at 9 a.m., and half will be sold at ticket outlets, half online. Regular VRE tickets do not apply, and the maximum you can buy is six.

Cost: $5 at outlets, $6 online
When: Dec. 9
Where: See websites for departure stations
Online: vre.org

B&O’s Magical Holiday Express
This celebration happens at the B&O Railroad Museum’s Roundhouse, home to trains of all shapes and sizes. There are holiday festivities and activities, and, of course, short train rides, too. Themes this year are North Pole Adventures (Dec. 2 and 3); Winter Royal Adventures (Dec. 9 and 10) with appearances by Elsa, Anna and Kristoff; Frosty Fest with Frosty the Snowman (Dec. 16 and 17); and Winterfest Wonderland (Dec. 18 to 31).

Cost: $18/adult, $12/child ages 2 to 12; coach train rides are $3/adult, $2/child plus admission; first-class train rides are $10/adult and $6/child.
When: Dec. 2, 3, 9 and 10, 10:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
Where: 7315 Ox Rd. (Fairfax Station, Va)
Online: borail.org/holiday

Smithsonian’s National Zoo Choo-Choo
All aboard this trackless train that treks around the zoo’s Great Cats exhibit and provides views of the holiday light displays that are part of the annual ZooLights event. While you’re there, check out the snowless tubing on a 150-foot track and the Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel featuring 50 (inanimate) animals. Other highlights include a glow-in-the-dark play zone, a European-style outdoor market and a mobile art gallery.

Cost: Free but $22 to park, $11 for members
When: Nov. 24 to Jan. 1, 5 to 9 p.m. (closed Dec. 24, 25 and 31)
Where: 7315 Ox Rd. (Fairfax Station, Va)
Online: borail.org/holiday

Winter Wonderland at Burke Lake Park
A mini replica of a Central Pacific Huntington steam engine transforms into the Holiday Express for two weekends this season, carrying passengers on a short, 1.75-mile loop around the park at a leisurely 10 to 12 mph. Right outside the train’s platform stands the Carolers Carousel, and nearby is the Snowman’s Wagon Ride and Gingerbread Man mini golf. Santa will be available for photo ops, and treats such as s’mores and hot chocolate will keep you warm.

Cost: $15 pass beforehand, $20 day of, children 2 and under ride free, train only $4
When: Dec. 2, 3, 9 and 10, 10:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
Where: 7315 Ox Rd. (Fairfax Station, Va)
Online: parktakes.fairfaxcounty.gov

269822808_060a38dd0c_zWestern Maryland Scenic Railroad’s Holiday Trains
Choose from two rides: Holiday Limited or the Christmas Wonderland Express. The first is offered Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. Riders have a holiday treat with Santa on the way to Frostburg Depot, which is decorated for a country Christmas. The other option is offered Fridays and Saturdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. On the way to Frostburg Depot, hear a Christmas story. Dining-class guests will have a turkey dinner with Santa. At the depot, Mrs. Claus and the elves will join you for hot chocolate and cookies.

Cost: $30.19 to $76.49 for the Holiday Limited, $45.69 to $97.29 for the Christmas Wonderland Express
When: Nov. 24 to Dec. 23
Where: 7315 Ox Rd. (Fairfax Station, Va)
Online: wmsr.com/holiday-trains

Applewood Farm’s Applewood Express Train
Chug along a 0.75-mile track on a historically accurate replica of an 1865 vintage wood-burning steam locomotive that pulls two covered coaches. There’s space enough for 42 guests who want to have their turn on the 1963 Allen Herschell S-24 “Iron Horse,” one of the last “estate trains” in operation. Santa will be at the farm, which sells Christmas trees, on weekends during the holiday season.

Cost: $4, children 2 and under free
When: Nov. 25 to Dec. 17
Where: 4435 Prospect Rd. (Whiteford, Md)
Online: applewoodfarm.org/train

The Polar Express train rides
This one is sold out this year, too, but mark your calendar for 2018 to hear Chris Van Allsburg’s story while sipping hot chocolate and munching cookies.

Online: borail.org/Polar-Express.aspx

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Holly TrolleyFest at the National Capital Trolley Museum
Board a streetcar or take a trolley ride – or a zillion; they’re unlimited with admission — in between watching the toy trains or taking a docent-led tour of the exhibits.

Cost: $7/adult, $5/child ages 2 to 17 or senior 65 and up
When: Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 30, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Where: 1313 Bonifant Road, Colesville
Online: dctrolley.org

13th Annual Santa Railway Express Train
Sorry, folks, but this one is already sold out. We are including it just to put it on your radar for next year. All trains leave Alexandria’s King Street Station and stop in Old Town Manassas before returning to Alexandria. In Manassas, Santa holds a Q&A and cookies and hot chocolate are served. Note: Tickets are sold only at Whistle Stop Hobbies. Watch for them to go on sale next fall.

Online: whistlestophobbies.com/annual-santa-train

The Polar Express train rides
This one is sold out this year, too, but mark your calendar for 2018 to hear Chris Van Allsburg’s story while sipping hot chocolate and munching cookies.

Online: borail.org/Polar-Express.aspx

 

Did we miss any cool holiday train rides? Tell us in the Comments section below.

—Stephanie Kanowitz

Photos courtesy of Walkersville Southern Railroad via Facebook, ajd, mhd, njd, med & gsd via Flickr, smata2