Tis the season…to get out of the house and enjoy something other than a shopping mall. Take to the tracks with Santa and Mrs. Claus as they offer photo ops, holiday stories, treats and even safety tips (seriously). Note that some of these holiday train rides require passengers to buy tickets in advance – and they’re selling fast. No amount of milk and cookies can get you off the naughty list if you miss one of these opportunities.

1469809_568855096518678_276458368_nphoto: Walkersville Southern Railroad via Facebook

Smithsonian’s National Zoo Choo-Choo
You might not catch a glimpse of the Giant Pandas, but the miniature trackless train is a great way to make a three- to five-minute loop around the Great Meadow. While you’re there, check out the holiday light displays that are part of the annual free ZooLights event, which runs from 5-9 p.m. Nov. 23-Jan. 1, 2019. New this year is the Gingerbread Village offering frosted cookies, lollipops and a gingerbread throne sure to delight the most finicky Instagram feed. Other newcomers to the event are Reindeer Games, including inflatable tubes, slides and illuminated rides, and Symphony of Lights, a light canopy that responds to music.

Cost: $3/train ride
When: Thursday-Sunday through Jan. 31 (closed Dec. 24, 25 and 31), 11 am-3 pm
Where: 3001 Connecticut Ave., NW 
Online: nationalzoo.si.edu

Virginia Railway Express’ Santa Train
Ride aboard a Virginia Railway Express train with Santa and the Missus, who will pass out candy canes, coloring books and other treats. But they’ll also take a moment to speak about the “Look, Listen and Live” campaign regarding rail safety. Don’t forget to bring a toy to donate to the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots drive. Note: Tickets go on sale Nov. 19 at 9 a.m.

Cost: $5 at outlets, $6 online
When: Dec. 8
Where: See websites for departure stations
Online: vre.org

B&O’s Magical Holiday Express
All aboard at the B&O Railroad Museum’s roundhouse, which, we might mention, is chock full of trains. Take a ride on one and stick around to enjoy what the museum calls a “winter wonderland of family fun and activities.” There’s also a 30-foot Christmas tree that guests can walk through. The themes change each year, and this year they’re “Silver and Gold,” “Deck the Halls,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Let it Snow.” Note: Additional events are available, such as Holiday Story Time with Mrs. Claus followed by a train ride with Santa ($24, Dec. 2, 8 and 9 at 1:15 p.m.) and Breakfast and Train Ride with Santa ($40/adult, $31/child 2-17, Dec. 1 and 8 at 8:30 a.m.).

Cost: $20/adult, $17/senior 60 and up, $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: Saturdays and Sundays in December, 10 am-4 pm Saturdays, 11 am-4 pm Sundays
Where: 901 West Pratt St. (Baltimore, MD)
Online: borail.org/holiday

Winter Wonderland at Burke Lake Park
Take a ride on the Holiday Express, a miniature Central Pacific Huntington steam engine that chugs along a 1.75-mile loop through this Fairfax County park. A snowball’s throw from the train is the Carolers Carousel, Snowman’s Wagon Rise and Gingerbread Man (mini) Golf. Come back in the evening, when the train station becomes Celebration Station with festive lights. Train rides ($10) are every 20 minutes from 5:30-8:30 p.m., and tickets also include a spin on the carousel.

Cost: $15 pass beforehand, $20 day of, children 2 and under ride free, train only $4
When: Dec. 1, 2, 8, 9 and 10; 10 am-4 pm for Winter Wonderland, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 7, 8 for Celebration Station
Where: 7315 Ox Rd. (Fairfax Station, VA)
Online: fairfaxcounty.gov

269822808_060a38dd0c_zphoto:  ajd, mhd, njd, med & gsd via Flickr


Western 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-$165
When: through Dec. 23
Where: 13 Canal St. (Cumberland, MD)
Online: wmsr.com/holiday-trains

8575086484_83033bdfcd_zphoto: smata2

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. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23; 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Where: 1313 Bonifant Rd. (Colesville, MD)
Online: dctrolley.org

—Stephanie Kanowitz

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