We may live in Portland, but the North Pole is a mere hop, skip and jump away. Get into the holiday spirit with a magical journey aboard the Polar Express. Meet Santa and his elves, sing Christmas carols, nosh on fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and wash it all down with a cup of hot chocolate. Here’s our guide to Portland’s Polar Express, a journey for the young and young at heart.

Riding Through a Winter Wonderland
Once aboard, the Polar Express soundtrack will play as you take a short trek up until you reach the North Pole. You’ll be entertained with a reading of the classic book, as dancing chefs serve you that amazing hot chocolate and cookies. You’ll see the glittering lights out the window (but you won’t actually be getting off – not a bad idea to warn your kiddos!).

The big guy himself, will board at the North Pole and come through each and every car, delighting your little ones with photo opportunities and a special gift. We won’t ruin the surprise but we’ll give you one hint: if you can’t hear it, well, get ready for a lump of coal in your stocking! A sing along will send you merrily on your way.

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Over the River and Through the Woods
Since the Polar Express is not going to show up in front of your house, you’re going to have to drive your sleigh to the Mt. Hood Railway, located at 110 Railroad Avenue in Hood River. They have recently expanded their parking availability – totally putting them on the nice list! If the main lot is full, head down to the auxiliary lot near the waterfront.

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Make Your List, and Check it Twice
Polar Express experts recommend arriving about 45 minutes before your scheduled departure to make sure you have plenty of time to get your “golden ticket” boarding pass and enjoy the excited anticipation in the train depot!

Pack light – you shouldn’t need a stroller and since the trip is only one hour long – and chock full of festive fun — even your wiggliest little elves should be fine. Maybe a water bottle, a favorite snuggly and of course your camera!

And, if you really want authenticity, be sure you and your kids are rocking your most awesome holiday PJ look. (Stripes and feet for the whole family?)

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Get your Golden Ticket
The Polar Express takes its first run Nov. 9 and runs every weekend (with some additional holiday days thrown in) through Dec. 29. The most popular times — two weeks leading up and one week after Christmas – are already getting full but there are still plenty of spots available earlier. And really, what could be a more awesome start to your holiday season?

Trains run at 11:30 a.m. and 2, 4:30 and 7 p.m. Times, prices and reservations are available on the website.

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Have you been on the Polar Express? Share your favorite memory below.

Written by: Cathie Ericson

Many thanks to Mt. Hood Railroad for sharing these fun photos!