Colorado Christmas Train Rides (2023): A Complete Guide

Published: December 9, 2022

By: Adam Burns

The Durango & Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad is home to official "The Polar Express" events.  These trips are based on the hit 2004 movie by the same, which involves the  retelling of Chris Van Allsburg's magical tale, The Polar Express

During the trip, children can meet Santa Claus, receive a small gift, and enjoy refreshments while visiting the "North Pole." In the succeeding years, many heritage railroads and museums have elected to forego the expensive licensing of these events by hosting their own Christmas-themed rides. 

Many are now very popular and see thousands of riders each holiday season.  In Colorado, both the Georgetown Loop Railroad and Royal Gorge Route host such events.   To learn more please visit their websites, including with the below listings.

Guide Information

Georgetown Loop Railroad

(Georgetown): As George Hilton notes in his engaging book, "American Narrow Gauge Railroads," most of Colorado's railroads were built for one of two reasons; serve the booming mining industry or communities, like a fledgling Denver, bypassed by the Transcontinental Railroad. 

The Georgetown Loop's heritage dates back to the Colorado Central Railroad, which fell into the latter category.  It was the project of William A.H. Loveland to promote Golden over Denver as the major center of commerce along the Front Range. 

It was designed as a duel narrow gauge (3 foot)/standard gauge operation; the former would run west from Golden to serve the mining industry while the latter would link Golden with Hazard (near Cheyenne, Wyoming) where a connection was made with Union Pacific. 

Its lines were primarily built during the 1870's; when UP leased the property in 1879 more lines were added during the 1880's.  What makes the Georgetown Loop famous was a loop and horseshoe curves designed by Union Pacific engineer Robert Blickensderfer. 

He was tasked with finding a way to build a rail line with a manageable grade between Georgetown and Silver Plume which would gain 638 feet in just 2 miles.  His finished design was impressive; it contained 4.47 miles of track with a maximum grade of just 3.5%. 

The Colorado Central was abandoned in stages between 1898 and January 1, 1939 when all remaining operations ceased.  The current Georgetown Loop Railroad has reactivated 4.5 miles of the old roadbed, including the legendary loop; rebuilding began in 1973 and was officially opened on March 10, 1984. 

Among their steam-powered excursions is a special event during the holidays, Santa's North Pole Adventure.  This trip is offered during weekends from mid November through early January.

While aboard the train kids can meet Santa and enjoy candy, cocoa, cookies, and receive a small gift. They have also added Santa's Lighted Forest Trains, which run from mid November through the end of December. 

Royal Gorge Route Railroad

(Cañon City)One of the most visually stunning feats of railroad engineering was completed through Colorado's Royal Gorge during the 1870's as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and Denver & Rio Grande fought for control of this natural wonder to tap Colorado's lucrative mining trade. 

Most of the original construction along the Arkansas River had been completed by the Santa Fe although both railroads fiercely fought for control of the line. 

The U.S. Supreme Court finally ended the war in a decision rendered on April 21, 1879.  In the so-called "Treaty of Boston" the railroads agreed to stay out of each other's territory (later broken by both parties) while the Rio Grande purchased AT&SF's completed work for $1.4 million. 

For years, the Royal Gorge Route was a successful marketing campaign for the D&RGW and it even had a train named after the gorge.  In 1997 Union Pacific agreed to sell the most scenic 12 miles, including the fabled hanging bridge, as a tourist attraction. 

It remains a very popular draw today as the Royal Gorge Route Railroad.  Each holiday season they offer the Santa Express with different classes of service; trips run daily from mid November through December.

Trains travel to the North Pole to see Santa and during the ride kids are able to enjoy treats and a story reading.  They also now host the Holiday Train during late December.


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