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Iowa Christmas Train Rides (2024): A Complete Guide

Last revised: January 1, 2024

By: Adam Burns

Iowa is home to one of the great heritage railroads that is largely unknown, the Midwest Central in Mt. Pleasant.  The organization only operates a little over 1 mile of track but they own several historic, narrow-gauge steam locomotives.  Some of these are even operational.

Throughout the year they host special excursions for the public, including the North Pole Express.  More information about the Midwest Central can be found further below.

Other Holiday Activities

The holiday season is a magical time of year, especially for families. Iowa is full of fun and festive activities that are perfect for families to enjoy during the Christmas season. If you are interested in other Christmas events for the entire family, besides just a train ride, here are some of the most popular.

Jolly Holiday Lights

Located in Des Moines, Jolly Holiday Lights is a drive-through light display that has been a holiday tradition for many families for over 20 years. The event features over 100 light displays, including animated scenes and music, and proceeds benefit Make-A-Wish Iowa.

Festival of Trees and Lights

The Festival of Trees and Lights is an annual event held at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. The festival features hundreds of beautifully decorated Christmas trees, wreaths, and other holiday decorations, as well as live entertainment and children's activities.

Living History Farms

Living History Farms, located in Urbandale, offers a unique Christmas experience for families. The historic site is transformed into a 1875 frontier town during the holiday season, complete with live actors, horse-drawn wagon rides, and traditional holiday treats.

Amana Colonies

The Amana Colonies, located in eastern Iowa, offer a charming Christmas experience for families. The village is decorated with lights and garlands, and many of the local shops and restaurants offer special holiday events and promotions.

Iowa City Winter Farmers Market

The Iowa City Winter Farmers Market is held indoors at the Iowa City Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp on Saturdays during the holiday season. The market features local farmers, artisans, and food vendors, as well as live music and children's activities.

Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra

The Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra hosts several holiday concerts throughout the month of December, including their popular "Holiday Spectacular" concert. The concerts feature classic Christmas music and special guests, and are sure to put families in the holiday spirit.

Christmas in the Villages

Several of Iowa's historic villages and towns host special Christmas events, including tours of decorated historic homes and buildings, caroling, and holiday markets.

Holiday Theater Productions

Many theaters in Iowa put on holiday productions, such as "A Christmas Carol" or "The Nutcracker". These shows are a great way to get into the Christmas spirit and enjoy some live entertainment with the family.

There are so many fun and festive Christmas activities for families to enjoy in Iowa. Whether you prefer drive-through light displays, historic reenactments, or live music and entertainment, there's something for everyone to enjoy during the holiday season in Iowa.

Overview

Midwest Central Railroad

(Mt. Pleasant):  Want to see a working steam locomotive in Iowa? Then plan a visit to the Midwest Central Railroad!  The group's heritage dates back to 1959 as a spin-off the Old Midwest Threshers. 

That year they purchased a little 0-4-0 steamer built by the Davenport Locomotive Works (1925).  Next, they acquired two former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy depot's; one from Hillsboro and the other from Yarmouth. 

Both were placed in McMillan Park.  To host excursions the group picked up a pair of 2-6-0's and constructed a pole-barn roundhouse to store and maintain their new acquisitions.  To host excursions they built a short, 1.25-mile segment of loop narrow-gauge track (3 foot). 


The first trips ran in 1960 and today the setup essentially remains unchanged although their locomotive fleet has grown to include an 0-4-0T, another 2-6-0, a 2-8-0, and until 2019 a 3-truck Shay originally built for the West Side Lumber Company (it now operates at the Georgetown Loop Railroad). 

Among their seasonal activities is hosting the North Pole Express for Christmas.  The trains run from late November through early/mid-December with trips departing North Station.  During the trip kids can meet Santa and receive a small gift.


SteamLocomotive.com

Wes Barris's SteamLocomotive.com is simply the best web resource on the study of steam locomotives. 

It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website. 

It is quite staggering and a must visit!