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Texas Polar Express Train Rides (2024): A Complete Guide

Last revised: January 1, 2024

By: Adam Burns

"The Polar Express" train rides witness tens of thousands of riders annually throughout the country with many selling out months in advance.  

In Texas, two organizations host these trips, the Galveston Railroad Museum (Galveston) and the Texas State Railroad (Rusk).  Both host many different special events throughout the year, as well as general excursions. 

While many heritage railroads and museums host Christmas-themed train rides, only a handful offer officially licensed "The Polar Express" events.  These trips, which usually last just over an hour, feature a story-telling of Chris Van Allsburg's magical tale, The Polar Express.  During the trip, children and their parent(s)/guardian(s)/relative(s) can enjoy hot chocolate, cookies, and receive a small gift.

In addition, dressing in your pajamas is highly recommended!  When possible, and if available, a steam locomotive is used to pull the train.   "The Polar Express" rides exploded in popularity after the release of Warner Brothers' 2004 movie, which brought to life Van Allsburg's story.

The information presented here briefly highlights the organizations hosting these trips in Texas.  In addition, links to their websites are also provided for booking, scheduling, and more about their particular "The Polar Express" trips. 

2024 Dates Will Be Included As They Become Available!

Overview

Galveston Railroad Museum

Located in its namesake city, this museum is one of the state's largest, containing an impressive collection of rolling stock and preserved locomotives (predominantly focused on the railroad's which served Texas and the Gulf Coast). 

It is one of the very few such organizations whose offices are housed within a major railroad terminal, Santa Fe Union Station. 

The original four-story brick building, located at 25th Street and The Strand, was completed in 1887.  It was renovated over the years and is now an eight-story white structure with a larger center column. 

The last update occurred in 1932, which adorned the building in a terra cotta and Art Deco appearance.  The last passenger train to depart the station left on April 11, 1967. 

It is currently owned by the Moody Foundation and still functions as an office tower. Over the years the museum has amassed an impressive collection including four steam locomotives and two diesel switchers. 

They also have several freight and passenger cars and model train layouts to see.  

The Polar Express Dates: 

Texas State Railroad

The Texas State Railroad has long been a popular attraction with an interesting history.  Some states in the 19th century took it upon themselves to build railroads when, for whatever reason, they felt the private sector could not. 

Such was the case with the Texas State Railroad, founded in 1883 to provide rail service for parts of East Texas. 

Following more than two decades of work the railroad had linked Rusk, Texas (location of the Rusk Penitentiary) with Palestine, a distance of about 25 miles (part of the line was built using convict labor). 

The state elected to stop directly operating the property in the 1920's and instead leased it, a setup which continued until 1969. 

In 1972 it came under the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's direction where it remained until falling under the Texas State Railroad Authority's jurisdiction in 2007. 

The Texas State Railroad is one of the finer excursions with first class accommodations, special events, and private party rentals available throughout most of the year.   

They host official The Polar Express trips from late November through most of December.  Some of their events are even powered by an actual steam locomotive (either 2-8-2 #30 or 2-8-0 #28).  

The Polar Express Dates: 

Other Christmas Activities

Discover Magical Christmas Celebrations in Texas!

Welcome to the Lone Star State, where the holiday spirit comes alive with a Texas-sized dose of cheer and joy! Texas offers a plethora of family-friendly Christmas events that will make your holiday season truly unforgettable. From dazzling light displays to festive parades and winter wonderlands, here are some of the best Christmas events in Texas that are perfect for the entire family!

1. "Trail of Lights" at Zilker Park (Austin):

Get ready for a mesmerizing journey through a twinkling wonderland at Zilker Park's "Trail of Lights." Experience the magic of over two million lights illuminating the park's picturesque landscapes. Bring the whole family and enjoy festive displays, live performances, food trucks, and even a visit from Santa Claus himself. This cherished Austin tradition is sure to create lasting memories for everyone.

2. "Festival of Lights" at Moody Gardens (Galveston):

Experience a coastal Christmas wonderland at Moody Gardens' "Festival of Lights." Marvel at the spectacular light displays as you stroll through the stunning gardens and enjoy the "Arctic Slide" for thrilling winter fun. Don't miss the 4D Special FX Theater showing "Polar Express" for an immersive holiday movie experience. It's the perfect blend of winter magic and Gulf Coast charm.

3. "Christmas Capital of Texas" in Grapevine:

Step into a holiday postcard setting in Grapevine, the "Christmas Capital of Texas." This charming town comes alive with Christmas spirit, offering a wide array of family-friendly events. Enjoy the annual "Parade of Lights," explore the "ICE! featuring 'Twas the Night Before Christmas" exhibit at Gaylord Texan Resort, and take a nostalgic ride aboard the Grapevine Vintage Railroad's "North Pole Express." With over 1,400 Christmas events, Grapevine is a festive paradise for the entire family.

4. "Santa's Wonderland" in College Station:

Experience the ultimate Texas Christmas at "Santa's Wonderland." This magical event boasts an impressive synchronized light show, horse-drawn carriage rides, and a festive hayride through twinkling Christmas lights. Kids will be delighted by visits with Santa, gingerbread house decorating, and a Texas-sized snow globe! It's a winter wonderland right in the heart of Aggieland.

5. "Holiday in the Park" at Six Flags Fiesta Texas (San Antonio):

Thrills and holiday cheer collide at Six Flags Fiesta Texas during "Holiday in the Park." Experience the park transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with sparkling lights, seasonal shows, and festive treats. Take a spin on thrilling rides or enjoy a ride on the North Pole Railroad. Plus, don't miss the awe-inspiring "Majesty of Christmas" show, perfect for the whole family.

6. "Christmas at the Caverns" at Natural Bridge Caverns (San Antonio):

Journey deep underground for an extraordinary Christmas experience at Natural Bridge Caverns. Witness the stunning underground chambers adorned with twinkling lights and decorations. Delight in a Christmas maze, a climbing wall, and an opportunity to meet Santa himself. This unique holiday celebration is sure to create cherished memories.


Plan Your Texas Christmas Adventure Today!

Come and make cherished memories with your loved ones as you embark on a holiday adventure like no other in the great state of Texas. From traditional holiday festivities to unique experiences, these family-friendly Christmas events will fill your heart with warmth and holiday cheer. Texas is waiting to welcome you with open arms and a Texas-sized dose of Christmas magic!


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!