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Family Travel Files Ezine Family Vacations Resource
 Best Rocky Mountain States Santa Trains and Holiday Lights - Create Your Own Family Tradition.Heber Valley Train Santa Train, Utah Looking for a mini break which includes fun for the whole family? Featured below you will find our favorite train excursions for families from Utah, Idaho and Montana to Nevada and Colorado.

Here's the scoop.
From pretend journeys to the North Pole in winter and pioneer trains  in the spring to mystery nights, and spooky tales anytime it’s great to ride the rails. During the winter months traditional “Santa Trains,” make enjoying the season with tykes even better and at many rail stations the family holiday tradition has the added bonus of a Polar Express.  Just imaging whisking the kids off to the North Pole, or melting into a magical kingdom of lights, it can be done in more than a dozen ways and as many places. From animated displays and enchanting costumes in Park City to festive singing and holiday treats at Coeur d’Alene Resort, the seasonal excursions add a lively dimension to the fun. Best of all the rhythm and energy of the train moving down the track is a sure thing - pure fun meant to be shared. Wait for it! This year we have added a lake cruise to the list. See where!

Park City, Utah Heber Valley Railroad - Ride the Polar Express Christmas Train
(Late November through December). Not far south of Park City in Heber is The Heber Valley Railroad the perfect place to ride a snow train with the kids. This season make a quick trip to the North Pole with Heber Valley’s magical rail adventure.  Elves serve hot drinks and treats while sharing favorite carols and a Christmas story while awaiting Santa himself. Little ones are encouraged to wear P.J.s but make sure to dress for the cold. The rail experience: While the area and the tracks have a historical pioneer base, now the trains run for fun. The excursion train travels through the farmlands of the Heber Valley and follows the shore of Dear Creek Lake descending into Provo Canyon. The train dates back to 1899 when trains served the pioneers who first settled the valley. Discovery:  Maybe better known as the "movie train" the steam engine and ten railroad cars have been filmed in 31 motion pictures over the past 20 years. This enchanting rail route is best known for TV episodes such as "Touched by an Angel" and "Promised Land." Bonus Points: Take the train and tube at Soldier Hollow. Take the afternoon train back to Heber. Even better, it is possible to rent a caboose for a family reunion ride. (The Heber Valley Railroad, 450 South 600 West, Heber City 84032. Toll-free 1-800-888-TIXX, (435) 654-5601, (801) 581-9980 or
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho: Holiday Lights and a Christmas Around the World (Late November to January). Couerr 'd Lene Idaho Christmas cruiseFor more than two decades Coeur d’Alene Resort’s Holiday Light Show has been enchanting families. This year kicks off with lighted parade, Christmas carols, candle lighting and a gigantic fireworks show over Lake Coeur d’Alene. The Traditions of Christmas show captures the sights and sounds of Christmas. Santa's workshop comesalive with dancing elves. Raggedy Ann dolls, toy soldiers and other toysentertain. High kicking Rockette style tap dancers astound you while the USOscenes bring you back to yesteryear. Sing along with your favorite carols andsee holiday traditions from around the world. Discovery:  During the winter, bald eagles stop over to feed on Chinook salmon near Wolf Lodge Bay. Between Thanksgiving and January, visitors can see 70 – 100 eagles resting and feeding on the shore of Lake . Take a cruise from Coeur d’Alene Resort to Wolf Lodge Bay for a closer look. (Journey to the North Pole Cruise toll-free 1-877-765-4653, (208) 664-7268 or

Lewistown, Montana: Charlie Russell Chew-Choo - Ride the Polar Express (Early December). In December ride the Montana version of The Polar Express inspired by the award winning book and film. Passengers ride to Christmas Town and along the way enjoy cookies, hot chocolate, a reading of the book ‘The Polar Express’ by Chris Van Allsburg. On board elves create holiday havoc, sing carols, and each child receives a gift from Santa. The rail experience: Charlie Russel Chew Choo Lewiston MontanaThe Charlie Russell Chew-Choo takes passengers from Kingston Junction to Denton providing dinner along the way. The route follows the old Milwaukee Railroad line through awesome scenery, crossing three trestles and through the Sage Creek/Hoosac tunnel. From any window seat remnants of railway history may be seen, stoic markers of man’s intrusion in sharp contrast to grazing pronghorn and deer, oblivious to the train’s appearance. Bonus Points: They offer seasonal themed runs for families year-round. (Charlie Russell Chew-Choo, Lewistown. Toll-free 1-866-912-3980, (406) 535-5436 or

Ely, Nevada Northern Railway – Ride the Polar Express (Late November to late December). During the holiday season, the Nevada Northern Railway joins their locomotive up to the Ely and Nevadaland railway coaches for a trip to the North Pole to visit Santa Claus. On the journey to the North Pole, passengers will enjoy hot chocolate and cookies, as well as a reading of the story of the Polar Express. At the North Pole, Santa will board the train and he and his elves will present everyone with a silver bell (just like the young boy in the popular story of the Polar Express). The journey back is filled with holiday cheer and sing-along Christmas carols. Bonus Points: If you miss the holiday express stopping by is still worth the time. Nevada Northern has started a "Kids Ride Free" which includes excursions on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. (Nevada Northern Railway, Ely, NV. Toll-free 1-866-407-8326 or

Colorado, Denver Zoo - Lights, Fun, and the Pioneer Train. (Mid December). Each evening the Denver Zoo lights up 38 acres with brilliant LED (green-friendly) lights, featuring more than 150 animated animal sculptures which swing through the trees, jump across lawns, hide in bushes and pop up out of nowhere. The effect is truly magical and a great way to enjoy the holiday season at the Denver Zoo, where wild life meets wild lights! Bonus Points: Ride the Pioneer Train is the first natural gas-powered zoo train in any zoo in the United States. (Denver Zoo, 2300 Steele Street, Denver 80205. (303) 376-4800 or

About the book, The Polar Express. On Christmas Eve, a boy boards the mysterious train bound for the North Pole. During the story Santa gives the boy a bell from the harness of the reindeer. On the way home, the bell is lost but in the morning the boy finds the bell under the tree. While his mother thinks the bell is broken, he knows it is not but only true believers can hear the sound of the bell. The book received the prestigious Caldecott Award.  More great reads by Van Allsburg. Other delightful stories include Two Bad Ants, Ben’s Dream, and The Wreck of the Zephyr and Jumanji which became a movie starring Robin Williams. More details at and

Content updated by the Family Travel Files, images provided by Charlie Russell Chew-Choo and Nevada Northern Railway and Heber Valley Railroad. Copyright updated 2016.

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