Family Travel Files Ezine Family Vacations Resource
Best Southeast US Santa Trains and Holiday Lights - Create Your Own Family Tradition. Pigeon Forge Tennessee Winterfest & HolidayLightsFrom Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee traditional “Santa Trains,” and miles of twinkling lights make enjoying Christmas even better. It's the season to look for lights, ride a sleigh or climb aboard a train with your kids. 

Here's the scoop.
 Featured below you will find our favorite train excursions for families and a few places to view awesome holiday lights. 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. It’s not all about meeting the guy in the red suit. It's about sharing time and making memories. All aboard!

Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood in Tennessee – Festive Lights and the Sounds of a Country Christmas (Early November to early January). Combining live shows and four million lights in a spectacular Smoky Mountain light display, Dollywood invites visitors to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. Shows include Babes in Toyland and Christmas in the Smokies. Other special holiday celebrations include Santa’s Workshop with larger-than-life-sized toys, an 18-foot-tall Christmas tree, a giant wagon, sailboat, doll house and Santa and his helpers. Festivities also include a Parade of Lights, along with a cast of brightly lit floats, colorful characters and Santa. Bonus points: The park hosts a Polar Express 4-D Experience that kids of all ages will love. (Dollywood, 1020 Dollywood Lane, Pigeon Forge, 27863.

Winterfest in Pigeon Forge - Dancing Bears and Trolley Rides. Mid-November through February, this event is highlighted by the most extensive display of lights in the Southeast. More than eight million lights shine throughout the area. The theaters in town showcase special holiday productions, and Dollywood transforms into a winter wonderland. Trolley tours provide the perfect way to enjoy the animated displays of mountain waterfalls, eagles in flight, dancing bears and twinkling snowflakes. Bonus Points: WinterFest celebrations include Wilderness Wildlife Week, Saddle Up, and the annual Smokey Mountains Storytelling Festival. (Pigeon Forge Winterfest toll-free 1-800-WINTERFEST (1-800-946-8373) or
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chatanooga - Ride the North Pole Limited (November - December). Tennessee Valley SantaTrain in ChattanoogaDeparting from Grand Junction Station for almost a decade, TVRM has been providing delightful rail adventures to the North Pole for a visit with Santa Claus. Each year Santa’s elves prepare the tracks and this year they’ll be routed through locations such as Santa’s Workshop. Wait for it! Storytellers will be on board with fresh copies of The Polar Express to read to everybody. Elves will be serving chocolate drinks and cookies along the way.  Bonus Points: Our Grand Junction Station has a fully equipped deli with indoor picnic seating so everyone will stay warm and dry while waiting for the magical North Pole Limited. (Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (423) 894-8028 or

Lights of Arkansas the Delta in Arkansas - Live Music, and Hayrides.
(November and December). This year six million lights and 36 major motion displays on 40 acres, Lights on the Delta is one of the largest lighting festivals in the mid-south, including hayrides and a live nativity scene every night and certain nights will feature live music. Several nights during the season Santa will also make an appearance. Special events include the Lights of the Delta Pageant, the Blytheville Christmas Parade, and breakfast with Santa at the Blytheville Public Library. (Blytheville, AK 72316. (860) 762-9788 or

Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in Alabama – Ride the Polar Express (Vovember - December). Heart of Dixie Polar Locomotive Calera AlabamaBoard the train at the Calera Depot and let the hour-long magical adventure begin. As the train rolls through the forests of Shelby County, listen to the story of The Polar Express™ - little ones may wear your PJs if they wish.  On arrival at the brightly decorated North Pole the land of reindeer, white bears, and twinkling lights Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the elves will board the train and visit with everyone on board. Everyone will be served milk and cookies, and be encouraged to join in the singing of Christmas carols.  Bonus Points: Each child will receive a tiny Christmas gift as a memento of the adventure.  Wait for it!  HDRM also offers a day adventure – the Santa Special and none other than the Jolly Old Elf himself rides the train from the beginning. As he meets each young child they have the chance to talk with Santa, pose for pictures, and receive a candy cane and a small gift. (Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum, toll-free 1-800-943-4490 or

Nights of a Thousand Candles at Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach Hand Bell Choirs and Carols (December). Thousands of lights sparkle from Live Oak trees and illuminate garden paths as musicians perform and carolers sing at Brookgreen Gardens’ Night of a Thousand Nights. Other events include hand bell choirs, choral groups, and others. Bonus points: Children ages give and under are free and advance adult tickets are can be purchased at a discount. (Brookgreen Gardens 1931 Brookgreen Drive, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. Toll-free 1-800-849-1931, (843) 235-6016 or

Stone Mountain Park Christmas in Georgia – Santa Claus and Fireworks (Early November to January). During the holiday season, Stone Mountain Park is transformed into a magical winter wonderland with two million lights, live entertainment and the nightly appearance of Santa Claus in a holiday parade, a sing-a-long Christmas train, Holly Jolly Cabaret, and holiday shopping. Bonus Points:  The classic Polar Express movie will be screened in a super-fun 4D experience. In addition live shows help visitors get into the holiday experience. Wait for it! A snow angel will fly across the sky bringing snowfall and a fireworks celebration to celebrants across the park. (Stone Mountain Park, 16 miles east of downtown Atlanta on Highway 78, GA 30086. Toll-free 1-800-401-2407, (770) 498-5690 or

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in North Carolina - Ride the Polar Express 
(November - December). Depart from Bryson City depot on a magical 1 ¼ hour round-trip rail adventure through the wilderness for a special visit at our North Pole. Enjoy hot cocoa and a treat along the way while listening or reading along with the storyteller of the Polar Express. On arrival at the “North Pole” Santa Claus will be waiting. Santa will board The Polar Express™, greeting each child and presenting them with their own sleigh bell. Christmas carols will be sung as they return trip. Bonus Points: GSMR now offers a new upgrade to the most luxurious cars during Polar Express adventure.  In addition to riding in exclusive seating, your trip to our North Pole will include a 16 ounce Polar Express cocoa mug with a larger serving of cocoa topped with whipped cream and sprinkles.  You will also be served a basket of short bread snacks in addition to the traditional chocolate marshmallow Santa.  FYI: With both ticket levels admission to the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum is included. (Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Toll-free 1-800-872-4681 or toll-free
Christmas at Biltmore Estate in North Carolina – Santa and Sugarplum Fairies
(mid November through December). As one might image the decorations and celebrations held at Biltmore House during the holiday season are meant to dazzle and delight. From the giant twinkling Norway spruce on the lawn, and more than sixty festively decorated trees plus miles of garlands in the house, celebrating traditions of season is the theme to be shared. Add live holiday music performances, visits with Santa, and the extra special Candlelight Christmas Evenings to complete the experience.  Bonus Points: Any time of the year during the year visitors may enjoy touring the estate aboard a horse-drawn wagon or join a western-style, guided horseback ride throughout the grounds. (Biltmore Estate & Gardens 1 Approach Road, Asheville, North Carolina 28803. Toll-free 1-877-Biltmore or

Content researched by Family Travel Files with images provided by Pigeon Forge, Tennessee Valley Railway, and Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum. Copyright updated 2016.