Looking for a cozy adventure? Try one of these nostalgic train rides

Looking for a cozy adventure? Try one of these nostalgic Iowa train rides

Photo courtesy of Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

By Katie Giorgio

December 23, 2023

Traveling by train was once common across the United States. These days, riding the rails is a unique experience. It can be especially magical during the holiday season, when several organizations and tourist destinations get in the Christmas spirit.

If you’re looking for some family fun this holiday season, check out these options for a nostalgic train ride adventure.

North Pole Express

Mount Pleasant

Looking for a cozy adventure? Try one of these nostalgic Iowa train rides

Photo courtesy of Midwest Central Railroad via Facebook

A stop in Mount Pleasant during the holiday season will have everyone believing in the magic of Christmas. Grab a ticket and board the North Pole Express at the Midwest Central Railroad’s Hillsboro Station (located on the grounds of the Midwest Old Threshers grounds). Once everyone is onboard, the train will head for the North Pole, where your family can greet Santa and Mrs. Claus and some of the North Pole elves.

Tickets are available now and advanced reservations are required. The train operates no matter the weather, as any good holiday train should. The cost is $25 per person, with babies 18 months and under riding free. The train operates starting the first weekend in December and runs several times a day on the weekends leading up to Christmas. So grab your tickets, bundle up, and get ready for a magical holiday adventure.

Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

Multiple stops in Eastern Iowa

Looking for a cozy adventure? Try one of these nostalgic Iowa train rides

Photo courtesy of Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

While this isn’t necessarily a train that you can ride, the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train is worth seeing this Christmas season. The lighted train makes its way across Canada and parts of the US raising money and awareness for the work that food pantries do in helping address food insecurity, making a donation to a local food bank with each stop.

A host of celebrated musicians play free mini concerts from the train’s brightly decorated stage. See if you can spot the the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train as it passes through several Eastern Iowa cities this holiday season including:

  • Clinton: 3:05 p.m. on Nov. 26 – East end of Main Avenue, near Sawmill Museum
  • Davenport: 5:45 p.m. on Nov. 26 – Corner of Western Avenue and West River Drive
  • Muscatine: 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 26 – West end of Riverside Park at Chestnut Street and Harbor Drive
  • Ottumwa: 10 a.m. on Nov. 27 – CPKC Station, 1300 Wildwood Drive across 134 from Kohl’s
  • Mason City: 7:45 p.m. on Dec. 7 – CPKC Depot – 904 South Pennsylvania Ave.
  • Ossian: 11 a.m. on Dec. 8 – West Mechanic Street between Becker Avenue and North West Street
  • Marquette: 1:45 p.m. on Dec. 8 – Marina parking lot, north off Casino Queen Marquette at Water Street and Highway 76
  • Lansing: 3:50 p.m. on Dec. 8 – Ballfield on South Front Street between North 2nd and Dodge streets
  • New Albin: 5:15 p.m. on Dec. 8 – Parking lot adjacent to CPKC tracks on Railroad Avenue between Ross Avenue and Oak Street

Santa Express

Boone

Looking for a cozy adventure? Try one of these nostalgic Iowa train rides

Photo courtesy of Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad & Museum via Facebook

The Boone Scenic Valley Railroad is a year-round destination for train lovers, but a visit during the holiday season means you can take a ride on the Santa Express as it rattles down the tracks from Boone headed right for the North Pole. Santa and Mrs. Claus will make their way through the train cars during the journey, handing out a special gift to each child riding along.

Tickets are $25 per person aged 2 and up for general seating and $50 for a first-class train ticket. Reservations are required in advance and this popular holiday tradition does often sell out. This special train excursion, which takes you over the 156-foot-tall Bass Point Creek High Bridge, runs from Nov. 24 through Christmas.

Santa’s Whistle Stop Tour

Sioux City

Looking for a cozy adventure? Try one of these nostalgic Iowa train rides

Photo courtesy of Sioux City Railroad Museum via Facebook

The Railroad Museum of Sioux City is also open year round, but Santa makes a special stop at this depot during the Christmas season. Arriving by train with Mrs. Claus, Santa brings his holiday cheer to the museum during this special event. For a free will donation, your family can visit with Jolly Old Saint Nick and snag a photo, plus enjoy other activities including crafts and games.

This year the museum’s grounds will also be decorated for the holiday season in the hopes of starting a new holiday tradition in the community. Check out their website for details in the weeks ahead.

Watson Steam Train & Depot Polar Express

Missouri Valley

Looking for a cozy adventure? Try one of these nostalgic Iowa train rides

Photo courtesy of Watson Steam Train & Depot via Facebook

This sweet little train is fun to ride any time of year, but climbing aboard during the holiday season means you might just run into the Grinch or Santa Claus himself. This year’s Polar Express train ride events will be held on Dec. 2 from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Of course, train rides are included (bundle up and BYO blanket, or take one from the many extras they keep on hand). Santa and his elves will be ready for photos. Plus you can sip hot chocolate, purchase tasty holiday treats, make some crafts, and cross off some of your holiday shopping list while perusing the local vendor fair.

  • Katie Giorgio

    Katie Mills Giorgio is a freelance writer, editor, and nonprofit professional living and working in her hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She’s written for a wide variety of publications, including WashingtonPost.com, BHG.com, and U.S. News & World Report. 100 Things to Do in Cedar Rapids Before You Die, her first book came out in October 2022. Learn more at katiemillsgiorgio.com or follow her on Instagram at @ktmgiorgio.

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