9 family-friendly holiday train outings in Seattle and vicinity
Ivan von Katzen
If someone in your family has a a passion for rail transport, this is a great time of year for you. December, season of nostalgia, features a bounty of events celebrating the glories of steam-driven technology. From riding the rails to viewing trains in miniature, we've got something for everyone. All aboard!
Winterfest Train and Village. See a giant layout of a turn-of-the-century village complete with two trains. Kids can take turns operating a train for suggested $2 cash donation from 10:30 a.m. to noon, 1 to 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. daily. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Dec. 31, closes 4 p.m. Dec. 24, closed Dec. 25. Seattle Center Armory, Downtown Seattle. www.seattlecenter.com/winterfest.
Swansons Reindeer Festival. Visit reindeer Dasher and Comet, plus see a model train layout that incorporates water and living plants. This year's theme: Pacific Northwest Wonderland. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Dec. 24 (9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 24). Swansons Nursery, Seattle (Crown Hill). www.swansonsnursery.com.
Volunteer Park Holiday Express Train. Watch a model train make its way through lush poinsettias and a vintage winter layout at the conservatory at Volunteer Park. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through Jan. 1. $4/$2, free ages 12 and younger. Volunteer Park Conservatory, Seattle (Capitol Hill). www.volunteerparkconservatory.org.
Washington State History Museum Model Train Festival. From Dec. 21 to Jan. 1, Tacoma's Washington State History Museum becomes a paradise for model train enthusiasts. Model train enthusiasts from around the state create elaborate train layouts on each floor, each with intricate diorama scenes of the Pacific Northwest. Kids can also see railroad artifacts in the Great Hall of Washington History, try out the freight train simulator (new this year), and make creations of their own in the activity room. Santa visits 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 21-23, and the pictures are free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. closed Dec. 24-25. Included with admission, which is $14/$11, free ages 5 and younger. Washington State History Museum, Tacoma. www.wshs.org.
Bloedel Reserve Holiday Village. See a miniature village hand-made and decorated by a local artisan. Electric trains complete the scene, plus enjoy hot cocoa and cider. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 15 through Jan. 6 (closed Mondays and Dec. 25). Included with admission. $6 to $17, free ages 4 and younger with paying adult. Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island. www.bloedelreserve.org.
Santa Train. Board the Snoqualmie Valley Railroad at the decorated depot in North Bend and ride to the Snoqualmie depot for a Santa visit, music and refreshments, then return to North Bend. This is a very popular program. As of the beginning of December, all but one day was sold out. Tickets were still available for Friday Dec. 14, the Victorian Santa Train day. Trains depart hourly starting at 9 a.m. with last departure at 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays Nov. 24 through through Dec. 16, plus Friday, Dec. 14. Tickets $27, free younger than age 2, pre-register, space limited. North Bend Depot, North Bend. www.trainmuseum.org.
Polar Express. Immerse yourselves in the world of the Polar Express for a 90-minute ride, starting from the Mount Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum in Elbe, where State Route 7 crosses the Nisqually River, and going to the North Pole to pick up Santa. Trains run Nov. 16 through Dec. 31. Reserve your seat in advance. Pricing depends on whether your ticket is standard or first class and the timing of your trip. Standard-class tickets on off-peak trains: $38/$27. First-class tickets on holiday peak trains: $75/64. mtrainierrailroad.com.
Santa Steam Train. Enjoy a 30-minute steam train ride during which Santa visits the cars, with photo opportunities before and after each trip. 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. weekends through Dec. 16. Tickets $10, pre-register. Chehalis-Centralia Railroad, Chehalis. www.steamtrainride.com.
Polar Express. Evening Polar Express rides include Christmas carols, hot chocolate and cookies on the way to the "North Pole" to see Santa. Wear your warm pajamas. The ride lasts 1 hour 7 p.m. Fridays and 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 23 through Dec. 22. $38/$28, pre-register. Chehalis-Centralia Railroad, Chehalis. www.steamtrainride.com.