No need for sleigh rides when you can ride the rails
Twinkling holiday lights reflect in the canyon and creek beds along the Big South Fork River as the train makes its way through the gorge. “It’s magical, so beautiful with all the colors,” says Becki Egnew, vice president of Big South Fork Scenic Railway. The train is no ordinary one; it’s the South Fork Santa Express, and the twinkling is new this year. The train is draped with multicolored decorative lights for holiday trips, and they reflect on the water and rocks throughout the 1-1/2-hour ride. It wouldn’t be the Santa Express without Santa, so the jolly old elf is not only on board but he moves throughout the train and visits with children. Dressed in pajamas or holiday attire, each child receives a surprise. Parents are encouraged to take photos.
Next stop: The North Pole
Kentucky Railway Museum’s North Pole Express is a 1-1/2-hour evening excursion where the sounds of the season fill the train and hot chocolate and cookies fill guests’ stomachs. Once passengers reach the North Pole, Santa gets on board and travels with them back to the station at New Haven, where children can go into the depot to have their photo made with Santa. Small groups can also book the private Kentucky Car for an additional fee (limited availability; call to reserve). For a daytime excursion, the museum’s annual 2-hour Santa Express from New Haven to Boston might be just the ticket. Santa is aboard, along with a snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The holiday characters go through each car and Santa visits with the children. The 22-mile trip goes through the Rolling Fork River Valley in a restored passenger train.
Home for the holidays
To jumpstart the holiday season, the Bluegrass Railroad Museum in Versailles offers a special “Home for the Holidays” trip on November 29. “My wife and I were talking after Thanksgiving one year,” says Executive Director John Penfield. “It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We had finished eating and visiting with our out-of-town guests. So now what do we do? My wife thought of this special Thanksgiving weekend train as an opportunity to get out of the house and do something fun.”
Starting just 1.5 miles from downtown Versailles, the train excursion takes passengers through horse farms and deep limestone cuts to the Kentucky River. Once there, everyone gets an opportunity to stop at the edge of an 1889 bridge towering 285 feet above the river and have their photo taken in front of the engine and the scenic overlook.
The group also offers a Santa Claus Train on December 13-14 and 20-21.
For an all-ages elegant holiday train experience, the R.J. Corman Railroad Group transforms the Lexington Dinner Train and the My Old Kentucky Dinner Train in Bardstown into the North Pole Express during the first three Sundays in December. Beginning behind Rupp Arena, the Lexington train weaves through area horse farms to Versailles. The Bardstown train travels past historic sites and distilleries, over the Jackson Trestle Bridge, and through Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. Adults can savor a Hot Brown or prime rib sandwich while children have a choice of chicken tenders or prime rib sandwich. Santa and Mrs. Claus greet and join visitors for the 1-1/2-hour trip on historically restored 1940s dining cars.
Big South Fork Scenic Railway-Big South Fork Santa Express
Kentucky Railway Museum-Santa Express
Bluegrass Railroad Museum-Home for the Holidays Train
R.J. Corman Railroad Group–North Pole Express
Debra Gibson Isaacs from November 2014 Issue Kentucky Railway Museum