Skip to Content

Ride the Polar Express in the Great Smoky Mountains

Ride the Polar Express in the Great Smoky Mountains

Are you looking for fun and unique adventures for your kids this winter? Then, climb aboard the Smoky Mountains Polar Express!

You and your family will feel as if you’ve been transported into the story, and the experience will be sure to please even the oldest ‘children.’

Read on to find out where and how you can take the train ride of a lifetime. You and your kids will love it!

Let’s go!

About the Great Smoky Mountains Polar Express

The 1985 book, The Polar Express, written by Chris Van Allsburg, inspired the Polar Express ride in the Great Smoky Mountains. In the book, a boy is taken to the North Pole via a magical train ride to receive a special gift from Santa. 

Passengers on the Smoky Mountains Polar Express receive a golden train ticket to board the festive vintage coaches. From the moment you step on the train, you’re immersed in the atmosphere of the movie. 

Once aboard, the conductor comes by and stamps your ticket. The staff on the train delight you with Christmas cheer, warm cocoa, and cookies as you make your way to North Pole Village. 

In the North Pole, 62,000 colorful lights and Santa himself will greet you. Old Saint Nick boards the train to ask the children what they want for Christmas and gives each one a silver sleigh bell. 

Pro Tip: Want to seek out more festive experiences this holiday season? Check out The Best Drive-Through Christmas Lights in America.

The Polar Express on train tracks
Feeling festive? Ride The Polar Express through the Great Smoky Mountains!

Where Is the Great Smoky Mountains Polar Express?

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad hosts The Polar Express. The train departs from the historic Bryson City Depot, along the Great Smoky Mountain National Park border. 

The train depot is right in the heart of Bryson City at 45 Mitchell Street. Near the depot, charming shops and eateries are all decorated in twinkling lights for the Holiday Season. Oh, and if you love fudge, you might want to check out the local fudge shop that’s been in Bryson City since 1978! 

The Bryson City Depot is one hour from Asheville, two hours from Knoxville, and three hours from Atlanta, Charlotte, and Chattanooga. 

How Long is the Polar Express Train Ride?

The Polar Express ride meanders through the forests, over rivers, to the north pole, and back in 75 jolly minutes. According to the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad website, you want to arrive 60 minutes before your train leaves. 

You can make your Polar Express experience last an entire day by enjoying the town of Bryson, including the Smoky Mountains Train Museum. Your train ticket includes admission to the museum. 

The museum has a tremendous collection of model trains on display, some behind glass and others operating in an impressive exhibit. There’s even an interactive area where you can control some trains. Depending on your interest level, you can spend up to two hours exploring the museum. 

Two boys meeting Santa on the Polar Express.
Meet Santa on the 75 minutes Polar Express experience.

When is the Best Time to Ride the Polar Express?

Tickets for the Polar Express are sold from April to December and sell out quickly. The Polar Express only runs from mid-November to the end of December. 

If you’re interested in saving money and a chance for fewer crowds, try to book a weekday and off-peak ride. You can also save money by purchasing tickets in the crown or coach class coaches. 

The most expensive tickets are on Christmas Eve and the train led by the 1942 Steam of the Smokies locomotive. 

Trains depart the depot beginning at 5 pm. If you’re interested in a sunset ride, you might want to choose this earlier ride. However, if you’re going to enjoy Bryson City in all its Christmas glory, you might opt for one of the later train rides. 

The Polar Express
Catch The Polar Express from mid-November through December.

Best Hikes Near the Polar Express

The Polar Express train ride is just outside the Great Smoky Mountain National Parks and its more than 150 hiking trails. We narrowed it down for you and selected two gorgeous and short hikes: Deep Creek Waterfall Loop and Goldmine Loop Trail. 

Deep Creek Waterfall Loop

At around 2.5 miles, the Deep Creek Waterfall loop is a heavily trafficked path with three waterfalls along the way. The loop also has scenic wooden footbridges over Deep Creek and in front of the 90-foot Juney Whank Falls. 

The loop follows three different trails but begins at the same place. The trailhead is at the Deep Creek Falls and Trail Parking lot at W. Deep Creek Rd and Tom Branch Road. 

We recommend paying attention to the signage throughout the hike and using a GPS if you can. 

Ok, here’s the hike. Begin your trek at Deep Creek Trail. Follow it north to reach the 60 foot high Tom Branch Falls. Continue along Deep Creek Trail until it meets Indian Creek Trail. Stick to Indian Creek Trail to check out the 25 foot Indian Creek Falls. 

Next, you’ll want to head right back to the section of the Indian Creek Trail you were on and head NW. Keep going on Indian Creek. When you see Deep Creek Horse Trail, follow it to Juney Whank Falls. After the falls, keep walking on the horse trail, and it will lead you right back to the parking lot. 

Goldmine Loop Trail 

If you’re interested in a slightly longer walk, you might want to check out Goldmine Loop Trail. It’s a three-mile heavily trafficked loop with lake views of Goldmine Branch. The quality of the scenery depends on the water levels.

The trailhead is at the parking lot on Lakeview Dr. Like Deep Creek Waterfall Loop, Goldmine Loop Trail follows three different paths, one of which follows the Road to Nowhere Tunnel. 

The federal government originally built the 1,200-foot tunnel for a scenic drive along Lakeshore Trail but never completed it. Now, visitors can stroll through the tunnel and experience a little bit of history. 

Ok, let’s start the hike. The most straightforward route is to take the paved Lakeshore Trail through the Road to Nowhere Tunnel and Goldmine Loop Trail. Continue on Goldmine until it meets Tunnel Bypass Trail. Lastly, take the bypass back to the parking lot. 

Start your hike on the Tunnel Bypass Trail if you want to avoid the Road to Nowhere Tunnel Tunnel Tun. Follow it north until it meets Lakeshore Trail. Take Lakeshore southwest to Goldmine Loop Trail and follow the Tunnel Bypass Trail to the parking lot. 

Best Camping Near the Polar Express

We found two RV parks within five minutes of the Polar Express. Although they don’t have much in the way of amenities, you can’t beat the location. 

Grumpy Bear RV Park & Campground

Not only does Grumpy Bear RV Park & Campground have a clever name, but it’s also fabulously situated along the Tuckasegee River. 

The campground is small, with only 20 tight gravel full hookup campsites. Some of the sites are riverfront, while others are off-river. 

The RV park is proud of its clean bathhouse with individual bathrooms, showers, and dressing areas. There is also an onsite laundry facility. 

Location: 2030 Old River Rd., Bryson City, NC 28713

Big Bear’s RV Park

With 35 gravel full hookup campsites, Big Bear’s RV Park is slightly larger than Grumpy Bear. The RV park is split in two by W Deep Creek Rd. Roughly half the sites are on the west side of the road and the other half on the east side. Some of the campsites are right on beautiful Deep Creek. All camps have picnic tables and fire rings. 

There’s a large communal area for campground bonfires and gatherings. If you decide to camp at Big Bear’s, make sure you have a self-contained RV because there is no bathhouse on site. There is also no camp office. 

Location: 855 W Deep Creek Rd., Bryson City, NC 28713

Pro Tip: Want to decorate your RV for the holiday season, but don’t know what is safe? We uncovered Is It Safe to Have a Christmas Tree in Your RV?

Is a Road Trip to Ride the Great Smoky Mountain Polar Express Worth It? 

Absolutely! Not only is the Polar Express a memorable experience, but there are many other activities in Bryson City to entertain the entire family for days on end.

Have you ridden the Polar Express? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *