All aboard for a ride to the North Pole-Watch out for the Elves!
Ask yourself, what could be better than a train ride? How about a train ride at night on a vintage steam engine? As one popular train-loving scientist would say “oh goody, oh goody, oh goody”! Like Dr. Sheldon Cooper, I have always loved to ride trains, and the 1880 Train in Hill City is worth the time in any season, but during the festive months of November and December, the magic is amped up as the train transforms into the Holiday Express. I’m not sure how they do it, but I’m betting elves are involved.
Having grown up in the Black Hills, I have ridden the 1880 Train on multiple occasions for a wide-range of reasons, and have enjoyed it every time. Of course the reasons have changed throughout the years, it used to be birthday parties and school outings, now it’s bachelorette parties and wine excursions. But the excitement I felt as a child has never lessened. My best friend worked on the train during the summers and her fondest memories often involved children. The look of awe when they stood next to the massive engine and heard the scream of the whistle for the first time. Many kids had never seen a train and were almost comatose with excitement at the thought of being able to ride on one. I can only imagine how giddy they would be if they knew Santa and Mrs. Claus were waiting to give them presents when the train stopped at the North Pole. Just in case you’re wondering, it is an amazingly short ride to the North Pole on the 1880 Train, some sort of Holiday magic I believe.
The yards of sparkly lights on the engine and the decorated depot make the experience even more fantastical. So Leave your bah humbug at home and embrace the holiday spirit!
The trek takes about an hour, and is truly breathtaking on a winter night when the moon is full and there is snow on the ground. I can’t help but feel that I’ve stepped back in time to a decade before smartphones and Facebook, where families spent time together away from the TV, and train travel was the height of fashion and technology. Of course that whimsy only lasts as long as it takes me to snap a couple of pictures and post them on Instagram. I have to share this experience with my followers!
I have ridden great trains like the Eurostar from London to Paris (it was fast, smooth-running and comfortable). And the less-amazing like the Amtrak from Fargo to Minot ND (we boarded at 3:00 AM in December, the toilets froze and the person next to me kept elbowing me in their sleep). But the 1880 Train has always been a great adventure no matter the time of year or the reason for the trip.
Before you board, or after you get back from your visit to the North Pole, stop by the South Dakota State Railroad Museum located right next to the depot. During the holidays, they celebrate with a Trees and Trains exhibit that displays over 20 different themed Christmas trees and scale-model train sets. You might find me there, hunting for Elves amongst the displays.
If trains aren’t your thing, and they should be, click here to see other winter activities that the area has to offer! But I highly recommend taking the 1880 Train Holiday Express, because when else will you get the opportunity to tell people you traveled on a train to the North Pole?