Switch Tracks: Give A Holiday Train Ride

Switch tracks and give them an experience by treating them to a Christmas train ride.

In Western Washington, several operators offer short, scenic Christmas-theme train trips that feature everything from a train-riding Santa Claus and storytellers to hot chocolate and Christmas-tree cutting.

Most of the trains run the first three weekends in December, although some have more extended hours. The trips range from about 20 minutes to 5 1/2 hours. Prices are mostly around $6 to $10 per adult, but vary from free (for infants) to $40 for a lunch excursion in a vintage 1940s train.

Reservations are required for the longer train rides; others are first-come, first-served. If reservations are accepted, make one soon: The Snoqualmie Valley Railroad's Santa train already is sold out.

Here are details on some of the trains:

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad -- Trains leave from the village of Elbe on the southwest side of Mount Rainier and trundle through the woods to Elbe and back on a 70-minute round trip. Santa and his helpers will be aboard the train. Trains depart on Dec. 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22 at 11 a.m., 12:30, 2 and 3.30 p.m Prices are $6 for adults, $3 for children. No reservations are taken; the railroad suggests people arrive at least 30 minutes before departure. For more information, contact the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, Box 921, Elbe, WA 98330. Phone 1-569-2588.

Lewis & Clark Railway -- For a real treat, plan an all-day excursion for this Christmas train ride - and get yourself a Christmas tree along the way.

The Lewis & Clark Railway runs from Battle Ground, just north of Vancouver, Clark County, to East Amboy. The round trip takes about 5 1/2 hours, including a 1 1/2-hour stop at a Christmas tree farm where you can choose a tree and take it back on the train with you (Douglas firs cost $18; Noble firs are $24).

Aboard the train, which holds 400 people, there will be storytellers and Santa Claus (although at times Santa may meet passengers at the tree farm instead). On some trips, school choirs will sing aboard the train.

Tickets are $18 for adults, $9 per child aged 3 to 15 (babies or toddlers who don't occupy a seat are free). On Fridays, children pay a reduced price of $5. There's a small snack bar aboard the train, but passengers would do best to bring their own lunch.

Those who want more style and comfort can ride (and pay more) in a restored 1940s parlor car which seats about 35 people. It costs $40 per person and includes a continental breakfast and buffet lunch (reduced price of $30 on Fridays).

The train leaves once a day at 10:30 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 29 through Dec. 22. Advance reservations are required and can be paid by credit card by phone. Contact the Lewis & Clark Railway, P.O. Box 604, Battle Ground WA 98604. Phone 1-687-2626.

-- The Camp 6 Logging Museum in Tacoma offers a much shorter train ride and one closer to home for Seattleites. The train leaves from the museum in Tacoma's Point Defiance Park; it winds through the woods - and Santa is aboard for the kids.

The train leaves every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on three weekends in December: Dec. 7 and 8, Dec. 14 and 15, Dec. 21 and 22. It's first-come, first-served; the ride, in a covered and decorated logging flat car, takes about 20 minutes. In evenings in December, the zoo in Point Defiance Park also is decorated with tens of thousands of lights.

The train ride costs $1 per person for those aged 3 to 99. Over or under that age, you ride free. For more information, contact the Camp 6 Logging Museum, P.O. Box 340, Tacoma WA 98401. Phone 1-752-0047.

-- Merry-makers also can ride on the Lake Whatcom Railway. It's running four trains a day on three Saturdays before Christmas: Dec. 7, 14 and 21. The train leaves at 9 and 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. from the depot near Wickersham, north of Sedro-Woolley on Highway 9. Allow about two hours driving time from Seattle. The train holds about 200 people; Santa will be aboard the train, and elves will hand out candy canes to children.

Tickets are $10 for those 18 and over; $5 for children aged 2 through 17; infants are free. Tickets should be bought in advance: contact Lake Whatcom Railway, P.O. Box 91, Acme, WA 98220. Phone 1-595-2218.

-- If you were hoping to take a ride on the Snoqualmie Valley Railroad's Christmas train, you're out of luck. All tickets are sold.

-- And if you were hoping to take the Christmas train around Tacoma's Freight House Square shopping area, you're also out of luck. They couldn't get rail cars this year but hope to be back on line next Christmas. Nor is the Centralia-Chehalis Railroad offering Christmas rides, but it hopes to next year.