Sketched Nov. 30, 2019

Every holiday season since 1969, thousands of families have driven to the Northwest Railway Museum depot in North Bend to ride the throwback Santa Train to the main depot in Snoqualmie, a 7-mile round-trip tradition that I checked off my parenting list about 10 years ago, when my kids were interested in choo-choos instead of the TikToks they watch today. 

It wasn’t the same to be there last week as a spectator, but the festive atmosphere around the historical Snoqualmie Depot and nearby shops put me in the holiday spirit right away.

Although this is not a steam engine offering a Polar Express-type ride — the museum is restoring a steam engine locomotive it hopes to use in the future — the refurbished coaches that take you to see Santa Claus at the picturesque depot in Snoqualmie are as authentic as they get. Introduced in the 1910s, they took passengers from Spokane to Portland up until the early 1970s. (I recommend the coach with the 1940s interior design and wide, comfy green seats.)

Aboard the coaches, the chatty conductor punches your ticket on the way in and passes around stickers on the way back. He is one of many jolly volunteers dressed in period costumes who help make the two-hour experience quite entertaining. Santa, of course, has the hardest job, sitting patiently to listen to kids’ wishes as parents snap pictures that will forever capture an unforgettable memory.

P.S.: Don’t miss the hot cocoa and cookies inside the U.S. Army ambulance car, one of several static trains that are also part of the museum grounds.

If you go: Santa Train tickets ($28 per person) go on sale as early as August, and they sell fast. They’re already sold out for the remainder of 2019. If you missed out this year, a visit to see parked trains on the grounds is always free. Regular train rides are April through October. For more information and schedule visit trainmuseum.org.