Based on the movie The Polar Express starring Tom Hanks, the North Pole Express is a Christmas train attraction at the Railway Museum in Squamish.
Last year, the train rides took place on the weekend of November 25th and 26th as well as on December 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 9th, 10th, 16th and 17th.
Also happening around the same time, Britannia Mine offers photo opportunities with Santa Claus for families and friends. Be sure to check that out, and the Britannia Mine Museum in general, on your way up to Squamish from Vancouver. In 2024 Photos With Santa happened on December 9th and 10th and again on the 16th and 17th.
North Pole Express Christmas Train Ride
Ever wanted to wear your pyjamas and ride a magical train to the North Pole to visit Santa just like in the movie The Polar Express? You can at the railway museum in Squamish on weekends from late November until mid-December.
Where is the North Pole Express?
The North Pole Express event takes place in Squamish at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park at 39645 Government Road.
Especially if you like trains, the Railway Museum is an interesting attraction to visit any time of year. In normal years, its regular facilities are open on non-North Pole Express days in November and December, and year-round every day except for December 25th and January 1st.
North Pole Express in Squamish
The North Pole Express event took place at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park on November 25th to 26th, December 2nd to 3rd, 9th to 10th and 16th to 17th in 2023.
Around 36 trips take place in total. In past years the experience included a real train ride, cookies, hot chocolate, carol singing and other fun Christmas-y stuff! Last year was similar, but likely without the cookies and hot chocolate.
During this past winter holiday season, departures on the North Pole Express were at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm, 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm on Saturdays, and at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm on Sundays.
North Pole Express Admission Prices
There are typically two main ticket options for the North Pole Express. Tickets are sold in pairs and are per ride: Coach ($82) and First Class ($105) (these were 2023 prices). The cost is the same for everyone ages two years and older. Infants under two years are free and have to sit on someone’s lap.
The 6:00 pm departures on Saturdays are special “Night Time Rides” and tickets for these last year cost $132 for everyone. Tickets are per ride and sold in pairs. There is also the option to book an entire VIP coach, billed as the “Alberta Ride,” which seats 15 people for $1,750 (2023’s price).
All tickets include a ride on the North Pole Express train to the Squamish Estuary and back with live entertainment onboard. The First Class tickets also include a collector’s mug. Seating is reserved and parking is free. All pricing excludes GST.
What to Expect
At the North Pole Express event you can expect to see lots of young families, a few people in their pyjamas, and trains (both real and toy) all over the place. There are also volunteers (mostly retired men) wearing conductor uniforms, and teenagers dressed as characters from the movie. It’s a very merry place!
Attendees park their cars, walk to the front gate, collect their golden tickets and make their way to the train station waiting room. When the train is ready to board people are directed to their respective train cars, with First Class passengers going first. The train is a real, full-sized locomotive!
The Train Experience
Once everyone is settled into their seats the head conductor blows his whistle and the train sets off. Passengers remain seated for the entire 50-minute journey.
During the trip the conductor in charge of each car provides commentary and cooking staff serve the cookies and candy canes. Part of the North Pole Express story is read out loud over the speaker system and there are cameo appearances by characters from the movie. Christmas music from the film plays in the background for some of the time, and passengers participate in a few minutes of carol singing.
Around 50 or so minutes after departure the train returns to the station, passengers disembark and everyone makes their way to the North Pole (which is located indoors in the main museum building).
The North Pole Experience
The fun doesn’t end with the train ride. In the North Pole there are lots more things to see and do.
North Pole attractions typically include treats like hot chocolate and cotton candy, miniature train displays, real-life locomotives to climb aboard, craft activity stations, gingerbread cookies to decorate, and Santa and Mrs. Claus to visit. Participants also get a free ride on the miniature train.
About the Movie
The North Pole Express Christmas attraction at Squamish’s railway museum is based on the animated Hollywood movie The Polar Express. Released in 2004 and produced with a budget of $165 million, it was the most expensive animated movie of its time.
Both narrated by and starring Tom Hanks, and based on the book The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, the film is about a young boy who no longer believes in Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve, in the middle of the night, the magical Polar Express train arrives and takes him to the North Pole.
On the journey the boy meets a conductor, Santa, and a hobo (all voice-acted by Tom Hanks in the movie). He also meets other children including a poor kid named Billy. Together they travel to the North Pole and along the way the young protagonist discovers the “meaning of Christmas” and reasons to believe in Santa.
Tips & Advice
Below is some extra information to help you make the most of your North Pole Express experience when it runs at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park.
Suggestions for Before You Go
TIP #1: The North Pole Express attraction sells out. To avoid disappointment, reserve your spots well in advance.
TIP #2: Watch the movie or read the book before going to the attraction. Doing so will enhance the experience and help you understand what’s going on.
TIP #3: Give yourself lots of time to get to the venue. Squamish is close to an hour’s drive from Vancouver’s North Shore in good traffic, parking is a five-minute walk from the venue, and trains depart at the beginning of your designated time slot. To avoid unnecessary stress and tears, don’t be late!
TIP #4: Vehicles driving the Sea to Sky Highway in November and December are required to have good winter tires (and in some years they really do need them).
TIP #5: When snow is on the ground it makes the train ride scenery even more magical and like the story in the movie. It can also make driving conditions more challenging (and increase the likelihood of timid winter drivers forfeiting their trips because they don’t want to drive). If you want a better chance of there not being snow, go in November or on the first weekend in December.
Other Tips and Things to Know
TIP #1: The North Pole Express is a popular attraction with young families. The ideal age for kids is probably between four and 10, although both older and younger children can enjoy it too. Young kids (and adults) who love trains will especially have a blast!
TIP #2: Expect to spend at least a couple of hours at the North Pole Express attraction. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your scheduled departure, or even earlier just in case. The train ride itself lasts for about 50 minutes. And finally, at the end, you can spend time at the North Pole.
TIP #3: The North Pole Express attraction is almost 100% indoors, so it’s good even on rainy days. Prior to the train’s departure you can wait indoors in the station. The train ride is completely indoors (inside the train car), and the North Pole activities are in a couple of the museum’s buildings. Pretty much the only outside time you’ll have is walking from your car in the parking lot to the train station and from the train to the North Pole.
TIP #4: If the weather is good, combine your trip to the Railway Museum with a visit to other places of interest. Alice Lake and Shannon Falls are both close by and nice to explore on sunny days. Britannia Mine is a national heritage site just a few minutes away and an interesting place to visit regardless of the weather. And the Sea to Sky Gondola offers a fun experience and amazing views.
For more information about the railway museum, see our article about the West Coast Railway Heritage Park.
For tickets and more information about the North Pole Express Christmas attraction, see the Railway Museum‘s official website.
For lists of Christmas-y things to do in other parts of the Lower Mainland, check out the following: