Those in the Black Hills area looking for a unique Christmas tradition should look no further than the 1880 Train’s Holiday Express. This hour-long ride transports passengers to the North Pole, picking up Santa Claus himself along the way.

Holli Edwards, 1880 Train business development manager in Hill City, sees the Holiday Express as a great way to get in the holiday spirit.

What is the history of the 1880 Train?

Holli Edwards: The 1880 Train was started initially by Bill Heckman [on August 18, 1957]. We just celebrated our 60th anniversary this summer.[The train] goes from Hill City to Keystone, and it’s the original route of the Burlington-Northern. The whole idea was to bring back the history of the steam train and really have people take a step back in time and experience for themselves what it used to be like in that era.

What is special about the Holiday Express?

HE: On board, guests get served cookies and hot cocoa, and there are elves and Mrs. Claus. The best part is seeing the faces of children when they see Santa Claus. We see so many people that are making this their annual tradition to spend time together.

“It’s just a festive experience, and is one where you can see all generations come together from all over to create these lasting memories.”

Can passengers actually meet Santa Claus and the conductor?

HE: We do have a conductor and a brakeman on board. They go through the train and talk with the passengers, and then we pick up Santa Claus at the North Pole. Santa rides the train back to the station. We share a story on the way to the North Pole, and that story talks about how Santa comes and gives a bell to the kids, and they ring them on Christmas Eve so Santa knows where to find them. He then hands out one of those bells to each of the children on the train, and that way they can get a photo with him if they would like.

What are some of the reactions families have had?

HE: It’s just excitement. So many of the kids come with their letters for Santa. Some of them are so excited, and then there’s some that don’t know what to do and get a little shy when they see him. A lot of kids bring him and Mrs. Claus gifts and little notes, so it’s just fun to see.

Are there any other food and drinks served at the Holiday Express?

HE: Along with the hot cocoa and sugar cookies, we also offer a Holiday Express Spiked run. It’s an adult-only run, and that includes a spiked hot cocoa, so they’re able to have a little [Peppermint] Schnapps in their cocoa for the ride. We also have beer and wine for sale in the depot that people can take on board if they wish.

tickets are recommended to purchase in advance to ensure a spot. space is available for groups up to 20 or more. For more information, visit

Holiday Express Hill City

Departures Dates + Times:

Dec. 2
12:45 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:15* p.m.

Dec. 9
12:45 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:15* p.m.

Dec. 16
12:45 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:15* p.m.

Dec. 17
12:45 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:15 p.m.

Dec. 22-23
12:45 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:15, 6 p.m.

*Includes Holiday Express Spiked

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