10 Tips For Riding The Polar Express

Bryson City, North Carolina

Written By Christy Evers

  1. Purchase tickets in advance

This is #1 because if you don’t have this tip in place, nothing else matters! Even though the Polar Express train rides don’t begin until November, they sell out fast, much earlier! Last year I waited too late and wasn’t able to go. This year I purchased my tickets in July to make sure I didn’t miss out again! I highly suggest purchasing tickets before August.

2. Wear Pajamas

It’s highly encouraged to wear pajamas for both young and old alike. Allow yourself to be immersed in the story and dress in pajamas like the characters in the book! My daughter and I got all decked out! Matching PJ’s light up necklaces and festive head wear. The more you get into it, the more fun you’ll have!

3. Shop and dine Local (be a responsible tourist)

If you know me, you know I always I encourage responsible tourism. Don’t litter, be kind and courteous and shop and dine local and tip generously. While this is a fun little trip for you, a good many towns people rely on tourism dollars to put food on their tables and pay their bills. Please respect this charming town and it’s friendly inhabitants by supporting and respecting this amazing town!

4. See the local sites

The Polar Express doesn’t start it’s journey to the North Pole until the evening, so you’ll have the entire morning and afternoon to explore!

After breakfast, we started our day by visiting the Road to Nowhere and did a 3 waterfall hike which were both approximately 15 minutes from where we stayed in Bryson City and both literally a straight shot, down the road from downtown.

The Road to nowhere looks a bit creepy and mysterious where a highway leads to a tunnel where the road abruptly ends with nowhere else to go.

I’ve seen pictures and heard about this spot for years, and was thrilled to learn I was so close. I had to check it out!

The drive to the tunnel is gorgeous and offers a couple nice look over points.

The Story Behind “The Road to Nowhere”

Psssttt. . . . Come here. Closer! I’m gonna give you the low-down on the Road to Nowhere. Here’s the scoop. In the 1930s and 1940s, the County gave up the majority of its private land to the Government to create Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hundreds of people were forced to leave their communities that had been their homes for generations. As a matter of fact, the Front Desk Clerk at the hotel where we stayed said her Grandmothers family was among those who were forced to leave their homes. With the creation of the Park, their homes were gone, and so was Old Highway 288 the road to the communities. The old road was buried beneath Fontana Lake.

The government promised to replace the Highway with a new road. But, due to environmental issues, construction was stopped with the road ending at a tunnel, approximately six miles into the park, was eventually deemed too expensive and the roadwork was never resumed. Swain County’s citizens gave the unfinished Lakeview Drive its popular, albeit unofficial name “The Road To Nowhere – A broken promise” It is a beautiful drive tho, I have to say.

It took us a little less than 5 minutes to walk through the tunnel at a comfortable, unhurried pace. It did get really dark in the middle. Creepy. Take a flashlight or have your phone charged to use it’s light if you aren’t fond of the dark.

Apparently there are free hugs offered. I don’t recommend.

After the road to nowhere we still had time to make our way towards Deep Creek’s Three Waterfall Loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a relatively easy hike only a few miles straight down the road from downtown Bryson that offers views of three different waterfalls. Start the loop by hiking the Juney Whank Falls Trail to Juney Whank Falls that offers a quaint footbridge taking you directly across the falls. the trail then leads to Tom Branch falls, located on a spacious and flat trail with benches and natural seating which offers the perfect spot to sit and enjoy the scenery, maybe even a snack. My personal favorite.

The trail then takes you to Indian Creek falls, tucked away behind the trees that has a small viewing area requiring steps to be taken in order to get a good view.

You can take the full Scenic waterfall loop, which will take you to 11 different waterfalls. However, since you have a train to catch in the evening and you’ll most likely want time to eat lunch, rest and clean up before your trip to the North Pole, it’s best to do the Three waterfall hike which is about 2.4 miles in distance. It’s best to take at least 2-3 hours to enjoy the hike.

5. Take the earlier train to watch the sunset/ later trains if you want full darkness

The current train schedule, during this filming, ran at 5:00, 6:40 & 8:20PM. If you’re a sunset chaser, like me, you’ll want to take the 5:00, or earlier train (if there’s a time difference years from now) where you’ll get the best of both worlds. You can zip across the NC country side, take in the rivers, streams, hills and country homes as the sun sets, then enjoy the full North Pole illumination of lights in darkness on the return.

If you want the full effects of the festive lights, then the later times will be best for you.

It’s beautiful either way.

6. Bring your Holiday Spirit!

Whoo hoooo!!!! No Scrooges allowed! Well, that’s another movie anyway. The servers and cast put on a good show, but nothing beats good ol’ audience participation. The more pajamas, cheers, singing, applause and response, the more fun it is for everyone! Don’t be a Grinch, also a different story. Anyway, you get the idea. Festive-up my fellow Polar Express believers!

7. Arrive at least an hour early

When you arrive at least an hour early it allows plenty of time to park, pick up you tickets and find where you’ll be boarding. Don’t worry if things go smoothly, which they did for me, and you end up having extra time between your arrival and your train time, there are a bunch of cute shops, restaurants to grab a bite, a train museum included in your ticket price for no extra cost. There’s so much to keep you busy while you wait.

8. Read & save the instruction e-mail

Once you purchase your tickets, you will receive an email confirmation of payment as well as important details. Save this e-mail and refer to it before and during your trip! It contains important information such as parking information, ticket pick up, what to do if you need to cancel, safety information, updates, what is permitted to take on board and what is not, as well as contact information.

9. Don’t rule out Early November!

The first Polar Express Train ride sets out in the first part of November. I know, I know, I know. There’s a good part of the world that frowns upon doing anything Christmas-y before Thanksgiving.

That being said, I need to let you know that there are great advantages to riding the Polar Express in early November, before Thanksgiving, rather than after. First, the weather is a lot nicer and you’ll be able to catch the tail end of peak fall colors. It’s a beautiful time of year to visit Bryson City. The weather will be much more pleasant for outdoor explorations and walking around town. We were here on Nov. 13th and didn’t need more than a hoodie.

10. The Train Museum is included in the price of your Polar Express Ticket

This is information I wish I knew before I went on my trip to Bryson City. It is not explained clearly on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad web-site that admission to the Train Museum is included in your ticket price. I don’t have any inside pictures or footage as a result, because I didn’t realize, until after I got home that I could have been able to visit the museum at no extra cost. It’s right there, next to the train depot, so it’s a great place to visit for train enthusiasts, or to give you something to do while waiting for your train, or finding a place to spend some time if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Thanks for joining in to hear about my top 10 tips for riding the Polar Express in Bryson City, North Carolina. Have you been before? Let me know if there’s any tips that you think would be helpful for people to know. Are you making plans to ride the Polar Express Next year? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for joining in. I appreciate you!

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