5 Reasons to Ride the Santa Train in Blue Ridge


Santa Claus gives his undivided attention to each child on the Express Train round trip out of Blue Ridge.

Santa or his helpers show up a lot of places every December, but I had never met one with a big entourage until riding the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.

Train buffs might delight in the century-old depot or in knowing the tracks were first laid in this northwest Georgia town in 1886.

The rest of us can immerse in the magic of Christmas because this railroad crew believes too.


Look-alike Elf on the Shelf elves stroll the train cars, readily posing for photos.

“We wait all year for the Santa Train,” says cheerful conductor Ray Leader. “The other trains all year are delightful, but it’s the Santa Express and Night Train we love best.”

Mrs. Claus told me the same thing; Santa himself was too busy eyeball-to-eyeball with the little kids to entertain a question.

This Santa’s totally focused

Santa gave his undivided attention to each child on my train car, one at a time. He didn’t lump brothers and sisters together as a group to move on quickly. He also gives each one a jingle bell on a ribbon, keepsakes perhaps to hang on your own tree.

Babies in arms? Santa seemed skilled at cooing and comforting while brand-new parents barely focused photos because they were grinning so broadly.

Teamwork from this North Pole entourage

Elves dressed like Christmas trees or gingerbread men strolled about, chatting with children and the adults they brought with them.

Then they positioned themselves in that alluring open-air space where train cars are coupled, building readiness for the arrival of another character.

Skillful timing: just enough downtime to look out the windows at Toccoa River scenery, winding through the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Children giggle with Rudolph on the Santa Train, but save their belief for Santa.

Rudolph doesn’t fool the kids—easy to see he’s a man with a costume but I got the feeling seeing him as pretend reinforced their faith in Santa.

Stories, songs and colors

“Twas the Night Before Christmas” became reason enough for children to gather in the center of the car with for a reading of the fabled poem.

A gift of individual crayons and coloring books, including traditional Christmas songs, lured many children to artwork, only to look up when the next visitors arrived—boy and girl elves that look like the Elf on the Shelf in many households.

That caused a ripple of recognition in the children around me, and requests for photos.

Keeping up with Santa

The young-boy elf sticking close to Santa’s elbow presented a candy cane to each child and Mrs. Santa guided little ones toward photo-friendly positions and comfortably chatted with adults awaiting their child’s turn.

Faith and hope like the Christmas message resonate with her, she said, after a 33-year career in juvenile justice.


Learning about train travel peering through the back window of car #549.

Experiencing the train

If you can possibly veer from the magic of Christmas, ride intentionally to show the kids what train travel was like for other generations, and how people get around on other continents.

Don’t just sit in your double-facing wide seats—look out the big windows at the passing countryside and cross into another train car. Some are climate-controlled, all enclosed, and some are open-air.

More about the train



1:00 pm and 3:00 pm rides through Christmas Eve

Train schedules every month except January and February.

Other special themes include Easter Eggspress, Firecracker Special, Pumpkin Pickin’ and New Year’s Eve.

Photo Credit: Jodi Broadaway Dunn

Christine 12. 2007 4Christine Tibbetts claimed Georgia as her home state in 1972.  She covers Georgia destinations, and the world, always offering prompts for exceptional experiences and opportunities to muse. Tibbetts earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the prestigious School of Journalism at the University of Missouri and is the recipient of numerous gold, silver and merit awards from North American Travel Journalists Association writing competitions. Follow her at www.TibbettsTravel.com.

9 Holiday Traditions Outside Atlanta

From train rides to light displays, Georgia is full of holiday traditions!

Photo Credit: SAM Shortline

Photo Credit: SAM Shortline

December 19th & 20th: Climb on board the SAM Shortline for a holiday train ride through southwest Georgia! SAM Shortline offers three holiday-themed excursions – The North Pole Express, Breakfast with Santa Train and Supper with Santa Train.

Through December 23rd: Celebrate a true antebellum Christmas at the Old Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville! Witness the mansion transform into a scene from the 1800s on a guided tour, offered Tuesday-Sunday. Admission is $10.

December 27th & 28th: Get rid of your old tree at North Georgia Zoo and Farm’s Tree Toss! All those who donate a tree will receive $1 off their admission and the opportunity to see how animals react to recycled trees. 

Photo Credit: Chehaw

Photo Credit: Chehaw

Through December 28th: Drive or take a magical ride on the Wiregrass Express through the Festival of Lights at Chehaw in Albany. Admission is $15 per vehicle

Through December 28th: Light up the night & help feed the hungry at TMT Farms’ spectacular holiday light display. Admission is free but donations of non-perishable food items are encouraged. The food will be distributed to needy families throughout the region.

Through December 30th: Snuggle up on a memorable train ride through the Okefenokee Swamp Park Annual Light Show. The trains travel along a 1.25-mile rail, where thousands of lights and numerous outdoor displays can be viewed. There is even a miniature train just for little ones!

Photo Credit: Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

Photo Credit: Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

Through December 31st: Take a train ride with Santa on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway!  The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway offers two holiday train rides including the Santa Express and a Night Train ride to Santa’s Pavillion.

Photo Credit: Cornelia Main Street

Photo Credit: Cornelia Main Street

Through January 1, 2015: Ice skate, go on a hayride, roast marshmallows, meet Santa Claus and explore the Elf Workshop at the famous Cornelia Christmas Light Spectacular.

Through January 25, 2015: Hit the ice at The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro! The 6,000-square-foot Ice Rink is open to the public for $20 for children and $30 for adults.

1470250_10201404779337586_897188189_nLauren Cleland is the voice of Explore Georgia on social media. She loves ice cold sweet tea, anything peach flavored, channeling Scarlett O’Hara in her daily life and sharing the wonders of her beloved Georgia with all of you!

Top 10 Georgia Conservancy Trips for 2015


Since 1967, the Georgia Conservancy has been guiding trips across the state that showcase Georgia’s imperiled natural resources and provide the public with the opportunity to advocate for their protection. We use our network of partners and peers to provide access to barrier islands, river systems and nature preserves normally inaccessible or off-limits to the public.

From Cloudland Canyon to Cumberland Island – we hike, paddle and conserve this state!

What started out as a half-dozen trips per year for a handful of Conservancy members has grown into a program that can serve hundreds of people each weekend, many from communities of color that have historically not been included in outdoor recreation opportunities.

Our expanded 2015 offering of service weekends, adventure trips and Heartland Rivers of Georgia paddles, will touch every corner of the state and provide outdoor enthusiasts, from novice to seasoned, a unique introduction to Georgia’s incredible natural resources.

Our hand-selected Top 10 Trips of 2015 are open for registration! The rest of our Stewardship Trips will roll out in seasonal releases across 2015. Fear of missing out on a great time? Become a Georgia Conservancy supporter to receive notification of trip releases and Conservancy updates!

Thank you to REI for their leadership and support of the Georgia Conservancy’s Stewardship Trips Program!


2015 Georgia Conservancy Stewardship Trips

Date Top 10 Trips of 2015 and CI Service – Open For Registration Trip Type
Jan. 16 – 18 Cumberland Island Service Weekend Service Trip
Jan. 30 – Feb. 1 Cabretta Beach / Blackbeard Island Adventure GA Bucket List Trip
Feb. 21 Satilla River Day Paddle Heartland Rivers Paddle
Mar. 20 – 22 Altamaha River to Sea Paddle Heartland Rivers Paddle
May 15 – 17 Augusta Canal Paddle Heartland Rivers Paddle
Jun. 5 – 7 Conasauga Snorkel and Mulberry Gap Adventure GA Bucket List Trip
Jun. 26 – 28 Flint River Paddle at Rocky Bend Reserve Heartland Rivers Paddle
Jul. 10 – 12 Len Foote Hike Inn Service Weekend Service Trip
Aug. 8 The Grand Columbus Whitewater Paddle GA Bucket List Trip
Sept. 12 – 13 Flint River Family Adventure Heartland Rivers Paddle
Nov. 6 – 8 Ocmulgee Water Trails Paddle Heartland Rivers Paddle
Date Winter Release – January 21 Trip Type
Mar. 14 – 15 Flint River Deluxe Paddle at Montezuma Bluff Heartland Rivers Paddle
Apr. 10 Ochlockonee River Paddle at Sweet Grass Dairy Heartland Rivers Paddle
Apr. 24 – 26 Three Rivers Paddle and Broxton Rocks Tour Heartland Rivers Paddle
May 8-10 Ogeechee River Paddle and Ossabaw Island Tour Heartland Rivers Paddle
Date Summer Release – May 20 Trip Type
Jul. 25 Chattahoochee River Paddle at Riverview Landing Heartland Rivers Paddle
Aug. 14-16 Cloudland Canyon Adventure Weekend GA Bucket List Trip
Sept. 18-20 Ossabaw Island Service Weekend Service Weekend
Oct. 3 Yellow River Day Paddle Heartland Rivers Paddle
Date Fall Release  - July 22 Trip Type
Oct. 9 – 11 Sapelo Island Service Weekend Service Weekend
Oct. 24 Chattahoochee Hills Paddle Heartland Rivers Paddle
Nov. 13 – 15 Okefenokee Adventure GA Bucket List Trip
Dec. 4 – 6 Sea Camp Cumberland Island Adventure GA Bucket List Trip



5 Holiday Date Nights in Georgia

Heat things up in the cold winter months with these romantic holiday dates.

Photo Credit: Richard Puscas

Photo Credit: Richard Puscas

Roast s’mores over an open fire, walk through dazzling holiday light displays, take in a holiday show and ride your favorite roller coasters, including Goliath and Dare Devil Dive, during Holiday in the Park at Six Flags Over Georgia – going on now through January 4th! Pro Tip: Knock out the coasters while the sun is shining and spend the rest of the evening strolling through the light displays while sipping hot chocolate.

Photo Credit: Atlanta Ballet

Photo Credit: Atlanta Ballet

The Nutcracker at The Fox Theatre is the perfect excuse for you and your significant other to dress in your holiday finery for an unforgettable night of theater! Performed live with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker will transport you to a world of sugarplum fairies, dancing rats and and sparkling snowflakes. Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker runs through December 28th at The Fox Theatre. Pro Tip: Reserve your seat in the Orchestra section for a snowy surprise.

Photo Credit: Ritz Carlton

Photo Credit: Ritz Carlton

Spend the night (or the weekend) at The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Plantation. From a 6,000-square-foot Ice Rink to holiday-inspired spa treatments, your time at The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Plantation will be filled with memorable moments. Pro Tip: Always check for overnight package deals.

Photo Credit: Rock City

Photo Credit: Rock City

Stroll hand-in-hand through more than 30 holiday scenes at Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights. Pro Tip: The last ticket is sold at 9 p.m. each night so be sure to arrive near 6 p.m. for maximum enjoyment.


Photo Credit: Lake Lanier Islands

Photo Credit: Lake Lanier Islands

Rush down one of 5 thrilling speed slides, race your date down 13 snow tubing lanes and carve your names in the snow at Lake Lanier Island’s SnowWorld! Pro Tip: Warm up at Sunset Cove which is now enclosed and features a delicious new assortment of dishes.

1470250_10201404779337586_897188189_nLauren Cleland is the voice of Explore Georgia on social media. She loves ice cold sweet tea, anything peach flavored, channeling Scarlett O’Hara in her daily life and sharing the wonders of her beloved Georgia with all of you!

Walk in a Winter Wonderland at Fernbank Museum

Great Hall View

It is, without a doubt, the best time of year to be at Fernbank Museum. With 35 trees provided by consulates and cultural groups from around the world, three display cases and, of course, the Fernbank tree itself, it’s hard not to find yourself filled with holiday cheer.

Though it was difficult, I have narrowed down my top five favorites and would love to share them with you.

Arab World Tree

The Arab World Tree

I think this tree is one of the very best. It is decorated with traditional arts and crafts, including metal work, wood intarsia, straw weaving, embroidery and folklore figurines. As if those things are not cool enough, the star ornaments have fun facts written on them! Here are a few examples:

“Did you know? Hummus is the most popular appetizer in Arab cultures.”

“Did you know? The guitar and tambourine were introduced to the west by Arabs.”

Japan Tree

The Japan Tree

I love how this tree remains so committed to culture. It is covered with origami cranes, which symbolize longevity and happiness. The best part? Ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be granted a wish. I’ll get started on that now.


The Philippine Tree

This tree just might be every girl’s dream come true. Dripping with pearl necklaces, gorgeous shells (which highlight the nation’s deep connection to the ocean) and to-die-for ribbons, the Philippine tree is definitely in it to win it. During the Christmas holidays, the country is adorned with the iconic, star-shaped lantern called a parol which symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem. The top of the tree is adorned with the beloved Belen, which depicts the nativity scene.

Venezuela Tree

The Venezuela Tree

The Venezuela tree was one of the first to be decorated, and it has been a front runner in my book since I first laid eyes on it. I love that they used beautiful, rich colored ribbon to display their national colors. The best part? The plates are hand painted by members of Atlanta’s Venezuelan community! Venezuela celebrates the holidays much like we do in America; they listen to gaitas (holiday music) and prepare traditional dishes (hallacas, pan de jamón, dulche de lechoza). Two fun added traditions include eating grapes on New Year’s Eve and watching children open gifts brought to them by Baby Jesus.

Norway Tree

The Norway Tree

This tree truly transports you to Norway. This tree combines its national flag, Norwegian dolls and handmade straw ornaments to make itself a true original. In Norway, families gather on Christmas Eve to open presents and sing carols around the tree, and Christmas Day is spent visiting family and close friends while sharing in desserts of rice porridge and cookies.

Fernbank Tree

I will end on my favorite tree of them all: The Fernbank Tree. It has 22 magnolia blossoms, one for each year that Fernbank has been in existence.

This is just a small sampling of the 30+ trees currently on display at Fernbank Museum. You can experience the entire Winter Wonderland exhibition through January 11th. Click here to learn more.

Profile PictureBrittany Loggins is the Public Relations Coordinator at Fernbank Museum. She graduated from the University of Georgia in May 2013 and can be found on Twitter @bloggins1.