The holiday season in the North Valley offers myriad merry adventures, from the billions of blinking bulbs at Illumination: Symphony of Light to Santa rocking around Arizona’s tallest Christmas tree at The Outlets at Anthem. But there’s something special about gathering the family into the car and about going even further north – to parts of the state that see snow in winter. There are several events that show our northern neighbors’ strong spirit of the season – here are four of the most fun festivities.
Verde Canyon Railroad’s Christmas Adventure
Passengers aboard Verde Canyon Railroad’s Christmas Adventure are transported via a festively decorated steam locomotive to a holiday village and the “North Pole” for a magical adventure full of costumed characters and illuminated areas. The journey begins at the Verde Canyon Railroad depot in Clarkdale, where families can tour a miniature Christmas village consisting of 10 tiny houses on a town square. Kids can drop their letters to Santa off in a mail bag for delivery to the North Pole, and holiday treats will be offered throughout the depot. Once aboard the train for the hour-long round-trip, kids will be greeted by a Christmas princess and enjoy 3D silhouettes of the canyon’s resident critters. After the train reaches The North Pole, passengers can see from the platforms structures including Santa’s Workshop, Mrs. Claus’ Bakershop, the Reindeer Barn, Elf School, and the Ugly Sweater Factory. Santa will hop aboard the train for the return journey to Clarkdale, interacting with the children and giving out gifts. Christmas Adventure train rides depart every Saturday and Sunday at 5:30 and 7 p.m. starting December 1 and continuing through December 23 at Verde Canyon Railroad, 300 N. Broadway, Clarkdale. Tickets cost $23 to $45. For more information, call 800-582-7245 or visit verdecanyonrr.com.
There might not be any polar bears at Bearizona, but this outdoor drive-through wildlife park in Williams has plenty of wintry wonders. The park’s seasonal Wild Wonderland event allows visitors to enter the walk-through portion of the park after normal operating hours (the drive-through portion of the park will be closed). Guests will enjoy illuminated ponderosa pine trees adorned with more than 200,000 lights synchronized to traditional Christmas music. The light show takes place every 30 minutes. At 6 and 7 p.m., Mrs. Claus makes an appearance in the gift shop for story time, followed by photo opportunities. There will be Christmas goodies and seasonal beverages in the Canyonlands restaurant, plus a fire pit for guests who want to purchase s’mores to roast and toast. Wild Wonderland takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings through December 30 (closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) at Bearizona Wildlife Park, 1500 E. Route 66, Williams. Tickets to the event cost $20 each and are separate from general admission tickets to the park. For more information, call 928-635-2289 or visit bearizona.com
North Pole Experience
Visit Santa’s Workshop and wander through the massive toy factory at this longtime Flagstaff seasonal favorite. Guests can get goodies at Mrs. Claus’ Bakery, learn secrets at Elf University, check out the big red man’s ride in Santa’s Sleigh Hangar and take photos with St. Nick himself. The adventure begins at the Little America Hotel, where guests will be transported to the North Pole via a “Magic Portal” on one of Santa’s Magic Trolleys. The first stop is Santa’s Workshop, where kids help the elves build toys. Then it’s time for hot cocoa and treats at Mrs. Claus’ Bakery, followed by stops at Elf University to earn an “elf diploma” and the mail room to write a letter to Santa. The journey concludes with a tour of Santa’s Sleigh Hangar and one-on-one time with the man himself. All children will leave with a 10th anniversary commemorative teddy bear. Tours take approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. Tickets cost $39 to $65, depending on the time and day of the tour. Little America Hotel is located at 2515 E. Butler Avenue, Flagstaff. For more information, call 480-779-9679 or visit northpoleexperience.com.