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Guide to Seeing the CSX Santa Train in Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee

See the CSX Santa Train on November 18, 2023 with this travel guide to the best places.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

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Seeing a blue and yellow CSX locomotive hauling freight along the railroads through Appalachia is nothing unusual. But on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the iconic locomotive pulls something different – a string of passenger cars, 15 tons of gifts, and Santa Claus. It’s the annual CSX Santa Train, a tradition dating back decades.

My family’s Christmas tradition with the Santa Train started with an accident in 1988. My brother, sister, and I were crammed into the family car on our way to see family in Big Stone Gap. While driving through St. Paul, my mom noticed a throng of onlookers gathered near the railroad track in the middle of town.

My dad stopped the car and walked toward the tracks to find out what was happening. A moment later, he returned and shouted, “Everybody get out. The Santa Train is coming!”

Twenty-six years later, I returned to St. Paul to experience the CSX Santa Train again. I couldn’t help the goosebumps that crept along my arms and spine when the familiar locomotive trudged around the curve. The train stopped, and ‘ole Saint Nick stepped onto the covered platform on the last car.

The CSX Santa Train is something everyone must experience at least once. This travel guide is everything you need to know about seeing the train as it travels through the small towns in Appalachia from Shelby, Kentucky, to Kingsport, Tennessee.

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CSX Santa Train Map

How to use this map | Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.


History of the CSX Santa Train

Most coal miners’ families lived in poverty and spent most of their hard-earned income on the bare necessities. Christmas was a luxury few could afford. So, in 1943, a merchant’s association in Kingsport devised a way to celebrate the gift-giving season.

The association collected toys, clothing, and food from corporations and citizens. A few tons were collected during the first run in 1943 – nearly 15 tons were loaded onto the train in 2023.

The Clinchfield Railroad’s main line connected Elkhorn City, Kentucky, to Kingsport, Tennessee. The inaugural “Santa Claus Special” traveled the main line in 1943. By 1986, the railroad was operated by CSX after several mergers brought dozens of railroads together. Since then, the CSX Santa Train has continued the tradition.


2023 CSX Santa Train Schedule

The 2023 CSX Santa Train runs on Saturday, November 18, 2023, beginning at the Shelby Yards near Pikeville, Kentucky, and traveling through Virginia to Centennial Park in Kingsport, Tennessee.

Here is the complete schedule of stops the Santa Train makes throughout its run:

  • 6:00 a.m. at Shelbiana, KY
  • 6:20 a.m. at Marrowbone, KY
  • 7:05 a.m. at Elkhorn City, KY
  • 7:45 a.m. at Toms Bottom, VA
  • 8:07 a.m. at Haysi, VA
  • 8:40 a.m. at Clinchco, VA
  • 9:08 a.m. at Fremont, VA
  • 10:08 a.m. at Dante, VA
  • 10:53 a.m. at St. Paul, VA
  • 12:03 p.m. at Dungannon, VA
  • 12:48 p.m. at Ft. Blackmore, VA
  • 1:48 p.m. at Kermit, VA
  • 2:20 p.m. at Waycross, VA
  • 3:00 p.m. at Kingsport, TN

Best Places to See the CSX Santa Train

The CSX Santa Train travels a railroad section far from major highways through small Appalachia towns. Many stops are challenging to visit unless you live within a few miles.

Instead of attempting an arduous journey on twisty roads, visit one of these best places to see the CSX Santa Train.

Shelbiana, KY

The CSX Santa Train’s first stop is the Shelby Yard in the unincorporated Shelbiana, Kentucky. The yard is about a fifteen-minute drive from Pikeville along U.S. Highway 23. Parking is scattered but plentiful.


St. Paul, VA

St. Paul is the best place to see the CSX Santa Train after Kingsport. If you arrive early, around 10 a.m., you may find easy parking along Riverside Drive adjacent to the railroad tracks. If you arrive later, you’ll find plenty of parking throughout the small town, but use Wise Street for easy access.

It takes about 40 minutes to drive to St. Paul from Abingdon along U.S. Highway 58 Alternate.


Dungannon, VA

Dungannon is not an easy town to visit, but it’s part of a two-hour loop from Norton that includes a couple of other stops. It takes about 30-40 minutes to drive to Dungannon along U.S. Highway 58 Alternate and Dungannon Road.

The CSX Santa Train stops near a sharp bend in the road near the middle of the unincorporated town. The best place to park is nearby Dungannon Elementary School – it’s about a five-minute walk from there. Interestingly, you can stand on a bridge where Sinking Creek Highway crosses the railroad and watch the Santa Train pass beneath.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

Fort Blackmore, VA

Fort Blackmore is one of the easiest places to see the CSX Santa Train but also one of the most difficult places for parking. The highway crosses the railroad and Clinch River. Park anywhere along the road’s shoulder at either end of the bridge and walk along Islandview Circle to the point where the Santa Train stops.

There is plenty of room for people at the stop, and it’s a safer place from the main highway.


Copper Creek Viaduct in Duffield, VA

The best view of the CSX Santa Train is from an overgrown scenic overlook along U.S. Highway 23 in Duffield. After the train passes through a tunnel, it crosses the impressive Copper Creek Viaduct. Built in 1908, the trestle is 167 feet above the Clinch River and spans 1,091 feet.

While crossing the historic trestle, Santa usually appears for eager onlookers at the scenic overlook.

Kingsport, TN

The only stop the CSX Santa Train makes in Tennessee is also the final stop. It’s the best place to see the Santa Train on its journey from Kentucky. There is plenty of free parking throughout downtown Kingsport and plenty of room in Centennial Park to enjoy the train.

CSX Santa Train in Kingsport, TN

The festivities in Kingsport start long before the CSX Santa Train arrives. Santa’s Depot opens at 1 p.m. in Centennial Park, a small public park near Citizens Bank in the former train depot. Holiday activities include writing letters to Santa and crafts. Enjoy hot chocolate, cookies, and festive music while waiting for Santa’s arrival.

The CSX Santa Train arrives in Kingsport at 3 p.m. Upon arrival, an unbelievably chipper Santa Claus exits the train and visits everyone at the park.

When I was a kid, Santa would exit the train and hop onto the last float of the Kingsport Christmas Parade. That changed a few years ago. Now, the parade is held on the first Saturday in December.


Tips for Seeing the CSX Santa Train

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the festive spirit and forget that the CSX Santa Train is a big piece of machinery trudging along railroad tracks. CSX employees and local police spare no effort to make it a safe experience. But you still need to look before you cross!

Here are a few tips to make the most of seeing the CSX Santa Train:

  • Plan to arrive an hour before the train to find a good parking spot
  • Park your vehicle so that all four tires are off the paved road
  • Don’t block any driveways when parking
  • Look carefully before crossing roads – don’t assume traffic will stop just because you step into the road
  • Be careful when crossing over railroad tracks
  • Listen to the instructions from CSX employees when the train arrives and departs
  • Never stand in front of the locomotive, even when it’s parked
  • It’s more important to be safe than to take a selfie
  • Children sitting on your shoulders have the best chance of catching toys

One Response

  1. The first time I stood by the tracks, holding my moms hand and waiting for the Santa train was 1958. I was 3 years old. Our dad, a coal minor was on strike and many years the Santa train was the only Christmas we had in the hills of SW Va. I remember how exciting it was to hear the train whistle down the track and the faint sound of jingle bells as it made its way up the tracks to the small town of Delano Va., the stop after Haysi. The excitement was uncontainable as the big train got closer. Knowing Santa was at the end of the train, we had to wait until the entire train past by before seeing Santa. He stood on the back as big as life, tossing out taffy candy in green and red wrappers, pencils and tiny tablets for taking notes. For some reason, there always seemed to be a lot of whistles. Seems that me and all six sisters went home with a whistle, which my mother hated. Didn’t take long befor the whisked went missing one at a time. Eventually the candy was gone, whistles gone, the pencils and writing tablets we carried around for days, taking notes, Finally we settled into dreaming of how it would be next year when the Santa Train came to town. Would he bring us something big like a new bike next year? . It didn’t matter we still loved to see the Santa Train. My most beautiful childhood memories was the Santa Train.

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