The annual Santa Express Train at Royal Gorge Route Railroad is up and running. And a mask-clad Santa is ready to greet his winter visitors — from 6 feet.

“For us, the demand has been extraordinary,” owner Mark Greksa says. “People know that we do things as safely as possible. People need an escape. We’re hearing that from guests.”

The wearing of pajamas is encouraged, Greksa says, as is showing up about 45 minutes early to get a family photo in front of the heavily decorated train at Santa Fe Depot in Cañon City. And then you’re off. It takes only 30 minutes to reach Santa’s village, which features about 20 buildings and more than 40,000 lights, including a laser light show in the Royal Gorge. And, of course, there’s hot chocolate, cookies and a special gift for kids. Guests also can choose to purchase breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Trains run daily through Dec. 30, though weekends are booked.

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This year Santa will wear a mask and practice social distancing, but he’s still just a short train ride from the Santa Fe Depot in Cañon City.

“It’s really beautiful,” Greksa says. “To see the kids’ faces when they get close to the North Pole, with all that light and Santa is hanging out, there’s a lot of excitement.”

Three employees tested positive for COVID-19 last month, though Greksa says they had no contact with the public. He’s working with the Fremont County Department of Public Health and Environment and hopes to stay open through the holidays.

Since May, the railroad has carried 80,000 passengers. By the end of the year, Greksa estimates the railroad will be off 20 to 25% from 2019. They had to add more trains to adhere to the 25% capacity guidelines brought on by the pandemic.

“We’re having to turn people away due to distancing and capacity,” Greksa says. “September, October and November were record months. The demand is there. People want to get out.”

Contact the writer: 636-0270

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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