By Sandy McLeod
If you want to see the best of the North Carolina Mountains, consider taking the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad ride. This old-fashioned train ride is awe-inspiring. Passengers journey through the Southern Appalachians and see parts of the Smokey Mountains for approximately 4 ½ hours. Sit back and take in the nostalgic setting – a 1920s train with restored coaches. The train takes passengers on a journey through thickly forested woods and across the roaring Nantahala or the Tuckasegee Rivers. Spoil yourself with first class, full service seating. Or select the open-air coach ride as a chance to connect with nature, feel a light breeze, and the scent of mountain air.
The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad – a Short History
The railroad reached Asheville, N.C. in the 1880s. Convicted prisoners were the main workmen who laid the tracks. Their task was to extend the route to Murphy, N.C. and eventually to Bryson City, where the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad boards today. By the early 20th Century, four trains per day were running between Asheville and Murphy and the ‘iron horse’ was a popular mode of transport. The train route connected the isolated mountain villages and people of the North Carolina Mountains to the rest of the world.
Train Route Through the Smoky Mountains
There are two basic choices of train routes. Look for seasonally themed trains as well, coinciding with fall foliage and holidays.
Nantahala Gorge Train: This train intermittently follows the Nantahala River and stops at the Nantahala Outdoor Center for a break. The Outdoor Center is a launch for whitewater rafters and kayakers. One of the most scenic parts of the journey is when the train crosses the high trestle over Fontana Lake, which rises 79 feet above the water. Passengers can see the Smoky Mountains in the distance during this sensational part of the train ride.
Tuckaseegee River Train: This train follows portions of the Tuckaseegee River. The Tuckaseegee line passes the ruins of the largest staged train wreck in movie history: The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford. This train also passes the Cowee Tunnel, not far from where a tragic accident occurred. A barge carrying 19 prisoners across the river capsized, and since they were all chained together they drowned, except for one prisoner. The Tuckaseegee line is just as scenic as the Nantahala Gorge line, but is scheduled less frequently.
Most trains leave at 9 or 10:30 a.m. and return by mid afternoon. In October, during the height of fall foliage season, afternoon trains are added to the schedule. During leaf season, people can board the morning trains or catch the 2 or 3 p.m. trains. Themed trains, such as the Elvis Presley Tribute fundraiser and the Peanuts Great Pumpkin Patch train are also available in the fall and other months as well.
Choose from an assortment of seating choices from first class to standard class open air gondola seating. There are five different choices of seating. Some even come with meals and beverages and are priced accordingly: Premium Open Air Gondola, First Class, First Class Meal Options, Crown Class Seating, and Standard Class/Open Air Gondola Seating.
Ask friends or family members to come along and share the train ride. It really is a special journey through unspoiled places in the Southern Appalachians– and a great way to see places that may be inaccessible by other means. Celebrate a trip to the mountains of North Carolina by taking a ride on the ‘iron horse.’
Book a luxury cabin in Asheville and then make reservations for the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.