Trains and Tennessee go together like biscuits and jam. The Volunteer State’s history with railways dates back to 1845 when the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad became the state’s first railroad. During those days, trains were used for just about everything—from the transport of goods to the transport of people. Today, we don’t depend on railways quite as much as we once did, but our nostalgia for the familiar blow of the whistle or plume of steam dissipating into the sky has only grown stronger with each passing year.
If you catch yourself daydreaming about watching the beautiful countryside blur by while you’ve got your head pressed against the window and not a worry in the world, then it may be time for a Tennessee train trip. So whether you want to take an hour-long scenic ride to clear your head, or if you’ve always dreamt about an interactive murder mystery train, Tennessee has got you covered. All that’s left to do is hop aboard because the train’s leaving the station!
This museum and operating railway in Chattanooga offers rides for every type of train enthusiast. If you don’t have a lot of time, opt for the historic Missionary Ridge Local ride, which takes riders on a 6-mile, 55-minute journey over four bridges along the former Southern Railway tracks. If you have more time, the famous Hiwassee Loop offers breathtaking views of countryside and the Hiwassee River gorge on a 5-hour journey departing from Delano, Tennessee. With an additional 3 hours, you can take the same route and add a ride through Turtletown, Ducktown, and Cooperhill. For special occasions, the Tennessee Valley Railroad also operates a Valentine’s Day ride with dinner and a special Tea Room ride.
To score all the honey points with your sweetheart, book a romantic ride for two on the Tennessee Wine Train. The one-of-a-kind wine and dine experience takes guests on a 2-hour journey around Chattanooga, while they enjoy a three-course meal in a 1924 dining car. There really is nothing better than dinner with a view and on the Tennessee Wine Train, there’s no shortage of delicious food, excellent wine, or lovely views.
This isn’t a train ride in the traditional sense, but the one-mile single track system that takes you straight up the side of Lookout Mountain is a rite of passage for all who visit Chattanooga. The first incline here ran in 1887, and in the 1950s both Teddy Roosevelt and Elizabeth Taylor rode the same tracks. With two new cars installed in 2020, this iconic Tennessee treasure is looking forward to another 100 years in operation.
This nonprofit in Nashville works hard to preserve historic railroad equipment and educate the public about railroad history. The best—and arguably most fun—way to support them is by booking a seat on a vintage stainless steel passenger car for one of their many excursions now boarding in Nashville. Trips range from 3 to 7.5 hours and carry themes from a Mardi Gras Excursion to a Valentines Moonshine Trip and Fall Foliage Trip. Once November rolls around, you’ll want to snag your North Pole Express fast before they sell out.
Everything is better when the Queen of Country—Nashville’s Iron Butterfly—gets involved, so a ride on the Dollywood Express is a must. If you’ve already planned a trip to Dollywood, don’t skip out on the train ride. Climb aboard the authentic 110-ton coal-fired steam engine and get ready for an unforgettable ride. The 20-minute mountain excursion takes riders on a 5-mile ride through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.
It’s not just Chattanooga that gets in on the Tennessee railway tradition. Three Rivers Rambler has been operating train rides in the heart of downtown Knoxville since 2000. The ride takes folks along the Tennessee River passing by historical sites to the Three Rivers Trestle, where the French Broad and Holston Rivers join to form the Tennessee River. Other scenes to look out for are the beautiful farmland all around and Knoxville’s first settlement area.
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