5 Stunning Train Rides To Take In North Carolina
All aboard! The magic of train travel is back in vogue, and we couldn’t be happier. There’s something that feels inherently Southern about taking a train. Maybe it’s the old-fashioned dining cars, where you can savor a sweet tea. Maybe it’s the vintage appeal. Maybe it’s the gorgeous countryside and rural farmland railways always seem to cut through. Or maybe it’s the fact that trains give us the gift of time, prompting to us slow down and become a passenger of the world. Whatever the reason, we can’t wait to punch our train ticket and get rolling. In North Carolina, there are plenty of ways to savor all the nostalgic joys of train travel. From are scenic day rides cutting through the Great Smoky Mountains to 30-minute cruises where you can learn the history behind the state’s railways, here are five incredible train rides in the Tar Heel State. It's time start planning your weekend railway excursion!
New Hope Valley Railway
Affectionately known as the Triangle’s Train, this railway right outside of Raleigh offers scenic rides on vintage trains as part of the North Carolina Railway Museum’s mission to preserve and share North Carolina’s railroad history. Each season (lasting roughly from April through December), the railway takes passengers along a 4-mile historic track through piney woods and over a trestle on an hour-long round trip from Bonsal to New Hill and back. The open-air train cars allow you to feel the breeze on your face as you traverse the gorgeous North Carolina landscape. New Hope Valley’s Operate-a-Loco program gives hardcore railfans the chance to drive a train by spending an hour at the throttle on an 8-mile trip!
This Wild West theme park in Blowing Rock, North Carolina is all about family fun. There are rides, regular live performances, a deer park zoo, and a range of activities for the entire family. But the park’s most defining and beloved feature is the historic trains for which the park is named. Guests can climb aboard Engine No. 12 or Engine No. 190 for a 3-mile cruise around the park’s grounds. Along the way, you’ll get gorgeous views of the North Carolina mountains and rolling hills, and in the fall, it’s a great place to seek out colorful foliage. Fun fact: Engine No. 12 is the last surviving steam locomotive of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad, which ran from Johnson City, Tennessee to Boone, North Carolina, from 1919 to 1940.
North Carolina Transportation Museum
Ride and learn at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer. The historic site was once home to Southern Railway’s largest steam locomotive repair facility in the Southeast; today it is a museum that celebrates all types of transportation history—railways included! Admission to the museum, plus a 25-minute train ride through the 60-acre site (complete with onboard history narration) only costs $12. For a romantic evening, reserve your seats for Wine & Dine on the Rails. On the very special ride, you’ll be treated to cocktail hour, followed by a leisurely train ride paired with a three-course meal and wine. Be on the lookout for a special St. Patrick’s Day Train come March, as well!
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
North Carolina’s most popular passenger railroad sits in the heart of Bryson City and gives riders the chance to see some of the state’s greatest sights—Fontana Lake, the Fontana Trestle, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Nantahala National Forest, the Tuckasegee River—all from the comfort of a train car. Popular rides include the Nantahala Gorge Excursion, a 4.5-hour roundtrip jounrey traveling along the Tennessee and Nantahala River where you’ll see Fontana Trestle, Fontana Lake, and the breathtaking Nantahala Gorge, and the Tuckasegee River Excursion, a 4-hour ride through quiet countryside to Dillsboro, where you’ll have an hour and a half to deboard and check out the quaint historic town before heading back to the station.
Craggy Mountain Line
Head to small-town Woodfin, a suburb of Asheville, and support the Craggy Mountain Line, a nonprofit formed in 2001 to obtain the last three miles of the Craggy Mountain Line. Today a 3.5-mile track takes visitors through the beautiful North Carolina countryside for just $15. Like clockwork, trains run at 4 p.m. every Saturday afternoon. If you’ve got a big family or have a celebration coming up, you can rent the entire railroad in 2-hour increments for groups of up to 25.
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