Sit back and watch the world go by while admiring one of America’s best and oldest mountain ranges, the Great Smoky Mountains. You’ll cross lofty trestles, swoop through long tunnels, snake alongside rivers, and experience America’s countryside. Travelers come from around the world to experience this gorgeous national park.
Founded in 1926, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park feels like an endless lush forest. Called the Smokies for the ever-present morning fog, this mountain range is undoubtedly world-famous. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to nearly 80 historic buildings, magnificent wildflowers, and wildlife and offers countless activities.
There are many ways to explore and experience the Smoky Mountains as well as from different cities, towns, and states. For an alternative experience in the Smoky Mountains, take a scenic train ride and enjoy the beauty of this astonishing mountain range! The most famous train rides to the Smoky Mountains are from Bryson City and Pigeon Forge.
The Great Smoky Mountains
The gorgeous living mountain range of the Great Smoky Mountains straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. The mountains are constantly re-inventing themselves as wind, water, and erosion continuously shape these ageless mountains.
Thus, the Smoky Mountains are world-renowned for the diversity of plant and animal life, the ancient rock formations, and the connection with southern Appalachian mountain culture. This is America’s most visited national park and an ideal getaway.
If you love nature, this is the best place to wander the tranquil woods and hills, hike, or camp. After all, this is one of America’s oldest mountain ranges.
However, if you wish to have an alternative experience in the Smoky Mountains, take a scenic train ride and enjoy the beauty of this astonishing mountain range! The most famous train rides to the Smoky Mountains are from Bryson City and Pigeon Forge.
A little bit about Pigeon Forge
At Pigeon Forge, you are guaranteed to make memories that can last a lifetime. For generations, visitors have returned to explore the small mountain town at the foothills of Smoky Mountain.
Pigeon Forge is a year-round family vacation destination and offers various fun activities, From exciting attractions and award-winning shows to myriad options for dining, shopping, and staying. Last but not least, this is the place to get a glimpse of life in the Smoky Mountains and marvel at the mountain’s beauty while riding the famous Dollywood Express!
A little bit about Bryson City
Bryson City is a peaceful mountain town bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Surrounding the small town is a rich selection of activities and attractions. From rafting and kayaking on the Nantahala River, boating and fishing on Fontana Lake, scenic railroad excursions, world-class trout streams, and mountain biking on the famous Tsali trails.
Furthermore, Bryson city is home to the Cherokee Indian Reservation and half of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For a complete experience of the Smoky Mountains, go for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad to enjoy scenic views you’ll never forget!
Best Train Tours in the Smoky Mountains
Dolly Parton’s Dollywood, considered one of the world’s leading theme parks, is surrounded by breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains and offers fantastic rides, delicious food, and great entertainment.
For scenic views, hop on the Dollywood Express on a short, sweet ride through the mountains and get a glimpse of Tennessee life. From the comfort of your train seat, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the woods and see country life. Sit down, relax and enjoy an unforgettable train ride.
Two authentic coal-burning trains go around Dollywood and have been part of the park for 55 years. Both engines were used during World War II. So this fantastic ride will not only give you a glimpse of beautiful nature but will even make you feel part of history.
The train leaves the station every hour and offers a 30-minute tour where you can see each section of the park. Furthermore, it is an excellent tour for finding peace and tranquility in nature. All carriages are open, so you’ll love the breeze hitting you while relaxing and resting in your seat.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers a scenic rail tour through the mountains of North Carolina, along the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers, across valleys, and through tunnels.
All train journeys depart from the depot in downtown Bryson City. All the trips are ideal for unforgettable experiences! Ride in a vintage open-air car, climate-controlled car, or first-class and have the time of your life.
Check out here the various excursions by the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad:
Take a ride along the rushing Nantahala River with the Nantahala Gorge Excursion! This four-and-a-half-hour excursion departs from Bryson City, goes 71 km to the Nantahala Gorge, and returns to the Bryson City depot. The historic Trellis Bridge takes you across Fontana Lake and allows you to stay at the Nantahala Outdoor Center for an hour.
Tickets for Adults 13+ are $56-$139 depending on seat class, and children 2-12 start at $32. Also, check out rafting combo packages such as ride the train up the river, then raft down!
This four-hour excursion takes a round trip through the quiet countryside to experience small-town life in western North Carolina. Along the way, you will Pass by the famous movie set of The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford!
Lastly, this is a round-trip to the quaint village of Dillsboro, where you can have an hour and a half layover. Furthermore, you can also sample beer at the brewery. This train is limited in service, so be sure to check out the timetable.
Tickets for Adults 13+ are $56 to 76 depending on seat class, and children 2-12 start at $33.
Uncorked Wine Experience
This unique adult-only train journey combines railroad adventure with good wine, good food, and good friends. But specifically, it’s the best excursion for those who crave surf and turf paired with wine! Experience Uncorked on board a first-class carriage with a narrator introducing each wine and sharing knowledge on the Smoky Mountains winemaking and lifestyle.
Tickets are $139 and since this train is limited in service, be sure to check out the timetable.
Carolina Shine Moonshine Experience
“Shine and Dine” on the railroad! Departing from Bryson City, Hop aboard The Carolina Shine car on the Nantahala Gorge for a four and a half hour round trip train excursion. Experience the all-adult First Class Moonshine Car to sample the smoothest, triple-distilled, handcrafted, best-tasting moonshine in the Carolinas.
Tickets start from $114 to $129 depending on availability and seat.
Fontana Trestle featuring BBQ & Brews
Departing from Bryson City, this two-hour excursion will take you to the Fontana Trestle and beyond the Fontana Lake, stopping at the perfect viewing spot for a spectacular sunset view! But what makes this ride to the trestle on Fontana Lake even better is BBQ and Brews! Enjoy local brews, BBQ, and a fantastic sunset at family-friendly or all-adult cars.
Tickets start from $92 to $102 depending on availability and seat.
Read More: Best Barbecue Restaurants in Pigeon Forge
The Polar Express
The Polar Express Christmas excursion is one of the most popular holiday events in the Smokies. It is the best way to embrace the magic of Christmas. This one hour and a half round-trip to the North Pole and back to Bryson City is all about music, cocoa, treats, book reading, sing-a-longs, and Santa! Each child can expect to be greeted by Santa with the first gift of Christmas and a silver bell from his sleigh.
Tickets for Adults 13+ are $50 to 76 depending on seat class, children 2-12 start at $35, and infants 0 to 23 months start at $17.
After a two-year restoration of 1942 Engine #1702, you can book a steam excursion on many dates throughout the year, usually from May to October. Before or after the ride, don’t forget to get a close look at this impressive locomotive and watch a demonstration of the only man-powered turntable in the country near the depot.
Tickets for Adults 13+ are $66 to 86 depending on seat class, children 2-12 start at $40, and infants 0 to 23 months start at $13.
Each season brings a new fun train journey. The views from the train in winter are breathtaking and ethereal. In the spring, trees are blooming, and often, there are special train events. In the summertime, you can add a whitewater rafting or zipline package to your ticket. In the fall, you can enjoy diverse colors from the comfort of your seat on any daily excursions to the Nantahala Valley. No matter which season you choose, you will definitely enjoy scenic views of the Smoky Mountains!
The Great Smoky Mountains are a must-visit destination you need to go to at least once in your lifetime. The mountains offer extraordinary and diverse nature, unique culture, and plenty of unforgettable adventures! Undoubtedly, riding a vintage train and admiring all these from the comfort of your seat would definitely make for a memorable trip.
If you prefer an all-inclusive tour of plentiful scenic views, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is the best for you. Otherwise, if you prefer a rather short trip and just get a glimpse of the mountain’s incredible nature, then the Dollywood Express is your right choice.