RVing the Rails – Excursion Trains in Tennessee


Shelley Dennis

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Shelley Dennis is a travel photographer and writer who threw caution to the wind and gave up most of her belongings to travel the country in an RV. Her trusty sidekick for this lifetime adventure is her Golden Retriever, Sully. You can find them both at www.PhotoTrippingAmerica.com

Many times camping trips involve exploring new territory and discovering enticing attractions along the way. Passenger tour trains have that magnetic appeal for many RVers, providing a novel way to see hidden countryside not normally viewed from the road. Railroad passengers learn about local history, culture and the many colorful characters from the communities visited. Camping World wants to make sure you don’t miss the departing whistle, so we have created a series entitled RVing the Rails. You will find the most popular excursion trains to ride in each state, complete with any specialty trains they might offer.

Steam Locomotive on the tracks
Photo Credit: Skeeze on Unsplash

Today we will explore the most popular trains in Tennessee:

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

Lookout Mountain Incline Rail Car
Photo Credit: RideTheIncline.com

Today’s railway on Lookout Mountain was built in 1895 in response to the increase in travelers who came to the area to view Civil War battlefields. A local woman-owned land that travelers had to cross and charged ever-increasing tolls to the tourists. The construction of rails up the side of the mountain effectively detoured her property.

The first cars were pulled by steam engines but were soon upgraded to 100 horsepower motors that climb the 72% grade in spectacular fashion. No trip to Chattanooga is complete without a ride on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway.

Railway and Locomotive Types

The incline uses two winches to pull rail cars up a steep incline by guide cable, making it a funicular railway. The tracks are standard gauge and two cars can run on the steep hillside because of a passing loop at the midpoint of the mile-long track.

Seating Options

View From Lookout Mountain
Photo Credit: McRonny at Unsplash

All seating on the incline is open. The cars are enclosed but have windows that do open for a pleasant breeze during the summer months.

Riding Options

Passengers can purchase one-way or round trip tickets on the incline. There is also an all-in-one ticket for the attractions at the top of Lookout Mountain:

  • All-In-One Tickets include access to the incline, Rock City and Ruby Falls.

Specialty Trains

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
Photo Credit: The Old Perfesser (CC BY-SA 3.0)

There are no specialty trains, but a ride up the world’s steepest incline is quite a treat. The entire trip to the top takes 15 minutes, and the views of the Tennessee Valley are stunning. Visit several Civil War points of interest, and a tour of the machine room is essential for anyone who enjoys mechanical operations. There is a depot at the bottom and one at the top of the ride, both offering concessions.

Length of Season

The Lookout Mountain Incline is open year-round from 8:30am to 9:30pm, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Cars leave every 20 minutes, so it won’t be difficult to catch a ride!

Tennessee Central Railway Museum

Tennessee Central Railway on the track
Photo Credit: TCRY.org

Following the rails of the original Tennessee Central Railway, today’s train hosts excursions from Nashville to Monterey, straight through the middle of the state. The first railroad was a prosperous freight and passenger line that ran from 1902 to 1969. Now travelers can experience the rural countryside, forests and small-town stops of the Tennessee Valley on what is commonly called “The Nashville & Eastern” line.

Railway and Locomotive Types

The railroad operates diesel locomotives on standard gauge tracks. Rail cars include a buffet lounge, dining cars, a slumber car, glass-enclosed dome car, and cabooses.

Seating Options

Tennessee Central Railway Passenger Car
Photo Credit: TCRY.org

The railroad has assigned seating tickets with classes as follows:

  • Regular Class – Ride in a dining car with table seating for up to four, or in a regular coach car with row seating.
  • Coach Class – Enjoy coach seating with reclining seats in an enclosed car.
  • Dome Class – Passengers have 360-degree views from the glass-enclosed dome car, which sits above the roofline of the other railcars. Only 20 seats are available in this special car.

Riding Options

The railroad offers three different destinations, with round trip rides:

  • Nashville to Monterey
  • Nashville to DelMonaco Winery
  • Nashville to Watertown

Trains can also be chartered to locations along the rail line.

Specialty Trains

North Pole Express Train with Santa
Photo Credit: TCRY.org
  • Murder Mystery Train – Help solve a murder mystery on this 90-minute train ride. Once the train reaches Waterton, grab a bite to each and listen to live music before returning to the depot.
  • DelMonaco Winery Train – Ride a wine tasting train to Delmonico Winery, where tours, lunch, and live music await.
  • Train Robbery Trip – Beware of train robbers on this trip to Watertown. A layover there will give you time to replace your valuables with some shopping and dining!
  • Fall Foliage Train – Take a train ride to Baxter for the Fall Festival, and enjoy the changing season as you cruise through central Tennessee.
  • North Pole Express – A train ride to Watertown with the jolly man himself is quite a treat during the Christmas season.

Length of Season

The Tennessee Central Railway operates from March through October. Specialty trains are scheduled on specific dates throughout the year, so please check the train calendar to see which excursion is right for you.

Tennessee Valley Railroad

Tennessee Valley Railroad Steam Locomotive
Photo Credit: TVRail.com

The Tennessee Valley Railroad runs trips over a wide expanse of land in southern Tennessee and northern Georgia. Much of it was initially served by the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. The terrain was mountainous and the tracks were laid with several switchbacks climbing Bald Mountain. As one of only three places in the United States where railroad tracks loop over themselves, this line became commonly known as the “Hook & Eye Line.” Today’s trains bypass those switchbacks, taking passengers through beautiful southern landscapes on adventurous excursions, and keeping the history of railroading alive.

Railway and Locomotive Types

The railroad has several historic steam engines and diesel locomotives that pull rolling stock on standard gauge tracks. A number of Pullman passenger coaches, dining cars and even a railway post office car make up this museum on wheels.

Seating Options

Dining Car on Tennessee Valley Railroad
Photo Credit: TVRail.com

Tickets on all trains are assigned seating. Dining trains also require meal selection at the time of ticket purchase. Classes of service are as follows:

  • Coach Car – Seating is in rows in an enclosed passenger car.
  • Observation Car – Seating is in a lounge car with tables, chairs and a private viewing platform.

Riding Options

The Tennessee Valley trains run from one of two departure locations:

  • Chattanooga Depot – This departure point is where the Missionary Ridge, Summerville Steam Train, and the Chickamauga Turn Train originate.
  • Etowah – This departure point is for trains that travel to the Hiawassee Loop and to Copperhill.

Specialty Trains

Tennessee Valley Railroad Diesel Train on Bridge
Photo Credit: TVRail.com
  • Dinner on the Diner – Take a leisurely evening train ride around Chattanooga while enjoying a scrumptious three-course meal.
  • Autumn Leaf Specials – Ride the train from Chattanooga to Summerville, Georgia and back, enjoying the changing colors of the season
  • Halloween Eerie Express – Climb onboard a haunting train ride to the Eerie Funhouse, where children of all ages will enjoy games, treats and blacklight golf.
  • Summerville Santa Special – Holiday fun on the train includes carols, goodies and a visit with Old Saint Nick.

Length of Season

The Tennessee Valley Railroad season runs from March through November, with specialty trains departing on specific dates throughout the year. Please check the train schedule to make your plans.

Join the thousands of RVers that have a love affair with trains and ride the rails on your next camping trip. Check out the other excursion trains available on a state-by-state basis in our series, RVing the Rails.

Excursion trains in Tennessee

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