RVing the Rails – Excursion Trains in North Carolina 399

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.

Excursion Trains in North Carolina

Today we will explore the most popular trains in North Carolina:

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

When railroads came to western North Carolina in the late 1800s, they opened up the mountains to the outside world and were an immediate hit. Convicts were used to build the precarious rails and blast through mountains, creating Cowee Tunnel. As freight and passenger service scaled back, an enterprising group purchased the Murphy Branch of what was then owned by the Southern Railway System, creating an excursion train in 1988. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad has been attracting riders by the hundreds of thousands every year since.

Excursion Trains in North Carolina - Camping World
Photo Credit: Nstrainman1006 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Railway and Locomotive Types

The railroad offers both diesel and steam locomotives, so passengers can select their trips based on the engine pulling them! Rolling stock ranges from open-air gondolas to enclosed first-class coaches on this standard gauge track.

Seating Options

Excursion Trains in North Carolina - Camping World
Photo Credit: State Library of North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers several classes of service on their trains. You can pick from:

  • First Class – Enjoy a meal in an enclosed, air-conditioned coach with a private attendant and assigned seating.
  • Premium Open Air Gondola – Your meal is served by an attendant as you peruse the scenery from an open car with a roof. Seats are assigned.
  • Family First Class – Sit in an enclosed, climate-controlled coach with tables for lunch service in assigned seats.
  • Crown Class – Assigned seating in an enclosed car with comfortable seats and unobstructed views.
  • Coach Class – Seats are open in the enclosed car with windows that can be opened.
  • Open Air Gondola – Bench seating in an open car with a cover with half walls for great views.

Riding Options

There are two different trip experiences available from the Bryson City Depot:

  • Nantahala Gorge Excursion – Ride along the Nantahala River to the gorge for a stunning view of North Carolina’s mountainous scenery. Passengers can select to travel by steam locomotive or diesel engine, depending on the day.
  • Tuckasegee River Excursion – Enjoy a relaxing trip through the countryside from Bryson City to Dillsboro, passing by the set for the movie “The Fugitive.” Select a diesel or steam locomotive as your engine of choice.

Specialty Trains

Excursion Trains in North Carolina - Camping World

  • Uncorked Train – Indulge in first-class service with a private attendant pouring samples of wines professionally paired with cheeses and a surf and turf meal. All passengers will receive a commemorative wine glass with their ticket.
  • BBQ and Brews – Enjoy slow-cooked BBQ with beer tastings from local breweries on an evening dinner train. Guests will travel to the Fontana Trestle and watch the sunset before returning to Bryson City.
  • Moonshine Experience – offered on some of the Nantahala Excursion trains, this trip will help you thinking there are stills in every holler when you sample triple distilled craft moonshine!
  • Freedom Train – Join the 4th of July celebration with a train ride along the Nantahala River, enjoying an all American BBQ dinner while onboard. Arrive back at the depot just in time for Bryson City’s fireworks celebration. This train offers a wide variety of services and car selections.
  • Peanuts Train – Put the kids in their Halloween costumes and hop on the Great Pumpkin train ride for a visit to the pumpkin patch. A one-and-one-half-hour layover provides time to enjoy trick-or-treating, games, marshmallow campfire treats and a visit with Charlie Brown and the Gang. Select from three classes of service and grab your tickets early!

Length of Season

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is chocked full of train rides, with a season that starts in April and finishes at the end of December with a Polar Express train. Check their schedule to find an excursion that fits yours!

Craggy Mountain Line

Excursion Trains in North Carolina - Camping World
Photo Credit: CraggyMountainLine.com

Initially begun as the Ashville & Craggy Mountain Railway, the line never raised enough money to complete the tracks to Craggy Mountain. The few miles it did conquer were electrified in 1905 to prove that trolleys could handle increasing freight traffic. By the mid-1950s, steam engines ran the line along the French Broad River, but they ceased operations in the 1960s and the line fell into disrepair. In 2001 the Craggy Mountain Line, Inc. purchased the last three-and-one-half miles of track and put trolleys back to work. This time they were transporting tourists as a scenic mountain train.

Railway and Locomotive Types

The Craggy Mountain Line consists of electric trolleys that run on standard gauge rails. The cars themselves are open-air gondola cars with covers for protection from the elements. The railroad also has a collection of rolling stock in differing stages of renovation.

Seating Options

Excursion Trains in North Carolina - Camping World
Photo Credit: CraggyMountainLine.com

Open seating is available to all, with no assigned classes or cars. Passengers travel in restored covered gondola cars.

Riding Options

There is only one type of trip on the Craggy Mountain Line, as it covers seven miles round trip. There are no side spurs, but the journey is an enjoyable one that lasts about an hour and fifteen minutes.

Specialty Trains

Excursion Trains in North Carolina - Camping World
Photo Credit: CraggyMountainLine.com
  • Jingle Bell Trolley Train Ride – Join Santa for a holiday ride on the trolley, complete with cocoa, and maybe you will get to tell him about your Christmas wishes!
  • Dinosaur Day – Search the forests around the trolley line for Jurassic-sized critters as you head out on a dinosaur adventure.

Length of Season

The Craggy Mountain Line Railroad runs every Saturday from April through October. Trolley rides leave at 4pm, but specialty rides have added departures. Check out their schedule here.

Tweetsie Railroad

Excursion Trains in North Carolina - Camping World
Photo Credit: Tweetsie.com

Tweetsie Railroad had an auspicious beginning as part of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad that ran from Johnson City, Tennessee to Boone, North Carolina back in 1882. By the mid-1950s, the line was abandoned and the locomotives sold. In 1957, however, the opportunity to return Locomotive 12 to its birthplace near Boone provided the impetus to design a western town around the railroad. Eventually, a steam locomotive shop opened on the property to restore and rebuild engines from around the country, and the Tweetsie Railroad became a full-fledged theme park.

Railway and Locomotive Types

Two coal-fired narrow gauge steam locomotives are used to move the Tweetsie train through the mountains near Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

Seating Options

Excursion Trains in North Carolina - Camping World
Photo Credit: Tweetsie.com

All seating is open, with no assigned designations. The three-mile excursion is enjoyed from open-air gondola cars with covers.

Riding Options

There is only one type of trip on the Tweetsie Railroad. A half hour journey on the tracks covers about three miles and there are no side spurs or one way tickets to purchase. Just sit back and enjoy the ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Specialty Trains

Excursion Trains in North Carolina - Camping World
Photo Credit: Tweetsie.com
  • Railroad Heritage Weekend – Tour the locomotive shop and memorabilia room, take a ride on a vintage coach car and enjoy a historic trip behind a 76-year-old steam engine during an epic weekend for railroad enthusiasts.
  • Ghost Train – Take a ghastly ride on a ghoulish train, venturing through a black hole, freaky forest and a warp tunnel before trick-or-treating and touring a haunted house, if you dare!
  • Tweetsie Christmas – Join holiday revelers on a night train through the Blue Ridge Mountains, with lighted tracks and Christmas trees, a holiday showcase and Santa, of course!

Length of Season

The Tweetsie Railroad and all its park attractions are open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from April 5 through October 27. Specialty trains have specific dates of operation, so be sure to check the schedule.


 

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 North Carolina

Shelley Dennis Contributor
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

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