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7 Most Scenic Train Rides in North Carolina

Map of scenic train rides in North Carolina

What if you could travel through picturesque landscapes and travel back in time, simultaneously? Would it feel like a dream? If you ask us, there’s nothing quite like a leisurely train ride through rolling hills and small towns, and North Carolina is a great place to experience riding the rails.

Train trips in the Tar Heel state start with the views and continue to impress. There’s extensive history, impeccable scenic beauty, and an exciting sense of exploration that comes with any railroad you find.

You’ve got adventure in store, between a historic railroad, an immersive museum, and numerous special events for the entire family. Take a peek at the map below to see which rail line you’re closest to, and then read on to learn more about the most scenic train rides in North Carolina.

Map of scenic train rides in North Carolina

Best Train Rides in North Carolina

1. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Train in the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
digidreamgrafix / Adobe Stock

Located in the heart of Bryson City, you’ll be “all aboard!” at the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Kick back to enjoy a two-hour train ride along the Nantahala River and view beautiful Fontana Lake through your window.

These train rides carry you around Nantahala National Forest and over the gorge with amazing scenic views. You can witness steam-powered and diesel-engine locomotives at work. You’ll have a special menu in first class, a premium open-air gondola, or the Nantahala Gorge Excursion.

An assortment of activities are available to you, too, including but not limited to Bryson City’s Nantahala River Guided Whitewater Rafting Trip, the Zip Line Adventure Park Pass with Gear, and the Mountaintop Zip Line Experience.

Around the holidays, book a real Polar Express ride for the whole family. Featuring hot cocoa and a visit from Santa, great memories await at the historic Great Smoky Mountain Railroad at Bryson City depot. Book your tickets online! Earliest rides typically begin around 10:30 a.m. and run until 8:20 p.m.

Also, a fun local tip: Real adventurers should check out the crown class in the Tuckasegee River Excursion, the Carolina Moonshine Experience, and other unique trips offered by the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

Accessibility: The open-air gondola has a hydraulic lift for wheelchair boarding and deboarding assistance and a handicap-accessible restroom. Golf cart boarding assistance is also available for guests with limited capabilities.

Best time to visit: May-December


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