The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers scenic rail excursions through the North Carolina mountains along Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers, across valleys and through tunnels. All of the train rides depart from downtown Bryson City (near Cherokee) at the depot and train museum. Their variety of excursions and special event trains (like the Polar Express) is perfect for making memories!
Early in the century, the railway played a major part of the story of the development of the region. Today, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad provides visitors a way to explore the mountains and enjoy the natural beauty of Western North Carolina. Ride in vintage open air cars, climate-controlled cars or first class with dining options.
Nantahala Gorge Excursion
Take a ride along the beautiful Nantahala River. This 4.5-hour excursion carries you 44 miles to the Nantahala Gorge and back to the historic Bryson City depot. The historic Trellis Bridge takes you across Fontana Lake. Arrive at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) for a one-hour layover where you can relax by the river or enjoy sight-seeing. If you enjoy whitewater rafting, take their Raft and Rail combination trip!
Tuckasegee River Excursion
This relaxing ride through quiet countryside in Jackson County is your way to small town life. This four hour excursion travels 32 miles round-trip to Dillsboro and back to the Bryson City depot. Pass by the infamous movie set of The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford and stop in Dillsboro for a 1.5-hour layover to explore the town.
Most excursions have a full service concession car offering a wide selection of snacks and lunch items, beverages and alcoholic drinks for purchase. Or pick up snacks or lunch at their cafe at the Depot. First Class includes a meal.
- Standard Seating (Coach Class) is in restored vintage coaches that date back as early as 1920, feature windows that open for fresh-air viewing, ceiling fans and heat for cooler days.
- Open Air Gondolas are created from retired baggage and flatbed cars. These open cars feature long padded outward-facing seats, perfect for the panoramic views. A great car for capturing the scents and sounds of the forest, or that special photo to remember your trip.
- In Crown Class, elax in restored coaches dating from 1925 with larger windows for better viewing and climate control. Crown Class passengers receive their own souvenir tumbler to pick up and fill with a fountain soda in the Conductor's Cafe Car.
- The First Class riding experience is truly one-of-a-kind! Travel in comfort and style in 1940s-era bar, lounge and dinner cars that feature seating at well-appointed tables and lounge/restaurant style chairs. First Class passengers receive an all-inclusive, delicious lunch served by the car’s private attendant, a souvenir tumbler with a fountain soda and an embroidered tote bag gift from GSMR. First Class cars are climate controlled and full bar service is also available.
Find a wide variety of lodging accommodations in Bryson City and the Great Smoky Mountains, including log cabin rentals, hotels, bed and breakfast inns and campgrounds.
For a small town, you'll find a nice variety of restaurants, ranging from southern home cooking to a brewery and gourmet dining. A nice reward after a day of exploring the Great Smokies and Nantahala River.
Check out our favorite small town near Asheville! Ride the train on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad before you explore their downtown shops and galleries or paddleboard down the river. Nearby Deep Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park features camping, hiking, trout fishing and the uber popular tubing. Raft the Nantahala River. And that's just the beginning!
Special Train Excursions & Events
- Carolina Shine Moonshine Experience:Hop on board The Carolina Shine, an all-adult first class Moonshine Car serving the hand crafted, triple-distilled Midnight Moon moonshine. Operating May-October on the Nantahala Gorge excursion, this shine and dine experience begins in a renovated First Class train fleet car with copper lined walls filled with the history of moonshining in North Carolina. Enjoy a full service ride with a private attendant serving freshly cooked BBQ, cornbread slice and Moonshiners Mud Chocolate Pie. Read more about the Carolina Shine Moonshine Experience.
- Fontana Trestle Train BBQ & Brews: Back for only four dates, featuring slow-cooked BBQ prepared fresh and beer tastings showcasing our local breweries. Departing from Bryson City Saturday May 23, June 27, July 11 and August 29 at 7 PM.
- The MacNeill Uncorked Wine Train: New in 2015! Ride their latest all-adult specialty car, The MacNeill Uncorked, for a unique railroad and wine combination with well-appointed dining seating. A narrator will pour six wines to guests and share knowledge of the Western North Carolina wine region. Also enjoy an exclusive sampling of local cheeses, their choice of a freshly made entrée, and a chef-selected dessert. Tickets are $109/person. Departs 10:30 AM on June 20, July 18 and August 15.
- Freedom Train: Celebrate Independence Day with this July 4th excursion. This special train will depart from the Bryson City Depot at 7:30 PM, following the Nantahala Gorge Excursion route to the Fontana Trestle. Once at the trestle, pause for some spectacular viewing and then head back to Bryson City to rejoin the big Freedom Fest for an awesome fireworks show in the downtown area! Crown and coach seating enjoys a BBQ meal and apple pie.
- Dinosaur Train: New for 2015! Based on the popular PBS Kids Television series, Jim Henson's Dinosaur Train™ will be family fun for all with fun music singalongs, plus all kids receive a Nature Trackers Club Card to use at the activities area to during your layover. T.rex, Buddy will greet passengers and available for photos during a 90-minute layover at stop with plenty of fun activities. Departs Fridays: July 17, 24 & 31 at 11:30 AM and 3 PM. Saturdays: July 18, 25, and August 1 11:30 AM and 3 PM. Sundays: July 19, 26 and August 2 at 3 PM.
- RailFest: Railroad enthusiasts and history buffs will especially love RailFest weekend in downtown Bryson City food, memorabilia, storytelling, dance, music, special excursions, and events.
- PEANUTS™ Pumpkin Patch Express: Hear Schulz’s “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” as the train travels to the Pumpkin Patch. Upon arrival, have a photo opportunity with Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Snoopy. During a layover, enjoy activities including campfire marshmallows, a coloring station, temporary tattoos, trick or treating, bouncy house and hayrides. Don’t forget to wear your Halloween costumes! Departs Fridays: October 9, 16, 23 & 30 at 3:30 PM. Saturdays: October 3, 10, 17, 24 & 31 at 12 PM and 3:30 PM. Sundays: October 4, 11, 18 & 25 at 12 PM and 3:30 PM.
- Masquerade Train: This adults-only ride on Halloween at 8 PM features some spooky fun, dining and dancing with delicous drink concoctions and a full buffet of heavy hors d'oeuvres. Costumes are a must!
Polar Express Train: Believe the magic this Holiday season. The 1.25-hour round-trip excursion comes to life for a journey through the quiet wilderness for a special visit at the North Pole. Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, guests enjoy warm cocoa and a treat while listening and reading along with the magical story. Early November through December. It's very popular, so get advance tickets. Read more!
Be sure to see their Smoky Mountain Trains Museum (included with your ticket) with its collection of 7,000 Lionel™ engines, cars and accessories, impressive operating layout.