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Train excursions taking scenic route

The Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society and Museum’s Fall Excursions will take place on Sept. 12 and Sept. 13 and ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The deadline to purchase tickets is Sept. 3. Left, an engine travels through a tunnel during a previous excursion. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

On Saturday, Sept. 12, and Sunday, Sept. 13, the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society and Museum will sponsor its Fall Excursions – a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad through the majestic mountains and beautiful countryside of western North Carolina from Bryson City and the Nantahala Gorge. This is a chance to enjoy a beautiful train excursion before the summer is gone.

This trip will cover most of the operating trackage of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. These trips are one-day trips and each day is sold separately.

The track follows the route of the former Southern Railway’s Murphy Branch Line, established in 1891, with its five percent grade and many bridges. Much of the route hugs the banks of the Little Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers. It crosses Fontana Lake on a trestle spanning 780 feet 100 feet above the lake.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad has become a favorite of film producers over the years. The train wreck scene in the 1993 movie “The Fugitive,” starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, was filmed along the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. The railroad was used in the filming of the 1996 comedy “My Fellow Americans,” starring Jack Lemmon and James Garner, when they stumble onto a charter train full of UNC-Chapel Hill fans headed for the NCAA Final Four. Train scenes in the 1998 movie “Forces of Nature,” starring Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock, were also filmed on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

The scenic rail excursions take you from the historic depot in Bryson City through the countryside of Western North Carolina and the Smokies.

Upon arrival in Bryson City, passengers will have time to choose from several restaurants in town and visit the many shops. Bryson City is a laid back, non-touristy town of 1,300 with more stop signs than stoplights. It’s easy to stroll through the town which has local bookstores and arts and crafts galleries with working artisans, a bike shop, two fly-fishing shops, a historical museum, a fly-fishing museum, an aquarium, a scenic train, two breweries, and a surprising variety of restaurants. Bryson City is only 10 miles from the famous Cherokee Indian Reservation.

All excursion ticket holders get complimentary admission to the Smoky Mountain Lionel Train Museum before boarding the train. The museum boasts a collection of 7,000 Lionel engines, cars and accessories, and an impressive operating layout and children’s activity center.

As the train leaves Bryson City, riders will see the Great Smoky Mountains to the right of the train. The track travels through Bryson City.

Rising to Fontana Lake the route follows the Little Tennessee River, cross the Fontana Lake Trestle, pass the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and enter the breathtaking Nantahala Gorge, following the shore line of the exciting Nantahala River.

There is a video clip online at wataugavalleynrhs.org. At the end of the gorge, the route will trace the tracks back to Bryson City.

Passengers may choose to ride in comfort in Tourist Coach, Open Air Coach, or Crown. All classes offer seating in vintage, restored passenger cars. Tourist Coach Class cars feature ceiling fans and windows that open and close for fresh air viewing.

Open Coach Class is great for taking pictures and seeing the beautiful scenery. Crown Class cars offer larger windows for better viewing (windows do not open) and climate control for passenger comfort. 

All passenger cars are heated and have restrooms throughout the train.

SCHEDULE

• Arrive Bryson City Depot – 11-11:15 a.m. (check into the depot at tent);

• Boarding Train – 12:15-12:40 p.m.;

• Train Departs Bryson City Depot – 1 p.m.;

Reach Top of Line – 3 p.m.;

• Return to Bryson City Depot – 5:30 p.m.

Lodging information will be sent out with confirmation form in the Bryson City area.

TICKETS

Passengers may choose comfortable seating in Tourist Coach Class which are climate-controlled train cars.

All passenger cars are heated and restrooms are located on all buses and throughout the train.

Crown Class ticket price is $99/adult and $80/child (2-12).

Tourist Coach or Open Air Coach Class ticket price is $86/adult and $70/child (2-12).

MEALS

Passengers have several options for meals aboard the train.

• Box Lunch – Includes chips, cookie, and choice of drink. Passengers will pick up box lunches in the Concessions Car on the train. Box lunches must be pre-purchased with ticket order at $11 per meal. Box Lunch options include: turkey and cheese on croissant or baked chicken breast on croissant.

• Concessions Car – Sandwiches, drinks, chips, and snacks will be available for purchase onboard.

• Bring Your Own – A small cooler is acceptable if you wish to bring food with you on the train.

Tickets and pre-purchased meals may be ordered only online by credit card at wataugavalleynrhs.org. Click on the EXCURSIONS link.

Note: Ticket purchases must be made no later than Thursday, Sept. 3, at 6 p.m.

Questions about the trip? Go to wataugavalleynrhs.org or email [email protected]