What’s on your bucket list? Sky-diving? River-cruising? A trip to Disney?
For my trainiac spouse, JM, it’s riding old-timey rails. Prone to motion sickness, I’ve been hesitant to join him. But we recently dodged that malady (whew!) and checked off his bucket list with a 4.5-hour excursion on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad to the Nantahala River Gorge.
Bring the kids and meet me at the Bryson City, NC, depot for an image-based journey and travel tips. I even uploaded a 60-second video, so you can be an armchair-traveler, trekking with me through high-country forests that tower over the sparkling Nantahala River and its world-class rapids.
* JM wanted to ride the steam engine. However, Hurricane Nate threatened, so we changed our departure date. To be safe, we bypassed a weekend-only steam ride for a mid-week ride on the diesel engine.
Tip: You can change your ticket, depending on seating availability, for a slight fee within 48 hours of departure.
* Pure serendipity! We bumped into Engine 1702 chugging next to us as we drove along a mountain road.
Tip: The steam engine stays active near the depot all night to undergo maintenance. Kids of all ages can get up close and personal with 1702.
* I was tempted, but those side-facing seats in an open car could've made me ill. Instead, we opted for a closed car, so I rode in a facing direction that kept away the yucks.
Tip: Open seating is also a less-expensive option and great fun for kids. Blankets are offered during cold weather; ceiling fans in the car cool in summer.
On the Rails
* We couldn't stop Oooo-ing and Ahhhh-ing while click-clacking alongside the Nantahala River with those early autumn tints straddling its banks. A banjo-player serenaded travelers with peppy mountain tunes, and our attendant kept us happy with refreshments and snacks.
Tip: If inclined to return without kids, the Moonshine Car offers special liquid refreshments just for adults -:D
* The excursion included a 60-minute layover at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, a huge adventure-sport complex near the Appalachian Trail, offering zip-lining, kayaking, and rafting. We spotted kayakers shooting the same rapids that challenged world competitors in 2013. Little passengers stripped off shoes to wade in quieter river waters. Between people-watching, browsing shops, and checking out restaurants, the hour flew by.
Choo-choo: Vid Views, Sounds
Hey, see for yourself in a 60-second vid I uploaded for you on Youtube. It's a bit more personal than usual: I included my smiling face and JM's pure delight for his bucket list ride. Did you catch the banjo and rapids, too?
Don’t Be In a Hurry to Leave
* The return trip was over too soon. Back in Bryson City, the smile on JM's face was still as wide and bright as a Smoky Mountain crescent moon. It was about to get even more so as passengers disembarked and crossed the tracks to a long single-story building.
Tip: Tickets included entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains Train Museum adjacent to the depot. With dozens of giant model train layouts, 100s of O-scale rolling stock, and more than 7,000 Lionel(TM) engines, the museum was a must-see for kids and rail fans. btw...JM was in heaven watching trains run and swapping model railroading tales with congenial museum curator, Ron.
Bucket List Part 2?
Would I go again?
You bet … as long as motion sickness tablets and wristlettes keep me from turning green <winking here>.
In fact, JM tells me there’s another steam train out of Bryson City that follows the Tuckasegee River to the high country town of Dillsboro. And some day, I'd love to do the Polar Express and be a kid again myself. Chooo-chooooo!
To learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, visit its website:
How about you? What’s on your bucket list? What rail excursions are in your part of the world? What tips do you have for riding the rails? Please share in the comment section. Thanks a ton for riding with me!!
Photos and video by Cat Michaels
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