Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society and Museum Sponsors Spring Excursion | Community

BRYSON CITY — On Saturday, April 30, the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society and Museum will sponsor a train ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. It’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate and enjoy the beauty of spring while riding the rails in vintage passenger carriages.

The day trip will cover most of the operating routes of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The track follows the route of the old Murphy Branch line of the Southern Railway, established in 1891, with its 5% gradient and its many bridges. Our scenic rail tour takes us from the historic depot in Bryson City, NC, through the beautiful countryside of western NC, to the stunning Nantahala Gorge surrounded by the majestic Smoky Mountains, and back in Bryson City. Much of the route runs along the banks of the Little Tennessee and Nantahala rivers. It crosses Lake Fontana on a trestle spanning 780 feet, 100 feet above the lake.

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

Passengers travel comfortably in Crown Class, Tourist Coach or Open Air cars. All classes offer seating in restored classic antique passenger cars. There are toilets throughout the train.

Crown Class carriages offer large windows and air conditioning for passenger comfort, while Tourist Coach Class carriages have ceiling fans and windows that open and close for a view in the fresh air and cars Open-Air Coach are ideal for taking pictures and “living” the ride and scenery.

Bryson City is a laid-back, non-touristy town of 1,300 with more stop signs than red lights. It’s an easily walkable town with local bookstores, arts and crafts galleries with working artisans, a bike shop, two fly fishing shops, a fly fishing museum , a historical museum, an aquarium, a panoramic train, two brasseries and a surprising variety of restaurants. Bryson City is only 10 miles from the famous Cherokee Indian Reservation.

Passengers have two options for arriving at the Bryson City train depot: they can either take a tourist charter bus from Johnson City, Tennessee, or travel directly to Bryson City, if that is more convenient. Please select the departure point on the order form when purchasing tickets. Free parking is available in Johnson City and Bryson City.

Schedules for Direct-to-Bryson City, NC Passengers

  • Collect your tickets and packed lunches, visit the boutiques and the Lionel Museum (10 a.m. to 11 a.m.)
  • Board the train at Bryson City Depot (11:00-11:35 a.m.)
  • Train departs Bryson City (12:01 p.m.)
  • Drop-off at Bryson City (4:15 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.)

Schedules for Johnson City, TN coach passengers

  • Hop on a chartered tourist bus in Johnson City (7:00-7:25)
  • Departure by coach (7:30 a.m.)
  • Arrival in Bryson City, North Carolina (10:00 a.m.)
  • Claim packed lunches, visit the shops and the Lionel Railway Museum (10 a.m. to 11 a.m.)
  • Board the train at Bryson City Depot (11:00-11:35 a.m.)
  • Train departs Bryson City (12:01 p.m.)
  • Drop-off at Bryson City (4:15 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.)
  • Board the bus and depart for the return trip to Johnson City (4:45-5:00 PM)
  • Return to Johnson City (7:30 p.m.)

Leaving Bryson City, passengers will see the Great Smoky Mountains to the right of the train. The trail passes through Bryson City, ascends to Lake Fontana following the Little Tennessee River, crosses the Trestle of Lake Fontana, past the Nantahala Outdoor Center and into the breathtaking Nantahala Gorge, following the shore of the Nantahala River. At the end of the gorge, the train will trace the tracks to Bryson City.

Ticket prices for the excursion are as follows:

  • Crown class ticket price is $110/adult and $87/child 2-12 years old
  • The ticket price for the tourist coach is $94/adult and $77/child 2-12 years old
  • Ticket price in Open-Air Coach class is $96/adult $76/child 2-12 years old

All excursion ticket classes include free admission to the Smoky Mountain Lionel Train Museum before boarding the train. The museum has a collection of 7,000 Lionel engines, cars and accessories, as well as an impressive operating plan and children’s activity centre.

Meal options for the excursion include the following:

  • A box lunch that includes a sandwich, fries, cookie, and drink (Selections are made on the ticket order form.) Box lunches must be purchased in advance with the ticket order and will be available at the edge of the track to be picked up before boarding.
  • A concession car will also have sandwiches, drinks, chips and snacks available for purchase on board.
  • Bring your own lunch – a small cooler is acceptable if you wish to bring food with you.

The tour operates rain or shine. Every effort will be made to maintain an on-time schedule. The Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum assumes no responsibility if passengers do not arrive at the Bryson City depot on time. Spring Great Smoky Train excursions are selling out quickly and officials are urging interested passengers to order tickets in order to secure their place on the train.

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