Locomotive travel invites us back to a simpler time and an unhurried, undisturbed opportunity to see fall foliage and holiday lights. As fall and winter approach, we’ve got our eye on these seriously scenic and festive passenger trains. Outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs, foodies, and families — check out these 12 fun train rides in the South!
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
Location: Blue Ridge, GA
More info: brscenic.com
This experience starts in the historic depot in downtown Blue Ridge, Georgia’s coolest mountain town. On this 26-mile trip along the Toccoa River, riders can view what countless generations have viewed before them in the lush Appalachian foothills and farmland. During the two-hour layover in the sister towns of McCaysville, GA, and Copperhill, TN, you can simultaneously stand in both states and straddle the famous “Blue Line.” The famous Toccoa-Ocoee Street has delightful eateries, boutiques, and galleries to entertain you before an hour-long return.
Virginia Scenic Railway
Location: Staunton, VA
More info: VirginiaScenicRailway.com
The Virginia Scenic Railway gives riders a front-row seat to some of Virginia’s most magnificent fall views. You’ll roar through tunnels and over bridges, pass scenic fields and forests, and climb over mountains. The only regularly scheduled tourist trains in the state, pick from two routes offering three-hour sightseeing excursions through the Shenandoah Valley with upscale dining services.
My Old Kentucky Dinner Train
Location: Bardstown, KY
More info: kydinnertrain.com
Think of My Old Kentucky Dinner Train as chef-driven fine dining on wheels! The 32-mile round-trip lunch and dinner excursions are approximately two-and-a-half hours long and feature an ever-changing view with consistent hospitality and a full menu of Southern delicacies. They also offer on- and off-train events like an annual Bourbon Fest, mixology classes, Murder Mystery excursions, and more.
Tennessee Valley Railroad
Location: Chattanooga, TN and Delano, TN
More info: tvrail.com
Since welcoming its first railroad in 1850, Chattanooga has been a hub of locomotion. The town is also doing a lot to preserve its history. Tennessee Valley Railroad’s passenger trains now run on a historic route that includes the Missionary Ridge Tunnel, completed in 1858. You can enjoy many types of rides (ranging from two to nine hours long) with stopovers in several small towns. Pick from an array of “flavored” rides like tea service, Civil War history, Christmas dinner, holiday lights, and more.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Location: Bryson City, NC
More info: gsmr.com
More than a million and a half visitors a year head to quaint Bryson City, NC’s historic train depot to hop on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s famous passenger trains. Pick from an array of round-trip scenic rides ranging from 3.5 hours to a full day of adventure that takes you to extraordinary corners of Western North Carolina you can’t see by car. You’ll see close-up views of Fontana Lake, the historic Fontana Trestle, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers, historical structures, and vibrant foliage. They also offer unique rides like the Polar Express and BBQ & Brews.
South Carolina Railroad Museum
Location: Winnsboro, SC
More info: scrm.org
The South Carolina Railroad Museum runs the Palmetto State’s only scenic train aside from Amtrak. The 1.5-hour excursion traverses miles of historic tracks through woods, granite hillsides, and bucolic countryside. Add some festive spark to the holiday season or treat your loved one(s) to an unforgettable evening on the rails at one of their seasonal experiences like a gourmet dinner, BBQ dinner, Pumpkin Patch Express, and more.
Big South Fork Scenic Railroad
Location: Stearns, KY
More info: bsfsry.com
Starting in beautiful Stearns, KY, this seven-mile historic trackage shows off expansive open vistas, roaring rivers, and the history of Appalachia’s important coal and logging industries. The halfway point — the Barthell Coal Camp — transports you back in time to one of the country’s best-preserved “company” towns of the Kentucky coalfields. Not only does this route highlight a paramount piece of Southern history, but it’s one of the best for fall colors.
Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway
Location: Eureka Springs, AR
More info: esnarailway.com
One of our favorite small towns in Arkansas hosts scenic and dining locomotive experiences through charming towns and pristine wilderness. Aboard Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway’s 1940-era diesel locomotive, you can witness the authentic turntable turn the engine around. The excursion ride is conductor-narrated, while the luxury lunch and dinner trips feature a 1920s-inspired menu aboard the Eurekan Dining Car.
Location: Cordele, GA
More info: SAMshortline.com
In 2000, the SAM excursion train founders began putting this historic train — one that helped build many parts of South — back together. Locating and restoring the original 1939- or 1949-built cars took two years! Today, the excursion train follows the historic route from Cordele to Plains, GA, gliding through cotton fields, pecan groves, peanut farms, and over Lake Blackshear. Passengers can visit sites like the Georgia Rural Telephone Museum, historic downtown Americus, President Jimmy Carter’s hometown of Plains, and his boyhood farm in Archery.
Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum
Location: Chase, AL
More info: narm.info
On Saturdays at Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum, take a trip back in time aboard the vintage restored coaches of The Calera & Shelby Railroad. You’ll traverse a portion of the former L&N Alabama Mineral Railroad line established in 1891. The first-generation diesel-electric locomotive takes you through the scenic forests of Shelby County on a 75-minute trip. Before or after your trip, explore the museum’s two restored depots and collection of railroad cars, locomotives, and cabooses.
Austin Steam Train
Location: Cedar Park, TX
More info: AustinSteamTrain.org
This popular Central Texas excursion railroad was born when an old steam locomotive and a piece of historic rail line both became the property of the citizens of Austin. Book their signature and longest train ride, the Hill Country Flyer, which meanders through Texas Hill Country’s bluebonnet flowers, rolling farmlands, and rustic outposts. You’ll stop in the charming town of Burnet to shop, eat, and explore before completing the 66-mile round-trip journey.
Tennessee Wine Train
Location: Chattanooga, TN
More info: GoldenSlope.com
“All aboardeaux! Your table is departing…” the Tennessee Wine Train cleverly announces online. This two-hour dining train excursion includes a three-course dinner with curated wine pairings from sommelier John McCune while chugging along in a beautifully restored 1924 dining car. The remaining 2023 dates are October 12, November 16, and December 21.
Happy train hoppin’ this fall!
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