October 14, 2014 by Susan Murray
One summer, when I was seven years old, my parents packed up our Ford Station Wagon and drove from Connecticut to Montana, and back, with me and my siblings in the rear seats. It was a fabulous trip. Along the way we stopped at National Monuments, explored caverns full of stalactites and stalagmites, visited “ghost towns” and enjoyed kitsch and history in equal qualities. (Somewhere I still have a small plastic trash can with a little bear attached to it from Yellowstone National Park). So when James and I arrived in Bryson City, North Carolina to ride the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad it took me back to memories of that trip across the USA.
Bryson City is about an hour drive from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast in Asheville, just on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s a lovely drive with long vistas of the mountains stretching out before you, especially beautiful in the Autumn when, as Camus is often quoted, it “is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”.
We dutifully arrived an hour early as we had been told when we purchased the tickets. Of course this was totally unnecessary as they don’t let you board the train until 15 minutes before the scheduled departure. (Tip #1: No need to get there an hour first!)
After a quick tour of the shops (kitsch), we decided to try the Smoky Mountains Train Museum (history). This turned out not to be full of large engine pieces, railroad ties and pictures of men at work, which I was expecting, but rather was a toy train museum. It was wonderful! (Tip #2: Don’t miss the Train Museum) The displays had buttons to push which would make the trains go and, even better, crossing lights would flash, merry-go-rounds would function, children would play in playgrounds and more would happen. Each at the touch of a button! Click on the link below to see the trains in action (and be sure to wait to the end to see the “men at work”!)
But soon it was time to board the train. There are a number of seating options available ranging from the cushy, temperature-controlled first class cars on down to open-air seating with benches for the intrepid. Care to guess which we chose? The open-air seating, course. Looking out the window at the scene beside the tracks, it seemed like we had jumped into one of the toy train set-ups in the museum with an old fashioned soda bottling facility and truck standing by.
It was a glorious sun-filled day as the train chugged through the valleys and along Fontana Lake. The train runs through the Nantahala River Gorge which means that, while one side faces the lake and river, the other side is facing the hillside (and pretty close to it too). (Tip #3: Choose a seat on the left facing the engine when you board or risk looking at a hillside the entire voyage). The sun glistened on the river as we watched the view go by. With neither one of us driving or needing to pay attention it was a good time to chat with each other and other passengers. And the view was lovely.
James and I had stopped at the Cheese Store of Asheville for a picnic before we left. There is a club car on the train but for a more elegant meal, I would suggest you do the same. We will be happy to order one for you if you like. (Tip #4: In spite of the injunctions against bringing coolers and picnic baskets onto the train, it is perfectly all right to bring your own food.)
The trip is four hours long which includes a stop at the Nantalahla Outdoor Center. It’s a good place to stretch your legs and, if you are lucky, you may see some hot-dogging in single man kayaks in the falls. The scenery was good, the train was fun and the weather was great. If you would like to see some more photos, you can visit our FaceBook Page by clicking here.
Posted in Autumn, Carolina Bed and Breakfast, Nature, Outside Asheville, Things to Do | Tagged Antique trains, Great Smoky Mountains, Nantahala | Leave a comment