Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
I don’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to traveling by train. On my very first excursion by train ride, a fire broke out on board less than ten minutes after I took my seat. The second time, a severe storm turned a 5 hour ride into an 11 hour trip. And the third time I rode a train, it was a long ride home after being dumped by a girlfriend. Needless to say – it was time to break the unlucky streak and enjoy a train ride for once in my life!
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad leaves out of Bryson City, North Carolina. There are multiple options as you can discover when you browse their website. I was stunned to learn that there were nearly 800 people on board for the Saturday tour I was on. The train cars went as far as the eye could see. That was something I really wasn’t expecting.
Our tour lasted close to five hours. Even longer if you count the time you arrive early and learn your train car assignment. They ask you to be early so you’re not running to your train car moments before it’s scheduled to depart. On our tour, we stopped at the Nantahala Outdoor Center for about an hour so folks could grab a beer or watch some of the professional kayakers practicing. Speaking of being on time – if you’re not back when the conductor tells you – they’ll leave you behind. Our train departed at exactly 2:15, just like he announced he would. If you’re prone to being late – better set your watch ahead or hope they have Uber up in the mountains.
The ride itself was mostly smooth. The seats were surprisingly comfortable on our train car. The scenery is made up of a lot of greenery – meaning you’ll be passing through quite a bit of forest. About 45 minutes or so into the ride, the scenery gets more exciting with some mountain views, streams, farms, and lakes. They have all of the riders switch sides on the way back so everyone gets a chance to see the trip from both viewpoints.
Depending on the excursion you choose, there may be a server on board that provides lunch and beverages. Other plans allow you to bring food on board or purchase boxed lunches ahead of time. I brought a small backpack that had a few snacks just in case.
Overall, it was a fun experience. I imagine the ride would be even better as the leaves change color. Good luck perfectly timing that, however.
Waterfall Hikes In The Area
Bryson City has quite a few waterfalls in the area that are fairly easy to find with minimal effort. There’s even a “waterfall loop” that can help you see up to a dozen of them while you’re in the region. If you’re short on time, consider visiting the local Deep Creek Trailhead which can take you to three different falls within a 2.5 mile hike. Much of the trail is paved however parts of it are not and include some steep climbing. The three waterfalls on the hike are: Indian Creek Falls, Tom Branch Falls, and Juney Whank Falls.
Outside of town, but a doable drive if you have a home base in Bryson City, is Mingo Falls. It’s located in Cherokee, NC. If you can handle a bunch of steps – you can make it to this one. It’s 120 feet tall. There’s also SoCo Falls, which is also located in Cherokee.
These days, people are looking for unique accommodations or places that feel more like home than a hotel. During my visit, I stayed in one of the houses inside Bryson Village. This was a gated complex of small homes that had two bedrooms, two baths, a small living room space, dining room table, full kitchen, and even a hot tub on the back deck! They were well decorated and super cozy with a smart TV in the living room and each bedroom. This would make an awesome option for a family or perhaps two couples traveling together.
Other Stuff To Do
There are so many things to check out in Bryson City! I was only in town for barely two days so I couldn’t see everything. I did have a chance to explore their cute little downtown with shops and restaurants. I popped into the local ice cream shop for a pumpkin pie flavored ice cream sundae! If you’re into bike riding, floating, rafting, or kayaking – Bryson City has lots of options for you as well.
You can learn more by visiting their tourism website: explorebrysoncity.com