5 Beautiful Train Rides in North Carolina Through Quaint Towns, Vibrant Cities, and the Blue Ridge Mountains

All aboard for these adventures in North Carolina.

There’s something classic and timeless about taking a train trip. For some, it’s a daily part of their commute, but for others, it’s an invitation to embark on an adventure back in time. If your travels are bringing you to the Tar Heel State, these train rides offer a unique view of the iconic Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as themed holiday experiences. Here's a guide to the best train rides in North Carolina that you (and the whole family) won’t want to miss.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Train blowing out smoke

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Nestled in Bryson City, roughly a one-hour drive from Asheville, is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad takeoff station. There are two train types — an old-fashioned steam-powered locomotive and a more modern diesel option — as well as several routes varying in distance, time, and theme, though all provide a scenic experience.

One of the most popular trips is the Nantahala Gorge Excursion, a 4.5-hour round-trip journey offering a pit stop to soak in the mountaintop views. Or, you can hop aboard the Tuckasegee River Excursion, a four-hour trek that includes a stop in a small historic town for some quick shopping.  

Locals and tourists alike swarm to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad for its special Polar Express train during the holidays, which includes cookies, hot cocoa, and a Santa sighting, as well as encourages passengers of all ages to wear their pajamas while on board. Couples can enjoy dinners with a wine pairing, a Carolina moonshine tasting, a murder mystery party, and other themed rides that make for a fun date night.

Ticket prices range based on age and class of service, including first class, premium open-air gondola, coach plus, crown, and coach class. Prices start at $58 for adults and $33 for kids ages two to 12. 

Tweetsie Railroad

A long colorful train from Tweetsie

Tweetsie Railroad

A kid's wonderland can be found in the small, quaint village of Blowing Rock, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tweetsie Railroad is known for its adventure park offering themed experiences, including Thomas the Train, a ghost ride, and a holiday adventure. In addition to railroad trips, the admission fee includes access to kid-friendly amusement park rides, a deer petting zoo, live interactive shows, and more. Seasonal events like a dog frisbee competition and visiting musicians also add to the character and charm of this tiny town experience. Daily admission tickets are $60 for adults, $40 for children ages three to 12, and free for kids under two. 

New Hope Valley Railway

The kaboose of the New Hope Line

New Hope Valley Railroad

If experiencing a historic train ride is on your wish list, consider the New Hope Valley Railway. This four-mile, hour-long trip from Bonsal to New Hill is known as the "Triangle’s Train" as it’s located in the Piedmont region of the state (or the Triangle), connecting Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill.

Passengers aboard this vintage locomotive will wind through tall pine trees, a signature of the state. Throughout the year, seasonal experiences are on offer, including summer adventures with Thomas the Train, an Easter egg hunt in April, and more. Check the website for special events that sell food and drinks while aboard the train, too. 

While some seasonal rides may cost more, general admission is $11 for kids ages two to 12, $14 for adults, and $13 for seniors 60 years and older. 

North Carolina Transportation Museum

Two trains approaching the station at the NC Transportation Museum

North Carolina Transportation Museum

For a daytime excursion fit for the whole family, consider visiting Spencer, North Carolina, a small town situated between Charlotte and Greensboro. This Rowan County destination is the home of the North Carolina Transportation Museum, which was once the Southern Railway’s largest steam locomotive factory in the southeast. 

Here, you and your travel companions can learn about various forms of transportation in the Tar Heel State over the years, from aviation and railroads to automobiles and more. You can tour the Barber Junction Depot, a train station built in 1898 that’s now the visitor center. 

And, of course, no visit would be complete without a train ride. The train takes you through the museum’s 60-acre campus and lasts about 25 minutes. Ride availability changes each month, but you can hop board Fridays to Sundays (and select Thursdays and Easter Monday) from March to May. From June to Labor Day, you can enjoy rides from Thursdays to Sundays. Like other railroads in the state, themed rides are part of the fun, including Easter bunny excursions and Wine & Dine date-night events. 

Tickets cost $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and active-duty military members, $8 for children ages three to 12. Admission for kids under three is free.

Craggy Mountain Line

Riders on the Craggy Mountain train

Craggy Mountain Line

For those seeking craft beer and mountain views, nothing hits the spot quite like Asheville. This vibrant city offers quirky experiences, including boozy rafting down the French Broad River, a tour of the largest privately owned home in America — the Biltmore Estate — and a train ride on the Craggy Mountain Line. Locals call it the "Asheville to Craggy Branch," a nonprofit organization that acquired the last three miles of the Craggy Mountain Line in 2001. 

They’ve turned it into a fun way to experience and view the Blue Ridge Mountains, whether for a family-friendly adventure or romantic afternoon date. There are no frills or extra bells and whistles; it’s simply a quick tour on a historic train. 

Tickets are $15 per person, with kids three and under for free. You can also rent the railroad with a group for two hours for weddings or bachelorette parties. For travel planning, remember the train only runs on Saturdays at 4 p.m. 

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