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Is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Worth It? [2023]

great smoky mountain railroad in bryson city

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is one of the main attractions in Bryson City, North Carolina (photo by Alaina O'Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Please note, that TheSmokies.com may receive commissions for links in this article that lead to purchases from third-party vendors.

There’s so much to do and see in the Great Smoky Mountains. But if you go just a little further past the state line of Tennessee, you’ll find that the neighboring state also has a lot to offer – especially for train enthusiasts. Simply take Highway 441 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and go just a bit further. The tiny North Carolina town of Bryson City sits just beyond Cherokee on Highway 19 in the beauty of the Western North Carolina mountains. It’s a getaway within your getaway.

RELATED VIDEO: Is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Worth It?


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Is there a train that runs through the Great Smoky Mountains?

Yes, you can take a scenic tour of the Smoky Mountains by train. Bryson City, NC – besides being the hometown of former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler – is most famous for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The railroad offers scenic rail excursions through the fairly remote corner of Western North Carolina. Passengers wind through tunnels, across the historic train trestle over Fontana Lake, through fertile valleys and into a deep river gorge. 

There are seasonal rides, diesel rides and steam rides. Amenities vary depending on selection. For example, the adult first-class ride features a dining table in a car with climate control, large windows and a meal. Guests receive a souvenir tumbler with free refills of soda, coffee and tea and limited bar service. From there, you also have a crown class and a coach class and seasonally, an open-air gondola. The most affordable option is coach class, which starts at about $68 for adults and $43 for children. Food options vary by selection and the excursion choice.

What about special event train rides?

Special events throughout the year currently include Adventures, Carolina Shine Moonshine Experience, Sunset Tuck, the Bunny Hopper and The Polar Express. You can also book packages. The Polar Express Christmas special event during November and December – based on the classic children’s book about a magical train ride to the North Pole – is one of the most popular rides that the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers.

It’s highly recommended that you book early if you wish to ride the Polar Express. It’s certainly one of the most popular events in the Smokies. This excursion is often sold out by early November. Holiday-themed rides are usually shorter – and are also less scenic. But they offer the perfect opportunity for train-obsessed little ones to get into the spirit of the season and get to ride a real train.

first class seating on the great smoky mountain railroad
First class seating, pictured above, comes with a souvenir cup (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

How much does it cost to go on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad?

It depends. Prices vary by season, ticket, age and train experience. Generally, you can expect to pay between $68-149 per adult, depending on your selection. Prices for children range from $44-49 per child. View the current schedule on their website.

fontana train cart in gsmr
The open-air gondolas offer unobstructed views and a roof to protect passengers from the elements (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Is the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad worth it?

Worth, of course, is an individual thing. Still, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers a unique experience that you will likely remember for years to come. I like to think of attraction tickets in terms of dollars per entertainment hour. Considering the train ride will take about half of your day out and about, the prices are reasonable.

How long is the ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad?

The regular Tuckasegee River Excursion to Dillsboro, NC is a 4-hour excursion. It travels 32 miles round-trip. On this trip, you see the famous movie set of “The Fugitive”. The Nantahala Gorge Excursion is a 4.5-hour excursion that travels along the beautiful Nantahala River Gorge. It includes a one-hour layover at the Nantahala Gorge where guests can relax by the river or go sightseeing. All excursions are round-trip and return to the Bryson City depot.

sandwich with slaw and fruit on the great smoky mountain railroad
Above: The pulled pork BBQ sandwich in a first-class car (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Can you take your food on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad?

No. The company cites safety and comfort reasons. However, food and drinks are available for purchase onboard the train and at layover destinations. Contact the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad at (800) 872-4681 if you have special dietary needs.

Where do you board the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad?

The depot sits in the heart of Bryson City. The parking lot is located at 45 Mitchell Street, Bryson City. Passengers can be dropped off at the depot, located at 226 Everett Street.

bryson city train museum
Guests can visit a train museum after their scenic ride (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

How much is the train museum in Bryson City?

Guests who take a ride on the Smoky Mountain Railroad will get complimentary admission to the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum. Otherwise, admission is $9 for ages 12 and up and $5 for ages 3-11 years. Children under 3 are free. If you go to Bryson City, I recommend allowing some extra time for the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum. It’s a magnificent model train museum featuring a collection of 7,000 classic Lionel engines, cars and accessories. There are two massive rooms with intricate model railroad villages. 

When I was a kid, I’d go to visit my grandparents in Northeast Ohio, and my grandfather would take me to a train museum that featured a large, intricate model train set. I was never into trains. I’d not heard of Thomas until I was grown, but there was something about following the trains along the tiny tracks, the small vignettes they passed, the switch tracks, the lights, everything. I found it incredibly diverting, relaxing and fascinating.

That feeling returned watching the museum’s trains wind their way through the tiny tunnels. The closest way I can describe it is a little bit like the feeling you get watching fish swim in a large aquarium. There’s just something soothing about it. My son – who was really, really into trains for reasons I don’t understand – and I could have stayed in there for hours without ever setting foot on the bigger trains located just outside.

kayaks along nantahala
Bryson City is also popular for its outdoor activities (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

What else can you do in Bryson City?

One of the major attractions in Bryson City is, of course, the trains. But there are other things to do as well. Like most small mountain communities trying to draw tourists, there’s plenty of outdoor recreation. Bryson City is on the Appalachian Trail and thus has some fantastic hiking. There’s also ziplining as well as tubing, whitewater rafting and fly fishing in the Tuckasegee River and Nantahala River.

Bryson City also offers the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians, which, I suppose if you’re really into fly fishing, is a place you can go. The website promises rods from as far back as the 1800s and in-depth explorations of the history of the sport. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers packages if you are interested in additional excursions.

Have you seen the beautiful Western North Carolina mountains by train? Let us know in the comments below. View the story version of this article here.

38 thoughts on “Is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Worth It? [2023]”

  1. Where is agood fishing spot,swimming spot,and hiking spot at? I just wanna fish, tube ,and cookout

  2. We just enjoyed a short stay in Bryson City. The train ride was the draw, but the Fryemont Inn is why we are already planning to return.

  3. Received a phone call today. The Halloween train rides have all been cancelled, which is very disappointing.

  4. Hi. Has the steam train trips schedule for Nov 2021 been cancelled too? Thank you for your reply.

  5. We went on the Nantahala Gorge route on Friday. We had a wonderful time and the service on the train was great!
    We had our four year old daughter and my parents and we all enjoyed the trip.

  6. We went for the first time last November. We have fallen in love with the town, the scenery, all of it. There is plenty to explore within a short drive and everything is so beautiful. We especially love the fact that it doesn’t feel touristy. I highly recommend.

  7. My son and I did this ride in July. Enjoyable experience.
    I’ve done many of these type of train rides and this one ranks real high on list. Great way to spend a day

  8. Bryson city is definitely the place to be I’ve been twice this year and otw bacc again on the 19th will have more to say soon im sure

    • Hi Donna, They do have an open-air gondola equipped with a hydraulic lift for wheelchair boarding and deboarding assistance. It also has a handicap-accessible restroom. From their website: Call 800-872-4681 to speak with a GSMR representative who can assist in arranging and making reservations for your visit. Once arriving at the depot, please make the ticket office staff aware of your need for assisted boarding.

  9. We have vacationed in the area many times and love it there. Took the GSMRR excursion on our last visit and really enjoyed it. Enjoyable ride, gorgeous scenery. Would definitely recommend.

  10. Have been on the Great Smokie Railrod several times. We had snacks, lunch and even champagne. Would we ride again is the question. No, the seats we very uncomfortable, the box lunch was lacking, still haven’t figured out what there was about the lunch. The price is way to high for what you get.

  11. Not worth the money or time!! Service was good. Food was horrible, no scenery other than woods, and a few buildings. Not what we expected from reading the advertisements. DONT WASTE YOUR TIME AND MONEY.

  12. We looked forward to doing this for a long time and finally did it recently and I must say I was very disappointed. Not very scenic unless you enjoy trees and kudzu

  13. My daughter bought the tickets, lunch for me, her and her husband we all loved the train ride and the food was delicious, including the dessert. I got some beautiful picture’s and it wasn’t just of wood’s, neither.
    We all had a wonderful time and at the end of the ride they gave all of the rider group’s (5) scenic bag’s each and that was nice of them to do because they will definitely come in handy. I got a picture of the Conductor on the train. He was very polite. We was in the First class car and I was glad that it was air-conditioned. We was there the last week of July 2021.
    I would recommend that you ride the train because it was my first time ever being on a train and I’m 56 and I absolutely loved it.

  14. We did the Nantahala Tour last October ( 2020) and loved it so much we doing the Moonshine tour this October 16 ( 2021 ) . I find the person we had ( I think his name was Steve ) was very knowledgeable of the area….I absolutely loved the muffin they served us for breakfast.

  15. We took the train ride on Aug.11 and enjoyed it. We found out the best car was the open air gondola premium first class to be excellent. It gave an excellent view. Had a great tour guide. (if you ride in the enclosed air conditioned
    car you do not get a personal tour guide but an occasional pre recorded tour speaker. Much better with an interactive host. The food was ok. Not great but ok. Thought the ride was enjoyable and would do it again if in the area

  16. Did the day trips several times and had a great time. Box lunch was average but I wasn’t there for the food. The best time was the gourmet dinner and mystery murder train which they no longer do. Not much scenery as it’s mostly dark, but the entertainment and food were fabulous.

  17. It was well worth the money. I went in April I was in the VIP section and had bottomless mimosas and breakfast. The lunch was excellent and our car attendant was a hoot and that made the trip very enjoyable. I’m looking forward to going back again. I think you have to figure out what works best for you. I wanted the freedom to have drinks, breakfast, lunch and A/C. I was comfortable in the VIP car and will pay for it again

  18. Kayaking, canoeing and rafting excursions on the Nantahala and Tuckasegee and more are abundantly available near Bryson City. The Nantahala Outdoor Center in Nantahala Gorge is one of the best resources in our nation for paddling guides and instructors or just a rent-a-raft float down the Nanny.

  19. Me and my husband went 1 yr ago on the 23rd of august 2020…my husband was born in North Carolina and this is something I had always wanted to do myself and he did too…we had a wonderful time and we looked forward to it all week long…Now I’m glad we did …my husband died in January 2021….I will,always cherish the memorys i have…so was it worth the money???…EVERY PENNY!!!

  20. Went to Bryson Sept of 2020
    Train Rude into the Gorge was awesome. Bryson is a great starting point for things to see in the area. Cherokee is just 10 or 15 mins away. The Great Smokie National Park has multiple entrances all around. There are so many outdoor activities so close by

    • Hi Florence! According to their website, “For the comfort and safety of all guests and staff, coolers and picnic baskets are not permitted onboard. There are numerous options for both food and drink available onboard the train, at and around the depot, and at layovers.” Hope that helps!

  21. My wife and i took a dinner excursion,our kids bought us the tickets.. we were not aware i was a formal event,we dressed casual, khakis and sport shirt. We were treated Very rudely by the staff and made to feel unwelcome. It was a very long unhappy experience, …never again !!

  22. My husband (Memphis – delta boy & I (NYC) did the open car train a couple weeks ago. It was very relaxing & informative.
    The other people we met, talked to & had lunch with were worth every penny. If you all had listened to the train personnel you would have been given the history of this poor southern city. This little city depends on tourism, if you all are looking for crowds, noise & flash for your entertainment then you are in the wrong city! Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg is the place that would better suit you! People do your homework before moving or visiting down South. There is so much to be greatful for, instead of complaining be thankful that we are able to experience & enjoy and smell the roses.

  23. We did the train ride and whitewater rafting trip on August 23,2021. Had a great time! Ride the train up the Nantahala Gorge in the open air gondala car, very Covid19 safe and had a blast rafting 3 hours back down the river. Our guide Conner provided history along the way and safely guided us through class 2 and 3 rapids. It was a beautiful day and worth every penny!

  24. My wife and i have been on the train IT IS AWESOME, to say the least. Also the road to nowhere is awesome as well.

  25. Usually is a matter of personal opinion as what may be of good value to one may not to another but for me as a train enthusiast and also nature/outdoors activities it is something I like and enjoy and see the price tag as reasonably fair.benny

  26. My husband and I just did the Nantahala Gorge leaf viewing ride this past weekend. We were on the 2nd trip of the day. The 1st one had a medical emergency which would have put the conductor over their allowed time, so we didn’t get the layover stop, but that was ok. We were in a 21-and-up only first-class car with Steven as our guide, and he was fantastic! Full of history, stories and embellishments that kept everyone amused and in a good mood. Lunch was very good (we chose chicken salad croissant, mashed sweet potatoes and potato salad). We received mugs to keep with endless refills on tea, lemonade, and sodas. Also received a GSMRR stemless wine glass with a purchase of a local wine. Lots of adult beverage options. We also received a GSMRR tote bag before we disembarked. This was a trip we did for our 37th anniversary, and we would both do it again. Next time we’ll plan for time to visit more of this quaint Southern town!

  27. Sunday October 24, 2021 was my 3rd trip to the GSMR. It has always been amazing until this time. I took my granddaughter this time – This was her 1st trip. We were both so very excited. First off, the 2pm steam train we were on to the Nantahala Gorge did not leave until approximately 2:40pm. We only went about 22 miles, not even to the Nantahala Gorge, then the train went into reverse back to the Depot, arriving at 6pm. We asked what happened and were told they ran out of time. That’s not our fault and why shouldn’t we get a refund??? … This was going to be something I handed down in my family – Making memories with my grandchildren… and still plan to do so at GSMR as long as they contact me to make this right.

  28. We took the Nantahala Gorge Steam Engine, over 21, premium open-air, afternoon tour, on Oct 31, 2023. What an awesome, memorable and fun time.

    My husband and I, Benny & Sherry Culler, have wanted to do this for many years and finally, while in our 70’s, decided to book this tour.

    What a wonderful time and am sharing with you about “Connie Daniels” our awesome tour guide. You truly have a, fun, genuine, informative employee with great humor and imagination making our trip soooo wonderful.

    Truly one of the best times we have had and we are very active “seniors.”

    So just know and value your awesome and truly a Bryson City resident who loves her community and her job as well.

    She lives it and it shows. So thankful for her being our guide for the day.

    Your tours are truly extraordinarily delightful. And all of the folks from the ticket booth to conductors, and even the engineers were so helpful, kind and with smiles.

    Just a great trip and wanted to make sure my voice was heard.

    Thanks again,
    Benny and Sherry Culler
    China Grove, NC


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