Rails Along the Nantahala
Bryson City Travel Blog› entry 4 of 5 › view all entries
The objective this day was to ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The line operates an excursion train through the mountains along the Nantahala River. To get to Bryson City, where we would board the train, we followed US 19 west from Asheville. This route took us through Maggie Valley, a center for winter sports, and then directly through the Cherokee Reservation. The highway through the resevation is mountainous, with roadside billboards whose messages about health care and other tribal concerns gives the visitor an insight into contemporary Cherokee life.
At Bryson City, we found the blue railway depot and picked up our excursion tickets and lunch coupons. Presently, the train arrived and we were off to see a bit of the backcountry. The line follows the mountain terrain and there are numerous tight curves where the full length of the train can be seen.
The train crossed Lake Fontana, formed in 1944 when the Nantahala River was dammed to provide hydroelectirc power for the region. At the upper end of the lake is Wesser Creek Falls. The falls are not naturally occuring, but were formed as a result of the lake and dam construction. At this point, the train began to parallel the Nantahala River through the deep Nantahala Gorge. The rapids along here are a popular spot for whitewater rafting.
The train excursion goes as far as Nantahala. Here, the locomotive runs around the train on a siding and couples to the opposite end to take it back to Bryson City. On the return, the train made a stop at Wesser. This was our lunch stop, wtih box lunches consisting of ham or turkey sandwiches. Passengers could also get off, look around a bit, and go down to the river. The community of Wesser is home to Nanthala Outdoor Center, a staging point for kayakers and rafters on the Nantahala River and backcountry hikers. The Appalachian Trail passes near here and it is a spot for day hikes along the Trail.
Back on the train, a fiddler came through the coach with her violin to play some tunes. She asked if anyone played. My son replied that he did, and so she inivited him to play as rolled through moutains back to Bryson City.