Let me start off to say I have wanted to ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in the fall season for almost 3 years now. I only wish I had still waited to take this train tour out of Bryson City North Carolina than be a victim of the not so great train robbery perpetrated against me.
Watching the local Smoky Mountains weather and the progress of the leaves changing color for fall, I picked this past Wednesday to take the train ride from Bryson City to the Nantahala and back, a 4.5 hour round trip journey including the 1 hour stop off in the Nantahala area.
Based upon the chilly weather expected in the morning we booked tickets on the phone for the coach car with indoor seating - the cheapest indoor seats at $53 a person and parking is $4 extra.
Even though the departure of the Great Smoky Mountains Train was at 9 am I was told that I must be there by 8 am and that tickets were non refundable. Since I live about 2 hours away this meant I had to leave at 6 am to get there by the time I was told to be there by.
Parking for the railroad was a block away and getting the ticket was relatively smooth but I ended up having at least 50 minutes to kill - so much for having to be there that early which was a huge inconvenience.
I decided to go to the railroad museum by the end of the railroad tracks which I was told my train ticket would allow me free entrance. The museum consisted of a retail store in the front and in the back thousands of model trains in cases mounted to the walls and 2 full model train setups.
The first model railroad set up was meant for children with a Christmas tree, but the 3 level set up in the back of the museum was actually quite impressive in size. I was told this huge model train set up was built in another facility, disassembled and reassembled here and it carried a $300,000 price tag.
There was a knowledgeable member of staff or volunteer that described some general items of interest but without speaking to this gentlemen one would walk out of the museum learning virtually nothing as none of the displays really educated you on the items but most had price tags.
The whole train museum was worth the ½ hour I spent there but not much longer. Adults without train tickets would normally pay a $9 entrance ticket fee a price at least $5 more than it was worth.
Another 15 minute wait and now it was time to board the coach car on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad train. The interior of the train was reasonably well maintained with plenty of ceiling fans inside so I assume it may not be air-conditioned in the summer. My group and I were able to get seats together and within a reasonable time the train departed.
We sat on the right hand side of the train in anticipation of getting the best views so we could take some photographs. The idea of taking this train ride in the peak of the fall season was to be able to see the spectacular vistas promised.
A few short prerecorded history lessons were given out on the area over the trains loudspeakers. Unfortunately the group on the train was very load as well as the train "conductor" in our car who talked over every lecture rendering them worthless to us.
A lady walked through the train hawking a book with descriptions that synchronizes with the mileage markers along the way and a Great Smoky Mountains Railroad DVD. I would have bought the set but she didn't take credit cards and didn't bother to make accommodations - fine with me as they are available on EBay.
Simple hamburgers along with potato wedges, hot dogs with slaw on other such foods were available along with drinks for about $10 a person. All edible and priced within the realm of reality but certainly not a great meal or bargain.
We all waited anxiously for the great views about to unfold with the majesty of the Great Smoky Mountains in the peak of fall season that was going to take our breath away.
We saw maybe 2 minutes of nice views as we went over the bridge by Fontana and again a few minutes later for around 45 seconds. We passed at total of maybe 4 to 5 minutes of nice views on the entire ride to Nantahala! The rest of what we saw was the inside of ravines covered in kudzo and rundown houses and industrial areas near the tracks.
At Nantahala we were able to disembark where we were able to grab the last picnic table available to kill about an hour. The picnic table was on a bridge 40 or 50 feet from a main road and by the parking lot - far from being secluded or an exceptional natural setting.
We were told before disembarking that everyone riding the train was supposed to switch sides on the train so everyone would have an opportunity to see the views on both sides of the tracks. Upon getting back into the train no one wished to switch sides and we pressed the point and were finally able to.
The ride back was slightly more scenic with river views lasting a little more than 15 minutes but far from the wall of colorful fall foliage we were told to expect.
On the return trip the conductor was so loud when speaking to a few people in the group we were unable to discern anything coming over the loud speakers in the train describing the area. We were also hot up for some cancer donation by sending a lady through the train.
While the bathrooms on the trains generally had lines, they were in acceptable condition.
Loading the train in Bryson City the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad had a golf cart to move people who had minor mobility issues. There were no golf carts available in Nantahala and there were no wheelchair ramps in either train platform. The isles were very narrow and there were no accessible bathrooms.
It is suggested that if you are handicapped you avoid the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad unless you wish to sue them for not being ADA compliant. I have to say shame on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad for not at least having ramps.
I would strongly suggest that you do not bring young children along on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad as they would be bored and miserable as this is a very long ride with virtually no pay off.
Of all of the attractions I have visited in the Smokies the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad was the worst and offers the least value for the money. I would say in my worldwide travels this is the largest disappointment I have ever had and the most overpriced attraction ever.
One could ride along any interstate in the area or major local road such as 19, 276, 129 or 441 and get spectacular views. This railroad trip in the Smokies was a waste.
Save your money, save your day, do anything in the area other then the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and you will be happy.