Hiawasee Loop  New! Great Railfan Tour: Smoky Mountain Rails

June 21-30, 2009

Tour from $2199.00

Tour Sold-Out. Waitlist is Open.

Early next summer, please consider joining Carl Fowler, Vice-President/General Manager of Rail Travel Center, for an outstanding series of train trips and sightseeing through parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina. We explore the Smoky Mountains, the southern Appalachians and the high peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains on this wonderful tour. This is the latest in our series of “great railfan tours”, but it truly offers something for everyone, as noted below.

We begin in Chattanooga, Tennessee with a wonderful three-night stay at the famous Holiday Inn Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, which sets the theme for this program. Rail rides during the tour include the Tennessee Valley Railroad, Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad, TVRR “Hiwassee River Gorge” line, Big South Fork Railroad, New River Scenic Railway’s “Elk Hill Explorer”, Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Dinner Train, and the GSMRR “Nantahala Gorge” route. All these lines share great scenery with the experience of train riding. We also enjoy a dinner cruise on the Southern Belle out of Chattanooga.

Additional sightseeing includes Ruby Falls and Rock City (and the Lookout Mountain Inclined Railway) outside Chattanooga; the spectacular Museum of Appalachia; a visit to Historic Rugby, Tennessee; a drive through Great Smoky Mountains National Park over Newfound Gap; touring and lunch at the famous Biltmore Estate outside Asheville; a visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center; and a great Farewell Dinner at the Grove Park Resort, one of the loveliest hotels in the south. Great trains, beautiful scenery and lots of regional foods. What could be better? Please join us. All aboard!

Day One, Sunday, June 21 Arrivals into Chattanooga. Participants arrive independently into Chattanooga today. Our hotel offers a free shuttle service from the airport. Lodging for the next three nights is at the Holiday Inn Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, built around the grand former Southern Railway Terminal Station. This beautiful property is a mecca for railfans with a museum, gift shop, gardens and trolley rides. Passenger cars still line the platforms, as if awaiting the call of “All Aboard”. The magnificent main building contains the lobby and restaurants.

Day Two, Monday, June 22 (L,D) Lookout Mountain Inclined Railway; Ruby Falls; Rock City; TVRR Missionary Ridge trip; Welcome Dinner. We begin this morning with a ride on the remarkable Lookout Mountain Inclined Railway up to a spectacular overlook on the heights of the mountain. Nearly a mile long, this is the steepest cable-powered railway in the United States and an engineering landmark. Upon arrival at the top, we visit Rock City Gardens (a “city” of natural sandstone monoliths and tunnels with views over parts of four states) and Ruby Falls, which includes a 145-foot waterfall in an underground cavern.

Following our included luncheon at the Mt. Vernon Restaurant, we board the Tennessee Valley Railroad on the Missionary Ridge trip. This includes a ride through the Chattanooga, Harrison, Georgetown & Charleston Railroad Tunnel, a unique horseshoe tunnel. This line was bitterly contested during the Civil War. Trains here are powered by historic steam or early diesel engines. There also is time to explore the exhibits at the Tennessee Railroad Museum. We return to our hotel for free time before departing for our Welcome Dinner at the Boathouse, which specializes in Gulf of Mexico food styles (think seafood and barbeque).

Day Three, Tuesday, June 23 (Box lunch, D) Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad; dinner cruise on Southern Belle Riverboat. This morning we drive to Blue Ridge, Georgia and pick up our box lunches before taking a half-day trip on the Blue Ridge Scenic RR from Blue Ridge to McCaysville, Georgia and return through rugged mountain wilderness. This line was the southern portion of the former Louisville and Nashville RR’s rugged “Hook and Eye” route from Atlanta to Knoxville. The tracks follow the Toccoa River through a deep gorge. We return to Chattanooga in late afternoon and again have time to freshen up before we transfer down to the river for an evening dinner cruise on the “Southern Belle” Riverboat. The voyage takes us along the Tennessee River into a beautiful canyon.

Day Four, Wednesday, June 24 (L) Hiwassee River Gorge route; into Sweetwater TN. In mid-morning we depart for Etowah, Tennessee for an included luncheon before boarding the Tennessee Valley Railroad for the Hiwassee River Gorge ride. This 50-mile round trip takes us to the top of the famous “Hiwassee Loop” where the tracks cross over themselves as they corkscrew up the mountain. Once again we’re on the former line of the L&N’s “Hook and Eye” route over the Appalachians. At the end of our ride, we make a short drive to Sweetwater, Tennessee and overnight at the Quality Inn & Suites.

Day Five, Thursday, June 25 (B,D) Museum of Appalachia; Historic Rugby; drive to Caryville TN. Following breakfast this morning, we drive to Norris and visit the great Museum of Appalachia, a living mountain village created in eastern Tennessee by John Rice Irwin. Mr. Irwin grew up in the area and began collecting “relics” from the mountain families living here. This collection expanded to include buildings, musical instruments, folk art, tools, Native American artifacts, and histories of interesting mountain folk. The museum is a labor of love by one man who recognized the value of the place he grew up and determined to share it with the rest of us.

We then drive to historic Rugby, Tennessee, nestled in the hills just south of Big South Fork National Park. Rugby was a utopian community founded in 1880. It was planned by Thomas Hughes, a British social reformer and author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. This was to be a Christian agricultural community without class distinctions; and for the first few years the town thrived, with a fine library, social clubs, stores, boarding houses, dairy, butcher shop, newspaper, and two trains a day to Cincinnati! A typhoid epidemic and financial troubles brought the town into decline, although it never was abandoned. Today it is a lovely little village filled with the history of its era. We have time for touring and shopping here before enjoying an included dinner at the Harrow Road Café in the center of the village. We then drive to Caryville, Tennessee, where we spend two nights at the award-winning Hampton Inn. Note: Llamas are wandering around this property (but not in your rooms)!

Day Six, Friday, June 26 (B,L) Big South Fork Scenic Railway; McCreary County Museum. We depart this morning for Stearns, where we ride the exceptionally scenic Big South Fork Railroad round-trip to Blue Heron, with a box lunch (in a bindle!) included. The former Kentucky and Tennessee Railroad is noted for its extremely steep grades and lovely river views in the canyon of the Big South Fork. Our stopover is at Blue Heron, a ghost mining town uniquely interpreted by structural outlines of some buildings in which hidden speakers re-create life in the lost town. The McCreary County Museum contains railroad memorabilia, a general store, a moonshine still, Native American artifacts and replicas of 19th century kitchens. We then return to Caryville.

Day Seven, Saturday, June 27(B,L,D) New River Scenic Railway “Elk Hill Explorer”; Newfound Gap and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Dinner Train; into Dillsboro NC. In mid-morning we drive to Huntsville, Tennessee and board the “Elk Hill Explorer” of the New River Scenic Railway. Our route takes us along the New River in the northeastern Cumberland Plateau. This line was originally part of the Tennessee Railway Company but was sold at foreclosure in 1918. Its fate has been tied to the fortunes of the coal industry in the area. After being part of both the Southern Railway System and the Norfolk Southern Railway, it escaped several petitions for abandonment and now is owned by the National Coal Corporation. The line takes us deep into the Appalachian Mountains, following the waters of the New River.

Following our ride, we drive into North Carolina to Dillsboro. Enroute we cross Newfound Gap and traverse the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here are the highest ranges east of the Rockies. The Smoky Mountains got their name from the misty haze that sometimes mantles the highest peaks.

At Dillsboro, deep in the wild ridges of the Smoky Mountains, we board the lovely Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Dinner Train. Dining in beautifully restored streamlined dining cars, we follow the Tuckaseegee River through a wild gorge as we enjoy an elegant dinner cooked on-board the train. We spend the night at the Best Western River Escape Inn in Dillsboro.

Day Eight, Sunday, June 28 (CB,L) GSMRR Nantahala Gorge line; Blue Ridge Parkway; into Asheville NC. At Bryson City we board the diesel-powered “Nantahala Gorge” line of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The ride takes us over long trestles and through the two-thousand-foot-deep canyon of the Nantahala River. We follow the exceptionally scenic former Southern Railway Murphy Branch through the heart of the Smokies, traveling in the First Class Club Car with a light food service in each direction.

Following our ride, we make a leisurely trip down the famous Blue Ridge Parkway to our destination of Asheville, North Carolina. This is the “High Peaks” portion of the Parkway. The route turns from the Smoky Mountain ridges onto the long spine range of the southeast, the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here the summits rise to over 6,000 feet. The last two nights of our tour are spent in Asheville at the Holiday Inn Biltmore East Hotel.

Day Nine, Monday, June 29(L,D) Biltmore touring and lunch; Folk Art Center; Farewell Dinner at Grove Park Inn. Today we visit Biltmore House and Gardens, a Vanderbilt estate. Constructed (beginning in 1889) by George Washington Vanderbilt, the residence still is surrounded by 8,000 acres which include a winery and dairy farm. At its completion this was not only the largest but also the grandest private home on the continent. We see both the “upstairs” of the Vanderbilt family, with its priceless artworks and furnishings; and the “downstairs” of the servants, with its maze of vast kitchens, laundries, boilers and unexpectedly comfortable rooms. The four-story house and 75 acres of gardens can be toured at our own pace on a self-guided walk. The azaleas and rhododendrons here bloom profusely each June on grounds designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead, the famed designer of Central Park in New York. We have an included luncheon buffet at the Deerpark Restaurant before departing.

We drive back to Asheville and travel up another section of the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit the famous Folk Art Center, home of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. Here we can admire Appalachian crafts (and maybe purchase an item or two). We return to our hotel in late afternoon and have time to freshen up before another short drive to the spectacular Grove Park Inn for our Farewell Dinner in the Blue Ridge Dining Room.

Day Ten, Tuesday, June 30 Tour ends. Our exciting tour ends today with independent departures from our hotel to the Asheville airport.

TOUR PRICES include all rail, boat and private motorcoach transportation during the tour; all lodging, meals and sightseeing noted as included above; baggage handling during the tour; and the services of a full-time escort. The tour is escorted from departure from our hotel on Day Two through to departures from our hotel in Asheville on Day Ten. Not included are transportation to/from the tour, hotel to airport transfers on Day Ten, meals not shown as included above, alcoholic beverages, and items of a personal nature.

$2199.00 per person, double occupancy

$2599.00 single occupancy

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Last modified: June 14, 2009