on location: south ❖
North CaroliNa Scenic railroads lend a touch of nostalgia while showcasing the state’s mountain majesty
The coal-fired engine of the Tweetsie Railroad takes riders on a three-mile ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
rom the fragrant blooms in the spring and the splendor of summer to the explosion of warm fall colors and the cleanliness of winter, the North Carolina mountains make a wonderful group destination. Regardless of the season you visit, one activity is a must. Your itinerary needs to include a ride aboard one of the state’s scenic railroads. There’s no better way to discover the beauty and heritage of the region. Located between Boone and Blowing Rock, Tweetsie Railroad dates back to 1881 when a narrow gauge railroad with 50 miles of track brought iron ore from the mountains to John-
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son City, Tenn. Closing of the original railroad was followed by the sale of Tweetsie Locomotive #12 and finally its return in 1957. Tweetsie Railroad evolved from an excursion railroad into the first theme park in North Carolina. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Tweetsie delights visitors of all ages. Tweetsie Locomotive No. 12 and the No. 190 Yukon Queen are both in operation. The train ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains is approximately 30 minutes. The scenery is breathtaking and the three-mile Wild West adventure trip delightful. The Wild West theme radiates
throughout the park. The old Western town features live shows, amusements, concerts, the Deer Park Zoo and plenty of souvenir shopping. For the adventuresome in the group, consider a scenic chair lift ride to Miner’s Mountain and experience panning for gold. Tweetsie Railroad is an ideal destination for just about any group. Seniors are going to thoroughly appreciate the beauty of the mountains. Maybe a comfortable train ride will spark a moment of remembrance when rail travel was an important part of their lives. The student/youth segment is a natural. Tweetsie Railroad has partnered with Letterland for a great educational LeisureGroupTravel.com
event in May of each year. In addition, the parkâ€™s educational efforts include the Learning Express, which provides memorable rides for teachers and students. The rides are Fridays in May and from Labor Day through October. Curriculum guides are online at tweetsie.com. Departing from its Bryson City depot in Western North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (GSMR) is for groups with rail trips high on their list of must-dos. Thereâ€™s something for everyone on this world-class line. The Nantahala Gorge excursion features spectacular views along the Little Tennessee and Nantahala rivers and over the dramatic Fontana Lake Trestle. This 4Â˝-hour adventure includes an hour layover at the scenic gorge. Travel First Class in 1940s-era, climate-controlled bar, lounge and diner cars. Included with comfortable seating is a delicious lunch served by the carâ€™s attendant. A souvenir tumbler and embroidered tote bag are included in your package. Restrooms are available. Crown Class offers restored climate-controlled coaches dating back to the late 1920s with large windows for better viewing; passengers receive a souvenir. Coach Class features vintage coaches with windows that open. Fall foliage season peaks in October and affords stunning views for Great Smoky Mountains Railroad passengers.
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From outdoor recreation and unique lodging to arts and culture and more than 100 wineries, the charming small towns
and vibrant urban locations of North Carolina offer something for everyone.
north carolina visitnc.com
on location: south ❖ The group sales staff at GSMR encourages booking fall trips well in advance for the best availability. Dinner trains combine a threecourse dinner and an enjoyable special event. Wine tasting and mystery theater have become extremely popular. For active groups, a Train & Rafting Combo might just be the ticket. From April through October you’ll enjoy a morning ride on the Open Air Gondola and a rafting experience down the Nan-
stop on a pre- or post-mountain trip is the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer. The museum is located on the site that was once Southern Railway Company’s largest steam locomotive servicing facility. In 1896 the site was opened midway between the company’s major terminals of Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. At its peak the Spencer Shops employed nearly 3,000 people. Although the Spencer Shops closed
music, a chili cook-off, theatrical nighttime photography opportunities, and arts and crafts. Halloween and Christmas are other favorite times to visit the museum. The 2011 Autumn Train Excursions promise to be unforgettable. On Oct. 29 the first trip departs Spencer with a stop in Greensboro. The jaunt continues into western central Virginia and on to Roanoke, where Southern Railway built its classic steam engines. A visit to
Visit the North Carolina Transportation Museum or celebrate the holidays on Great Smoky Mountains’ Polar Express.
tahala River led by one of two reputable outfitters. Morning concludes with lunch, a shower, a photo show and transportation back to the Bryson City depot. Not to be confused with rafting on the chilly river (it is a mountain river fed by a mountain lake!), Great Smoky Mountains’ Polar Express has become popular with both families and multigenerational tours. It’s a wonderful way to visit Santa. All tickets on a Great Smoky Mountains Railroad excursion include admission to Smoky Mountain Trains. This top-rated Lionel train museum includes trains dating as far back as 1918. (gsmr.com) Also for train aficionados, a must 48 June 2011
in 1960, during the late 1970s Southern Railway made significant acreage donations, including several historic buildings. The first exhibit area opened in 1983. In addition to being a window on transportation history, the North Carolina Transportation Museum offers numerous activities, including a ride to view the 57-acre facility and special events. The two-day Rail Days Festival traditionally held in mid-June celebrates the golden age of railroads. Classic engines pull period coaches through the property. The colorful caboose train is a fun photo opportunity. Also featured are motorcar rides, turntable rides, live
downtown Roanoke and the O. Winston Link Museum of fabulous rail photography are in store for groups. The Oct. 30 trip goes south to Tocca, Ga. and world-famous Tocca Falls. This ride includes passage over the 100-foot Seneca Trestle crossing Lake Hartwell. (nctrans.org) Whether you’re considering a North Carolina rail experience as an itinerary item or a full-fledged theme tour, great opportunities await. LGT Obtain North Carolina visitor guides and itineraries – and contact groupfriendly suppliers directly – at leisuregrouptravel.com/instant-info LeisureGroupTravel.com