Hop aboard the Big South Fork Scenic Railway (running Wednesday-Sunday in September; $15 adults, $7.50 ages 3-12), which takes you on a three-hour ride between stands of maples and hemlocks, across a bridge, through a tunnel, and over tumbling streams. Though the stunning fall scenery makes an indelible impression all its own, you'll also make a stop at Blue Heron, a onetime thriving coal mining community.
Now part of the National Park Service, the former coal mine and tipple (the building where different types of coal were separated and then dropped into railcars for transport) were built in 1937. You can walk among replicas of the town's buildings and hear oral histories in the school, church, and homes describing life in the camps. Don't miss climbing the hill and walking across the bridge on the coal tipple; the view of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River can't be beat. Chat with the park ranger on duty, and grab a sandwich and chips from the snack bar before you hear that whistle blowing one more time. Enjoy the pastoral view from the tracks; even at the end of the line in Stearns, the real world seems far away.