The 15 Best Train Rides for Spotting Fall Foliage in the South
When the air turns crisp and leaves begin crunching underfoot, we know that peak fall foliage is on its way. Autumn brings fall foliage galore, and it would be a shame to miss it. Take it in this year, and enjoy the changing colors with a rollicking train ride through the Southern landscape. There’s really no better way to see the leaves in their shift from green to burnished gold and glowing red. Many Southern states are home to daily or weekly train rides ideal for seeing fall foliage—as well as autumn specials to get you and your family on the rails and making memories together this season. We’ve rounded up a few of the best train rides for spotting the South’s changing leaves, so browse the list and plan your trip soon. Be sure to check the Smoky Mountains' Fall Foliage Prediction Map to help you pick the best dates for peak foliage. Plan your leaf-spotting train trip during the height of the color change, and you’re in for a vibrant autumnal journey on the tracks.
Big South Fork Scenic Railway
Explore the great outdoors from the comfort of a rail car with a trip on the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, which is owned and run by the McCreary County Heritage Foundation. The Run to the Gorge excursion, which runs throughout November, is a gorgeous ride to the scenic gorge of the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, with a stop at Blue Heron, a former coal mining community on the banks of the Cumberland River.
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
Hop aboard and ride the rails on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, a journey leaving from Blue Ridge, Georgia’s charming historic depot. You’ll pass the changing colors of the Chattahoochee National Forest and the serene waters of the Toccoa River in your choice of open-air rail cars or climate controlled ones. The 26-mile round trip makes a 2-hour lunch/shopping/sightseeing stop before returning to Blue Ridge. The Fall Foliage tours run from the end of September to the beginning of November. The railway’s K&T Special excursion runs from April to October.
Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and Museum
Enjoy a 1-hour, 7-mile train ride through Kentucky’s Woodford County, from Versailles to Tyrone along the Kentucky River, with the Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and Museum. The excursions happen twice a weekend, every weekend during the season. These rides are rain or shine thanks to the comfortable, beautiful (and enclosed) antique coaches. Each October, the railroad’s Autumn Leaves and Pumpkin Patch trains are a must-ride family favorite.
Branson Scenic Railway
Take a picturesque, 40-mile trip through the Ozark Mountains on the Branson Scenic Railway. Travel across the foothills, through the tunnels, and over the trestles as you crisscross the landscape, experiencing train travel (arguably, the most enjoyable mode of travel). There are multiple departures each day; check the calendar for details and to make reservations.
Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad
Secure train tickets for the fall edition of the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad’s Cass Scenic Bald Knob Trip (departing from Cass Depot) to travel through Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. Or choose from a variety of other excursions (of varying trip lengths and amenities), including The Durbin Rocket and the Cass Scenic Whittaker Trip—fun for the whole family!
Eureka Springs and North Arkansas Railway
Hop aboard to traverse the Eureka Springs and North Arkansas Railway, and take an Excursion Train Ride, which is narrated by the conductor and travels an hour along the scenic Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad. The railway also hosts a Lunch Train and Dinner Train experience in an elegant dining car from May through October.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
You and yours will find endless family fun on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, with fall foliage train tours leaving from Bryson City, North Carolina. (Be sure to check out their peak fall color map to find the best dates for your trip!) You’ll traverse the rolling hills and vibrant foliage of Western North Carolina, and you’ll have your pick of riding in their open-air gondola or a dine-in first-class car. Families love the Peanuts Pumpkin Patch Express, a Charlie Brown-themed excursion, and grown-ups can’t get enough of the Nantahala Gorge Excursion and the Tuckasegee River Excursion too.
James River Rambler
Take a ramble among the gorgeous fall foliage of central Virginia on The Autumn Leaf Rambler—the fall version of the diesel-powered James River Rambler train that traverses Virginia’s Buckingham County.
Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
My Old Kentucky Dinner Train
Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad
Pick one of two excursions (a 3-hour trip or an 8-hour trip) on the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad to take in the sights and sounds of autumn in West Virginia. Following the Potomac River, you may also catch glimpses of bald eagles as you enter the Trough, a gorge near the river.
Tennessee Valley Railroad
Three Rivers Rambler
If you find yourself near Knoxville, hop aboard the Three Rivers Rambler for a steam-train ride through the changing leaves of the Tennessee countryside. The depot is located near the University of Tennessee campus, with classic rides, an All Hallows Eve Special and The Christmas Lantern Express pulling out of the station this season.
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad
If you’re looking to take scenic excursion via steam train, this Maryland locomotive adventure is for you. The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad has year-round offerings, but the train rides are most popular in autumn when the fall foliage arrives in full force. The route begins in Cumberland, moving west through the Allegheny Mountains. Keep an eye out for the iron truss bridge, Helmstetter’s Horseshoe Curve, and the Brush Tunnel under Piney Mountain.
Wilmington and Western Railroad
The Wilmington & Western Railroad has an Autumn Leaf Special running in October and November for discounts on two of their picturesque, round-trip train rides. Choose enclosed or open-air seating to enjoy the vibrant Delaware foliage in the crisp autumn air.