A Mountain Railroad Experience on the Moonshine Express
Take the Moonshine Express run of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, and I promise you will not be disappointed.
After booking our tickets online, we picked them up at 9:30 the morning of the trip and boarded the Carolina Shine car around 10 AM. Before we even started rolling, we were served three of the seven moonshine flavors we tasted. Starting with the basic White Lightening, we moved quickly on to Apple Pie and Cherry. Our second flight featured Peach, Blueberry, Pina Colada, and Salted Caramel. Peach and Apple Pie were my favs . . . and I did try them all. Heartier souls can order all sorts of shots and/or moonshine-laced cocktails in addition to wine or beer from the well-stocked bar. It was a happy train car.
We rolled out of the Bryson City, NC trainyard under diesel power about half an hour into our five-hour experience, on a route along the beautiful Nantahala Gorge. Our energetic, funny host, Steve, kept us entertained with all sorts of historic facts and trivia as we chugged along about 20 miles per hour through forests, around lakes, and over rivers.
A tasty BBQ lunch was served before our hour-long stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. At the Center, you see some beautiful (and scary-looking) class-5 rapids, as well as a kayak training course used by Olympic athletes. There are ample restrooms, a restaurant/bar, and a shopping area focused on active outdoor clothes and accessories (think wetsuits and paddles).
Back on the train we had a delicious dessert and enjoyed some good ‘ole banjo playing by roving musician Isaac, as we made the return trip to Bryson City.
The Shine Car is pretty fancy, complete with air conditioning and bathroom, but there are a variety of riding options. The open-air car is wonderful on a beautiful day, and you have a First-Class option without moonshine, a Family car, and several other price levels, as well as lots of special themed trips. You can also take the train in the other direction towards Dillsboro, NC along the Tuckasegee River and see the train wreck created for The Fugitive movie, try a wine trip, or a BBQ & Brews experience. Tickets run from the $40s to more than $100 per person depending on your choice.
When you pull back into the station, leave some time to visit the Train Museum, your ticket gets you in for free (otherwise it’s close to $10). It’s a real treat for Lionel model train enthusiasts.
Before or After the Ride:
BTW, Bryson City is a little more than an hour south of Asheville and a very cute town, as is neighboring Dillsboro. An extra day or two in the area is a good idea because there is a lot to explore. Our group of three couples spent the night before in Dillsboro at the Best Western Plus, right on the beautiful Tuckasegee River. We enjoyed dinner in Dillsboro at Boots Steakhouse where we enjoyed chatting with the friendly owner Colleen, who is from Louisiana and Ireland and a great story-teller. Our food was good and portions huge, with appetizers so ample we should’ve shared.
Other overnight options nearby include several small B&Bs and Cherokee with its casino hotel and facilities. In the fall be sure to see the elk herds which have been recently reintroduced into the Smoky Mountain National Park.