The 10 Best Scenic Train Rides in Tennessee

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The Southern Appalachian Mountains are renowned for their beauty, and in our experience there’s no better way to see them than taking scenic train rides in Tennessee.

East Tennessee train rides are one of the top tourist attractions in the Smoky Mountains along the North Carolina border.

But there are also great train trips that pair perfectly with visiting the country music capital of Nashville!

All these railroads in Tennessee have some interesting history. But the train rides in the Tennessee mountains are especially steeped in Southern tradition and nostalgia.

Whether you’re interested in dinner train rides or overnight train rides in Tennessee, or just quick afternoon excursions, it’s a thrilling experience to swing around scenic mountainsides and duck through tunnels.

Read on for our in-depth guide to the most memorable train rides in TN, including all the pertinent info on where and when to ride the rails.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Tennessee Mountain Towns to Visit

Scenic Train Rides in Tennessee Guide

  1. Dollywood Express (Pigeon Forge TN)
  2. Lookout Mountain Incline Railway (Chattanooga TN)
  3. WeGo Star East Corridor (Nashville TN)
  4. Three Rivers Rambler (Knoxville TN)
  5. Tennessee Central Railway Museum (Nashville TN)
  6. Tennessee Valley Railroad: Hiwassee Loop (Chattanooga TN)
  7. Tennessee Valley Railroad: Missionary Ridge Local (Chattanooga TN)
  8. Tennessee Valley Railroad: Summerville Steam Special (Chattanooga TN)
  9. Tennessee Valley Railroad: Tennessee Wine Train (Chattanooga TN)
  10. Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society (Jonesborough TN)

READ MORE: The 10 Best Fairs in Tennessee to Visit

Dollywood train Christmas TN
The Dollywood Express Train

1. Dollywood Express

2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge TN • (800) 365-5996

Official Website

The closest thing to a train ride in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the Dollywood Express isn’t a long journey, but it makes a memorable impression nevertheless.

Utilizing a 110-ton, coal-fired steam engine, the Dollywood Express covers about 5 miles through the Great Smoky Mountains wilderness and lasts about 20 minutes.

This train is listed among the rides and attractions at the Dollywood Theme Park, and the trip is included in the price of park admission.

Admission to the park is $92 for a one-day pass, $119 for a two-day pass, or $129 for a three-day pass. Discounts are available for children, seniors, and military families.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Smoky Mountains Hotels to Visit in NC & TN

Chattanooga train rides Incline Railroad
Photo courtesy of

2. Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

3917 St Elmo Ave/827 East Brow Rd, Chattanooga TN • (800) 825-8366

Official Website

Although the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway isn’t technically a train ride, it consistently makes the list of best Tennessee train rides and is always included in the rundown of Chattanooga, Tennessee train rides.

The incline railway at Lookout Mountain is actually the second of its kind. It has been in operation since 1895, and it put the original version (established in 1887) out of business in 1899.

It was originally created to transport folks up to a hotel at the mountain’s summit.

Despite several tragedies (including the burning of the first hotel and upper station), the railway continues to run, with thousands of people riding it every year.

This electric rail runs Monday through Sunday from 10AM to 6PM. Tickets cost $15 round trip for adults, and $7 for children ages 3-12, but discounted group rates are available.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Lookout Mountain GA/TN

Nashville train rides WeGo Star
Photo courtesy of WeGo Transit

3. WeGo Star East Corridor

108 1st Ave S, Nashville TN • (615) 862-5950

Official Website

As our nation strives to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, it’s exciting anytime a U.S. city manages to implement public transportation.

This Nashville TN train is part of the greater Nashville area public transit system. WeGo Star connects riders with buses all along its route, from Riverfront (in Nashville proper) to Lebanon.

Riverfront Station is on 1st Avenue in the heart of Downtown Nashville. From there it travels east to Donelson Station, Hermitage Station, Mt. Juliet Station, Marth Station, Hamilton Springs, and Lebanon Station.

In all, the route covers around 30 miles, and takes roughly 55 minutes to get from one end to the other.

Tickets for the full ride are $5.25 (one-way), with trains running 3 times in the morning and 3 times in the evening.

Note that this is an actual commuter train. But for those who’ve never experienced that, it’s an exciting way to get acquainted with Nashville’s metro area.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Waterfalls in Tennessee to Visit

Train rides in Knoxville TN Three Rivers Rambler
Photo courtesy of

4. Three Rivers Rambler

2560 University Commons Way, Knoxville TN • (865) 524-9411

Official Website

There’s essentially only one viable option for scenic train rides in Knoxville TN, the Three Rivers Rambler.

It’s been operating as a tourist train since 2000, taking riders from Downtown Knoxville to the start of the Tennessee River.

The depot for the 3RR is at University Commons, near the UT campus. This area is packed with trendy stores and hip restaurants, so you can combine that with the train ride for a fun day of exploring.

Their fleet of engines is varied, including multiple steam engines. Three Rivers Rambler train rides last about 2 hours, with boarding starting 20 minutes before departure.

The most popular of their Knoxville train rides is the Christmas Lantern Express, which runs 3 times a day on the weekends leading up to Christmas and several consecutive days leading up to Christmas Eve.

READ MORE: The 7 Best Train Rides for Christmas in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Scenic train rides in Tennessee-Tennessee Central Railway Museum
Photo courtesy of Tennessee Central Railway Museum

5. Tennessee Central Railway Museum

220 Willow St, Nashville TN • (615) 244-9001

Official Website

While WeGo Star is the modern-day version of Nashville train rides, the TN Central Railway Museum has more romantic incarnations of the Tennessee railways.

The museum offers several dinner trains in Nashville, including Wine Tasting Trips, Nashville Mardi Gras Excursion Train, Valenshines Moonshine Sippin’ Excursion, Murder Mystery Train Rides, and the Tennessee Fall Foliage Excursion.

Seating options include “regular seating” at tables in the dining car, “coach seating” in comfy reclining chairs, and “dome seating” for the ultimate in panoramic views.

Tennessee Central Railway Museum excursions vary in length from 2 hours to 6+ hours. They can cost as little as $60 per person, and up to $180 depending on the seating and offerings of the particular trip.

This is a great place to go for a train ride that celebrates life on the rails and has lots of fun while doing it.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Bristol TN/VA

Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum - turntable
Photo courtesy of Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

4119 Cromwell Rd, Chattanooga TN • (423) 894-8028

Official Website

The Chattanooga train rides offered by the Tennessee Valley Railroad are hands down the best place for a memorable Tennessee train experience.

This location has a varied selection of popular excursions, and we would be remiss if we didn’t include several on this list.

Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s mission is to preserve, operate, and showcase railroad artifacts to the public in the most authentic way possible.

Chattanooga has been in the railway game since before the Civil War, and the museum strives to continue that tradition.

They offer many different train rides in Chattanooga, and extend into the countryside around the mountain town.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Places for White Water Rafting in Tennessee

Hiwassee river rail adventure Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

6. Tennessee Valley Railroad: Hiwassee Loop/Copperhill Special

The Hiwassee Loop is a 50-mile round-trip excursion that takes 5 hours.

It traverses the Hiwassee River Gorge and corkscrews up a mountain on a route that formerly connected Etowah TN and Marietta GA on the Louisville & Nashville Railroads’ Atlanta Division.

Standard fare on this Hiwassee River Rail Adventure is $56 for adults and $38 for children ages 2-12. There are also cars with dome roofs for amazing views that cost a little over $100 per person.

The Copperhill Special is an extended version of this trip, traveling from Delano TN to McCaysville GA (near the town of Blue Ridge GA).

It takes about 8 hours, and is 94 miles round-trip. Note that his route only runs from July to November.

READ MORE: 20 Incredible Places To See the Blue Ridge Mountains in Fall

Chattanooga train ride - Missionary Ridge Local Chattanooga Train Ride

7. Tennessee Valley Railroad: Missionary Ridge Local

The simplest of the Chattanooga TN train rides is the Missionary Ridge Local.

It’s called “the local” because it is a relatively short tour lasting around 65 minutes.

This ride is just 6 miles round-trip, and involves a tour guide providing local history to deepen the visitor experience.

Highlights along the journey include crossing four bridges, a historic turntable to rotate the train, a pre-Civil War train tunnel, and a visit to train restoration shops.

READ MORE: 30 Fun Facts About Appalachian Scots-Irish History & Culture

Chattanooga Tennessee train rides - Summerville Steam Engine
Photo courtesy of Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

8. Tennessee Valley Railroad: Summerville Steam Special

The Summerville Steam Special is a serious undertaking that involves 9 hours of travel, departing from Grand Junction in Chattanooga and wandering down to the tiny town of Summerville GA.

This train departs at 9AM and returns at 6PM, and their ticket prices are very reasonable for an all-day adventure.

Coach rides with no lunch are only $75. You can add a boxed lunch for $10, or do lunch in the dining car for $95 total.

In reality, most of this trip is through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, as opposed to Tennessee. But it’s a rare opportunity to spend a full day on a steam-driven train!

READ MORE: Where are the Blue Ridge Mountains? A State-by-State Guide

Tennessee Dinner Train

9. Tennessee Valley Railroad: Dinner Train

This 2-hour TVRM Dinner Train excursion is among their most popular journeys because it offers fine dining on a different stratosphere.

The trip is offered on select Fridays and Saturdays from March through October, departing from Grand Junction and making its way through East Chattanooga.

All Dinner Train rides include a gourmet 3-course meal, with fares ranging from $166 for shared tables of 4 to $300 for reserved tables of 4.

They offer meal choices to suit all tastes, including beef, chicken, fish, and vegetarian. Dessert options include Triple Chocolate Cake, Apple Pie, or Cheesecake. 

READ MORE: 10 Best Caverns and Underground Caves in Tennessee

train rides in the Smoky Mountains TN
Photo courtesy of

10. Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society

110 South 2nd St, Jonesborough TN • (423) 753-5797

Official Website

Jonesborough TN’s Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society hosts steam train rides through the Smoky Mountains.

This train departs from Bryson City NC, but there are coaches from Kingsport TN and Johnson City TN to catch the train in Bryson City.

The ticket window at the Bryson City Depot opens at 10:30AM, and trains return about 6 hours later at 4:30PM.

Their ridiculously scenic route passes Fontana Lake, follows the Little Tennessee River, crosses the Fontana Lake Trestle, and dives into the Nantahala Gorge.

Ticket options include First Class with Club Car seating for lunch ($180), Crown Class ($121), Tourist Coach Class ($105), and Open-Air Coach Class ($107). All classes come with a boxed lunch.

Note that this train’s route is in North Carolina, but it provides stellar views of Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the North Carolina/Tennessee border.  –by Jonathon Engels, featured photo via Canva


Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

After visiting North Carolina for the first time, Senior Writer Jonathon Engels and wife Emma spent 2 years exploring Western NC in search of a homestead property. They first lived in Brevard, where Jonathon taught writing at Blue Ridge Community College and extensively explored the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. For the last several years they have lived just off the BRP near Elkin, Southwest Virginia, and the NC High Country. The couple also volunteers with the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, the Elkin Valley Trail Association, and Reeves Downtown School of Music.