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.
Scenic Train Rides in Tennessee Guide
- Dollywood Express (Pigeon Forge TN)
- Lookout Mountain Incline Railway (Chattanooga TN)
- WeGo Star East Corridor (Nashville TN)
- Three Rivers Rambler (Knoxville TN)
- Tennessee Central Railway Museum (Nashville TN)
- Tennessee Valley Railroad: Hiwassee Loop (Chattanooga TN)
- Tennessee Valley Railroad: Missionary Ridge Local (Chattanooga TN)
- Tennessee Valley Railroad: Summerville Steam Special (Chattanooga TN)
- Tennessee Valley Railroad: Tennessee Wine Train (Chattanooga TN)
- Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society (Jonesborough TN)
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1. Dollywood Express
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge TN • (800) 365-5996
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.
2. Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
3917 St Elmo Ave/827 East Brow Rd, Chattanooga TN • (800) 825-8366
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.
3. WeGo Star East Corridor
108 1st Ave S, Nashville TN • (615) 862-5950
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.
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4. Three Rivers Rambler
2560 University Commons Way, Knoxville TN • (865) 524-9411
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.
5. Tennessee Central Railway Museum
220 Willow St, Nashville TN • (615) 244-9001
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.
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Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
4119 Cromwell Rd, Chattanooga TN • (423) 894-8028
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.
They offer many different train rides in Chattanooga, and extend into the countryside around the mountain town.
6. Tennessee Valley Railroad: Hiwassee Loop/Copperhill Special
The Hiwassee Loop is a 50-mile round-trip excursion that takes 5 hours.
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.
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.
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.
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.
10. Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society
110 South 2nd St, Jonesborough TN • (423) 753-5797
Jonesborough TN’s Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society hosts steam train rides through the Smoky Mountains.
The ticket window at the Bryson City Depot opens at 10:30AM, and trains return about 6 hours later at 4:30PM.
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