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East Tennessee's autumn leaf-peeping train trips chug into view

Posted at 4:24 PM, Sep 19, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-22 11:12:56-04

As the leaves change from summertime greens to all shades of scarlet and gold, East Tennessee’s trains get on track with their fall leaf-peeping excursions. And there are plenty to choose from, ranging from Three Rivers Rambler’s Hoot N’ Holler Autumn Express trips to The Secret City Scenic Excursion trips out of Oak Ridge to a plethora of options offered by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum out of Chattanooga and Etowah.

Here’s what we found, along with contact info to learn more.


Knoxville’s Three Rivers Rambler will offer its Hoot N’ Holler Autumn Express steam-powered excursions on Saturday, Oct. 18 at 9:45 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. and on Sunday, Oct. 19 at 1 and 4:15 p.m. The 90-minute trips leave downtown Knoxville and go to the Forks of the River area and back, crossing where the French Broad and Holston rivers meet to form the Tennessee River. Starting in October, the Three Rivers Rambler will begin boarding from a new depot at the University Commons Way, located off Cumberland Avenue in the same complex as the new Walmart and Publix, on the opposite side of the railroad tracks adjacent to the University of Tennessee. Fares are $26.50 for adults. Info: or 865-524-9411. Halloween treats will be distributed to the kids, and organizers are hoping to add live bluegrass music to the outings.

Oak Ridge

The Secret City Scenic Excursion Train presented by the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum in Oak Ridge depart from the Heritage Center (formerly K-25), an historic Department of Energy facility. Each round trip travels approximately 14 miles and lasts about one hour. Trains are pulled by 1950s vintage Alco diesel locomotives. Seating is in an air-conditioned coach and a dining car, both restored from the 1940s era of passenger railroading. Ticket prices are $19 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. Advance reservations for all seats are recommended. Tickets will be sold the day of each trip if space is available.

Beginning Oct. 11, the Secret City Scenic Excursion Train runs on Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 2 at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. on Saturdays, and 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Sundays. To reserve tickets, call 865-241-2140 and indicate the date, time, and number of tickets for the trip desired.


The largest operating railroad in the southeast, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, offers a variety of scenic train rides. Limited steam power is provided by locomotive No.630 built in 1952. Six-mile train rides depart from Grand Junction Station, run to East Chattanooga Depot and back.

The railroad’s most frequent service is Missionary Ridge Local trips that begin at the Grand Junction Station and take passengers along one of the original railroad lines in Chattanooga, crossing four bridges and passing through pre-Civil War Missionary Ridge Tunnel, which was completed in 1858. The train stops at East Chattanooga, allowing riders to see the locomotive rotating on a turntable and participate in a tour into the railroad restoration shop before re-boarding for the return trip. Round trip time is slightly less than an hour.

Tickets are $17 for adults and $11 for children age 3-12. There is no charge for children age 2 and under. Tickets are purchased as walk-up only on the day of the trip.

Summerville Steam Special (Autumn Leaf Specials)

The 100-mile Autumn Leaf Special includes a sit-down lunch. Daily all-day train rides include trips to Summerville, Georgia, or Hiwassee River Gorge.

These vintage trains follow a historic route from Grand Junction Station in Chattanooga to Summerville, Georgia; crossing the state line in Rossville, traveling past Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park and through Chickamauga, Rock Spring, LaFayette, Trion, and into Summerville. Departure for the all day trip is 9 a.m. with return approximately 6 p.m.

For the autumn trips, a dining car luncheon, complete with chinaware, is served inside the dining car. During the approximate 90-minute layover in Summerville, passengers may explore the town.

The fall leaf trips will be offered on Oct. 4, 11, 18, 25 and 26 and Nov. 1. Coach is standard seating with reclining seats and large picture windows. A limited number of seats are available for semi-private and private seating. Compartments are completely private with a door separating the bedroom area from the aisle. There is an upholstered bench seat with enough room to seat two passengers with one standard window on one side of the train. (Compartment seating is extremely limited.) Premium Observation Class seating in a former Seaboard round-end tail car features booth lounge seating in the front and 180-degree window viewing in the back. The car will travel on the rear of the train in one direction of travel. Riders in the Premium Observation Car will enjoy a dining car luncheon and unlimited snacks and soft drinks included in the price.

Prices range from $95 for coach seating with lunch to $180 for the observation car seating.

Dinner on the Diner

Tennessee Valley Railroad offers special Dinner Trains on select Saturdays through November. The trips include a three-course dining experience usually on board a restored 1924 dining car. Excursion trains will depart from Chattanooga’s Grand Junction Station in the evening, travel through portions of urban East Chattanooga before reversing direction and retuning to Grand Junction. (Depart times vary from 5:30 to 8:00 depending on trip selected.)

Patrons may select their entrée of from choices that include carved English roast of beef topped in a Madeira sauce, herb-roasted stuffed breast of chicken with a Cumberland sauce, or crusted filet of salmon with a lemon caper butter sauce.

Passengers may choose from true vintage dining in the Dining Car (four to a table) or smaller tables for two in Pullman Car Clover Colony. Presidential Office Car Eden Isle is offered for private charter and can be reserved for private parties of up to eight persons.

Tickets for the excursion and dinner start at $59 per person.


Halloween Eerie Express

Halloween Eerie Express trains depart from Tennessee Valley Railroad’s Grand Junction Station. Passengers begin by boarding a vintage train for a trip over four bridges and through Missionary Ridge Tunnel. Once arriving at the Funhouse Station, riders disembark and enter the Funhouse area.

Features include storytelling, tour through the “gentle thrills” Eerie Fun House, hot cider, blacklight mini golf, games, temporary tattoos, coloring pages, ride back to Grand Junction, and a bag of treats for children. The event is a little over 90 minutes in length. Children are encouraged to wear costumes and prizes will be given for the best.

Dates are Oct. 10, 11, 17, 18, 24 and 25, with departures at 5:45 and 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $22 each for ages 2 and up and should be purchased in advance.


Hiwassee Special

Hiwassee River Rail Adventure service from Etowah, Tenn., is also offered by Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.

Ride on the historic Hiwassee River Rail Adventure scenic rail excursion through the Cherokee National Forest, along the Hiwassee River, and through the secluded Hiwassee River Gorge. All trips include riding around an engineering marvel: The Great Hiwassee Loop. At the top you’ll pass over a bridge 62 feet above the tracks on which you’ve just traveled, as the rails negotiate a spiraling formation.

All trips, which last about three and a half hours, begin at the restored L&N Depot & Museum in Etowah. Tickets range from $45 to $94 for adults.

Copperhill Special

Take an extended day-trip excursion through the lower Hiwassee River Gorge, over the Hiwassee Loop, and on to the joint cities of Copperhill, Tenn., and McCaysville, Ga. Total 94 mile round trip. Have lunch on your own during the layover before returning to Etowah. Departure time is 9:15 a.m. and return is generally around 5:45 p.m. The Copperhill Special runs Oct. 11, 18 and 25. Tickets range from $69 to $129.

For all of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum trips included here, go to for more information or call 423-894-8028.