On March 28, the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society and Museum will sponsor its Spring Excursion, a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad through the mountains and countryside of western North Carolina from Dillsboro through Bryson City and the Nantahala Gorge.
This trip will cover all the completed operating trackage of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
The track follows the route of the former Southern Railway’s Murphy Branch Line, established in 1891, with its five percent grade and many bridges. Much of the route hugs the banks of the Tuckasegee, Little Tennessee, and Nantahala Rivers, crossing Fontana Lake on a trestle spanning 780 feet, 100 feet above the lake.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad has become a favorite of film producers over the years.
The train wreck scene in the 1993 movie, The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, was filmed in Dillsboro along the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. The wreckage of the set can still be viewed on the outbound train from Dillsboro.
The railroad was used in the filming of the 1996 comedy, My Fellow Americans, starring Jack Lemmon and James Garner, when they stumble onto a charter train full of UNC-Chapel Hill fans headed for the NCAA Final Four. Train scenes in the 1998 movie, Forces of Nature, starring Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock, also were filmed on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
The excursion will depart Johnson City, by motor coach, at 8:15 a.m. from the parking lot of Liberty Bell Middle School. There will be a passenger pickup at 9 a.m. in the Asheville/Weaverville area for passengers who find that location more convenient. Passengers may also choose to drive on their own to Dillsboro.
Upon arriving in Dillsboro, passengers will have time to see the Jarrett House, a hotel landmark built in 1884, and visit shops along with visiting restaurant before boarding the excursion train at 1 p.m. for the 4 ½ hour trip. As the train leaves Dillsboro, passengers will see the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad shops and the filming location of The Fugitive. The track follows along the Tuckasegee River and travels through the famous Cowee Tunnel on its way to Bryson City.
Rising to Fontana Lake it follows the Little Tennessee River, crosses the Fontana Lake Trestle, passes the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and enters the breathtaking Nantahala Gorge, following the shore line of the exciting Nantahala River. Upon reaching the end of the line, the train will return to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Passengers will board buses for the return trip. Expected arrival times are Dillsboro at 5:50 p.m., Weaverville at 7:15 p.m., and Johnson City at 8 p.m.
Passengers may choose comfortable seating in coach class with climate-controlled train cars. All passenger cars are heated and restrooms are located on all buses and throughout the train. A coach class ticket price is $85 per adult and $69 per child from two to 12 years old.