Last year’s train ride was so much fun, we decided to go again. Last time, we were on the steam train to Dillsburo, this year, we had a diesel engine and went through the Nantahala Gorge. We were in an open-air gondola just like before. To us, riding open-air, we can see on either side of the train car, wide-angle views of everything around, no panes to deal with. On this trip, we saw views of the Nantahala river and Fontana Lake.
There were a few rolling hills, but a lot of water views. We saw some lake houses and contemplated what it would be like living in one. But we like our freedom too much for that. Now, if we could rent one, that might be fun, as long as it wasn’t during a big storm!
While riding past the lake, there was a boater with a tube being pulled behind it that kept up with us for quite a ways. What a ride that must have been for the person in the tube!
We followed the Nantahala River past the NOC and Ferebee Park to just past a rock quarry. After that, the train stopped to let off passengers that were part of the raft and rail so they could get off to go to the “put in” up past rapids called Patton’s Run. (There is a park at Patton’s Run, if anyone wants to go there by car. The “put in” up above there is where all the rafting companies put in their rafts and take out some too. This time, they were Wildwater customers that were getting off the train. There are also people who raft and rail at the NOC. After dropping off the rafters, the train began its trip back through the gorge, going the opposite direction. We stopped for an hour layover at the NOC, which by the way, is such a busy hoping place, that is barely enough time to order some lunch to go at their River’s End restaurant (delicious!) or from their Wesser BBQ (we have yet to try). Walking up to the NOC, we went past the rapids they call Big Wesser, at times, a class 4-5, depending on the lake level. If it’s high, it can be as low as a class 1. This particular day, it was about a class 3. For those of you who have heard the rumors of reasons not to go down these rapids, if you are with an experienced guide, fear not. There is no rebarr in the river there. When it’s at a class 1, you can stand up in it with no problem, and the water is so clear at those times, you can investigate it for yourself. No such things in there. No spooky types of debris whatsoever. We figure this rumor was started years ago by a guide just to be funny, or to state reasons other that just the plain old, “it can be dangerous depending on the water level”, and wanted to spice up the story. Or perhaps it is just a way for guides that are afraid to go down it to justify their actions. I personally MIGHT would go down it, as I am a little more skittish of rapidly moving water that my counterpart, who has been down it before and said it was a blast to do.
The trip back was more views of Fontana Lake and ending back crossing over the Tuckaseegee River before pulling back into the depot. We encourage you that if you go on the train, buy one of the $8 souvenir cups because you get free refills, and it’s well worth it on the train travel as well as if you go for other train rides, you can always take your cup with you. The concession stand at the depot stays open for refills and snacks from the beginning of the ride til a couple of hours past the return of the train. We enjoyed our ride through the gorge, but the stories on the train through Dillsburo were better, in my opinion. But they have added a narration car this year, so for a bigger fee, we might have been able to hear stories there. But we liked being in the open air anyway. We will probably take another train ride in the future, maybe their BBQ and Brews one. Some of their trips are only during certain times of the year, so it will depend on when we are in the area again. But diesel vs steam? definitely, for me, it’s steam. Just the cool sound it makes. I can only imagine what a hauntingly wonderful sound it would make going through the Gorge!