SUMMER FUN: Kids Ride Free on this Scenic Bryson City Train Ride in the Great Smoky Mountains

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The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad has an excellent summertime deal for taking a scenic train ride out of the historic depot in North Carolina’s Bryson City. Train lovers, this is your chance to take the little ones in your family on an adventure, for much cheaper. Kids ride free on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad out of downtown Bryson City, NC this summer! The depot is only about two hours from Greenville, SC and you can stay overnight in the North Carolina mountains or do a day trip.

Great Smoky Mountain Trail: Summer Kids Ride Free

I always thought there was something oh-so-romantic about riding an old steam locomotive train. Maybe it’s just because it’s not something we do often in today’s modern world or that the old photos of these trains often had women with beautiful, full dresses and lace umbrellas and boots – something I always thought was pretty cool.

While I don’t have a hoop skirt – and won’t anytime soon – luckily you don’t need one to ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. This is the same Bryson City train that does the Polar Express during the Christmas season. We’ve got all the details on a pretty awesome deal they have for families over the summer though!

Kids Ride Free on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

During the summertime, they are offering a pretty amazing deal: they are offering a free child’s ticket (ages 2-12) with every Adult ticket purchased all summer on trains that run Monday – Friday. Coach tickets are only available for this promotion, so first-class cars will not be available for this deal. Tickets can be purchased by phone only.

Tickets are valid on one of the two scenic general excursions in Standard Coach – either the Diesel locomotive power on Tuckasegee River or Nantahala Gorge. The trains leave out of the depot in downtown Bryson City. Ticket purchases can be made to ride May 1, 2024- August 31, 2024. Tickets for Kids Ride Free can’t be combined with other discounts, are subject to blackout dates, and aren’t available for special event trains. However, you will be able to access the train museum with your ticket, which kids love! Also, ask about their boxed lunches deals as well when you call to book!

All discounts are only available by phone. Contact 800-872-4681 to complete your Kids Ride Free purchase.

The Bryson City Train Ride Through the Smokies

The Great Smoky Mountains rail has 53 miles of railroad to traverse, but not every excursion uses all of those miles. There are also two tunnels and 25 bridges. Train rides roll through the majestic mountains and river gorges in an unforgettable trip. Some of the more affordable tickets even have an open-air car for the scenic train ride, with options to upgrade to coach and first class available. These Bryson City train rides are certain to make lots of memories.

The Nantahala Gorge Excursion takes guests over 44 miles to the Nantahala Gorge and back. Scenic views are plenty on this trip. You’ll see the Little Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers and travel across Fontana Lake surrounded by the mountains. This trip is 4.5 hours long and a Standard Coach Adult ticket starts at $58.

The Tuckasegee River Excursion is a little shorter at 32 miles round trip and four hours total. Guests will see vast meadows and old railroad towns as they travel along the Tuckasegee River. Plus, you’ll pass by the set of The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford during this train ride. A Standard Coach Adult ticket starts at $58.

To purchase your tickets, call 800.872.4681 to utilize the Kids Ride Free deal.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
45 Mitchell Street, Bryson City, NC 28713

Where to Stay Near the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

Use the map below to find the perfect place to stay near the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

Through an affiliate relationship with Stay22, Kidding Around earns when you book through this map.

More places to stay

There are plenty of cool places to stay in the area but we recommend Sky Ridge Yurts, a beautiful little village of comfortable and spacious yurts about 20 minutes from the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad and on the edge of the Nantahala forest.

Sky Ridge Yurt interior pictures
Interior of Yurt at Sky Ridge Yurts

Or if you really want a memorable experience, stay in a renovated 1960s caboose at Buffalo Creek Vacations– on a bison farm! It sleeps five people and has a full bathroom, kitchen, and living area. Plus, it has bison that freely roam the property.

Caboose rentals in North Carolina
Caboose rentals at Buffalo Creek Vacations

Other Things to Do in Bryson City

In Bryson City, train culture is huge. But so is the great outdoors! Bryson City, NC is a beautiful spot with lots to do but during the summer, there is almost an endless number of things to do with your family.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) is fantastic for families. You can go whitewater rafting down the Nantahala River there (kids need to be at least 7 years old and 60 pounds), which is quite the adventure and something the Nantahala Outdoor Center is known for. But if you have smaller kids, you can also go tubing and enjoy the area. Next to the restaurant is a shallow area of the river perfect for wading as well. You can also pick up part of the Appalachian Trail there if you want to try it out.

Learn More in our KA Review of the
Nantahala Outdoor Center

Nantahalla outdoor center water fun

You can also go tubing at Deep Creek which is at the entrance on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains. There are several outfitters that offer cheap options for tubing. Or you could bring your own tubes, drive into the park, and follow the crowd to where most people put their tubes. There aren’t really any rapids so it’s great for smaller kids but it’s really cold!

Tubing at Deep Creek

Tubing Down Deep Creek, NC
Everything You Need to Know!

Another great tubing spot is in nearby Cherokee, NC at Smoky Mountain Tube & Raft. Ages 5 and up are able to tube.

You can also hike the Deep Creek Loop at the same entrance to the park, a trail that has three waterfalls. It’s an easy hike about two miles long.

If you love animals, history, and natural beauty, you may get a glimpse of the elk at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, about a 30-minute drive from Bryson City. There is an interesting homestead you can tour there and be sure to do the Junior Ranger Program at the visitor’s center. Elk are there usually in the mornings and late afternoon.

Also in nearby Cherokee, NC, Mingo Falls is a beautiful waterfall to see. It’s a really short hike, just a third of a mile, but it does have a lot of steps. The falls are worth it!


Are you ready for your Bryson City train ride adventure?

About the Author
Kristina Hernandez is a mom of two girls, freelance writer and photographer. Originally from New Jersey, she is in love with the Upstate and could not imagine raising her kids anywhere else. She enjoys hiking to waterfalls, kayaking, camping, cooking, and exploring all that Greenville has to offer. And she really loves baby goats. Follow her on Instagram at @scadventurer.

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