All aboard for a rail adventure in scenic West Virginia mountains

A locomotive builds up steam preparing for an excursion on the Cass Scenic Railroad.

Perhaps nowhere in the country has a state embraced its scenic railroad opportunities as in West Virginia. When you combine the mountain scenery with a railroad heritage based on timber and coal, you get a ready-made experience that appeals to young and old alike.

In 2015, it’s easier than ever to take advantage of the various railroading opportunities, thanks to West Virginia Mountain Rail Adventures. Summer and fall are ideal times to take advantage of the different trips with summer’s green forests and the vibrant fall foliage for visitors to enjoy.

A locomotive builds up steam preparing for an excursion on the Cass Scenic Railroad.
A locomotive builds up steam preparing for an excursion on the Cass Scenic Railroad.

Mountain Rail Adventures (mountainrailwv.com) operates historic steam-driven locomotives and vintage diesel-powered passenger trains. You board the train you select at a historic depot in Elkins, Durbin, or Cass from April through December. Most of the trips include on-board food service options.

“The trips are great ways for families to connect,” said Gail Hyer, who promotes Pocahontas County. “Kids love riding on trains and you see amazing scenery, much of which isn’t accessible by car.”

Choose your ride

Visit the Mountain Rail Adventures website to check out videos and schedules for daylong or shorter scenic trips or special events.

The New Tygert Flyer takes you from Elkins to the High Falls of Cheat through hardwood forests, mountain streams, and meadows of wildflowers. Also departing from Elkins, the Cheat Mountain Salamander, a 1920s vintage locomotive, takes passengers on a great wilderness excursion. The trips depart Thursdays through Sundays.

The Durbin Rocket is a steam-driven locomotive that kids love. It departs the Durbin Depot Thursdays through Sundays for a trip along the Greenbrier River. You can choose between open or closed cars.

New this year, the Cass Scenic Railroad joins with the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad to offer a “Wild Heart of West Virginia” package, a combined ride on two trains with a single ticket. You ride both the Cass and Cheat Mountain Salamander excursions, with overnight options in Elkins or Cass.

Or, you can still opt to re-live the lumber heritage of the Cass Scenic Railroad alone, with a two-hour Whittaker Station ride or the popular mountaintop excursion to Bald Knob.

There are many special options and events available via the website. Stay overnight in the Castaway Caboose or take an evening Mountain Explorer Dinner Train. Or, give the youngsters a special holiday treat with a Polar Express train ride.

Another scenic rail option

The Potomac Eagle is yet another scenic rail option (potomaceagle.info) that departs from Romney and provides three-hour narrated excursions through a pristine mountain valley. The ride takes you through “The Trough,” a narrow mountain valley looking down on the south branch of the Potomac River. This is the eastern home of the American bald eagle, and the majestic birds soar and swoop in a dramatic air show.

Two trips depart each Saturday through September. There are daily fall foliage trips in October. On most trips there are two open-air cars just behind the locomotives; one completely open and the other covered. There are regular passenger cars as well, with reversible seating so you can face in either direction.

You can bring a picnic or purchase snacks aboard the train. There are also first-class cars with climate-controlled lounge and dining cars, beverage, and dinner service.

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