One of the best ways to experience why West Virginia is known as “Wild and Wonderful” is to take a trip by rail to see its mountains, foliage, waterfalls, and wildlife firsthand. The state’s scenic railroad lines offer a variety of excursion experiences.
The Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad out of Romney, a three-hour trip from the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., puts you on a vintage diesel train that passes by pastures and farms, winds along the south branch of the Potomac River, and then enters the gorge known as the Trough.
“It’s so remote, the only access to it is by train or water,” said the railroad’s Jodi Burnsworth. “We have eight documented nests of bald eagles in the thick forest and high mountain walls in the Trough. You have a 90 percent chance of seeing them on the trip.”
The train will slow down when eagles are seen.
“You get to witness them in their natural habitat,” Burnsworth said. “There’s nothing like it. Narration takes place on the train to point out areas of interest.”
The Potomac’s waters are so clear riders can see the fish beneath them.
Riders can choose between two different excursions. In September, rides take place on the weekends, but in October, they are available for the entire month. Burnsworth recommended making reservations in advance.
The three-hour Trough Trip covers 35 miles round-trip, going to Sycamore Bridge and back. Tickets for the club car include a meal.
Insider tip: While the coach fare does not include a meal, a concession car is available with snacks and drinks; small lunch bags or coolers are permitted.
A longer all-day, eight-hour excursion is offered on the last Saturday of every month. It includes a layover in Petersburg, allowing passengers to visit shops and restaurants.
Mountain Rail Adventures
For about an additional hour drive out of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., visitors can travel the rails in another part of the Mountain State.
In 2015, the Cass Scenic Railroad joined the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad’s Mountain Rail Adventures to offer the “Wild Heart of West Virginia Adventure Package.” This package offers a combined ride on two trains, the Cass Scenic Railroad and the Cheat Mountain Salamander, with one ticket and including overnight package options in Elkins or Cass.
Passengers starting from Cass ride a steam-driven Shays of the Cass Scenic Railroad to Old Spruce, transfer to the diesel-powered Cheat Mountain Salamander, have an on-board sandwich buffet lunch, spend the night in Elkins to enjoy multiple attractions and return by the same route to Cass on any scheduled return date.
Or, passengers can board in Elkins where they can enjoy an on-board sandwich buffet as they travel to Old Spruce. Once at Old Spruce, guests will then transfer to the Cass Scenic Railroad climbing upward to Bald Knob, the third-highest point in the state. After the train descends back down the mountain into Cass, guests can stay in one of the historic company houses at the Cass State Park.
Chase Gunnoe, spokesman for the railroad, said visitors to Cass can see remnants of the logging industry, which was the reason for the railroad. He noted the trip explores some of the most remote areas of the state.
The Wild Heart Adventure package is available Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until Sept. 17, then Thursdays through Sundays, Sept. 21–Oct. 28.
A different kind of experience is the four-hour trip on the New Tygart Flyer, which departs from Elkins. Vintage diesel-powered locomotives climb along the cascading Shavers Fork of the Cheat River to the High Falls of Cheat. The trip includes a 30 to 45 minute stopover at the falls, and it’s not unusual to see a deer crossing the tracks before passengers get back on board. A cold sandwich buffet is available, too.
The New Tygart Flyer is available Thursdays through Sundays until Sept. 17, then Tuesdays through Sundays, Sept. 19–Oct. 22 and Oct. 26, 27, and 28.
For more information
Mountain Rail Adventures: mountainrailwv.com
Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad: potomaceagle.info
Make your reservations in advance
Fall is the busiest time of year for those who run West Virginia’s scenic train excursions as visitors flock to see the changing leaves. Make reservations in advance for your trip.
Tickets for the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad three-hour Trough Trip are: Club Rate — $100 for adults, $25 for children younger than 4; Coach Rate — $50 for adults, $45 for those 60 and older, $20 for children 4 to 12.
All-day trip tickets are: Club Rate — $150 for adults, $25 for children; Coach Rate — $90 for adults, $80 for seniors, $30 for children 4 to 12.
Tickets for the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad’s “Wild Heart of West Virginia Adventure Package” are $151 per person, $149 for seniors, and $141 for children 4 to 11. The price doesn’t include overnight accommodations.
New Tygart Flyer tickets are $61 for adults, $59 for seniors, and $51 for children 4 to 11. A cold sandwich buffet is available.