All aboard: When the journey is as important as the destination

Trains have stirred up feelings of excitement throughout history. That excitement continues today, making trains a great way to travel. The journey becomes as important as the destination, and — depending on your route — you can see fall leaves, small towns and bustling cities as the train makes its way down the tracks. And unlike a car trip, it’s easy to stretch your legs and move around and perhaps enjoy a nice meal as you continue your journey.

Check out the following routes for fall travel if you’re interested in a train trip:

Atlanta to New Orleans or Birmingham via the Amtrak Crescent

The Crescent travels from New York to New Orleans with stops along the way that include Atlanta, so you can board the train here and get off in Birmingham or go all the way to the Big Easy. Only one Crescent route runs a day, so you’ll need to plan accordingly.

If your destination is Birmingham, popular sites to visit include the city’s six-block Civil Rights District. Stop by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute as well as Kelly Ingram Park, where civil rights rallies took place in the 1960s. The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is also a popular destination that boasts over 1,800 motorcycles that span more than 100 years of production. You can also see the world’s most extensive collection of Lotus cars as well as rare race cars.

If you’re staying on the Crescent until its final stop in New Orleans, you’ll have nearly endless options for entertainment. Restaurants, bars, jazz clubs and the bustle of Bourbon Street are always popular. And if you’re visiting during the first weekend of November, check out the Bayou Bacchanal. This joyous celebration of Caribbean culture and heritage features food, dance and music. Another popular event, the Oak Street Po’ Boy Festival, will be held on Nov. 19.

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

Drive about an hour and a half from Atlanta to Blue Ridge to catch the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway for a four-hour round trip through the Chattahoochee National Forest. You’ll make your way through the charming sister towns of McCaysville in north Georgia and Copperhill, TN where you’ll have a two-hour layover so you can explore the area.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

From the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s depot in Bryson City, NC, you can board a steam- or diesel-powered train and head out on a round trip to several destinations.

Travel along the Nantahala River on the 4.5-hour roundtrip Nantahala Gorge Excursion, and you’ll have your choice of several types of seating, including a first class option with large picture windows, a meal and bar service. Or choose to make your trip in a premium open air gondola that gives you unobstructed views, a roof above you and a meal.

You can also take the Tuckasegee River Excursion, a four-hour round trip through the quiet countryside. You’ll have a layover in historic Dillsboro, where you can visit shops, restaurants, a brewery and country inns. Seating options are similar to those offered on the Nantahala Gorge Excursion.

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