This Top-Rated Historic Train Ride Shows Off West Virginia's Mountains Like No Other

Nestled in the mountains of West Virginia, Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is a natural gem that provides a glimpse into the arduous lifestyles of sawyers in the early 1900s — a time when large steam-driven locomotives were an essential part of daily life. The Cass Scenic Railroad system is an integral piece of this state's rich heritage. Founded in 1901, Cass was first occupied by a population of loggers who worked in the surrounding mountains. The West Virginia Pulp & Paper Company invested in the construction of the railroad to aid workers in transporting large supplies of lumber to the mill at Cass. After the railroad was sold to Mower Lumber Company, the lumber industry saw a period of decline, resulting in the closure of the mill and the tracks in 1960.

The railroad reopened 17 years later under the management of Durbin Greenbrier Valley Railroad as a tourist attraction, sharing the sacred heritage of this land with the rest of the world. Today, the park operates several scenic train rides through West Virginia's mountain range, including the Cass Bald Knob Trip, a 22-mile round-trip journey retracing the steps of the land's earliest pioneers. The train departs from the Cass Depot Station, traversing the Black Allegheny Mountains 11 miles each way to Bald Knob, one of the highest peaks in West Virginia.

Bald Knob Scenic Train Ride

Ascending the peak of Bald Knob to an elevation of 2,390 feet, this four-and-a-half hour train ride through the mountains bypasses lofty evergreen glades of spruce, maple, and black cherry trees. Views of the Appalachians rising in the distance are visible over the treetops, along with gently sloping valleys, wooded forests, and the Green Bank Observatory, the largest steerable radio telescope in the world. Open observation cars make it easy to enjoy unobstructed views of the vast landscape on this scenic train ride, allowing for an immersive experience along this wilderness playground.

The railroad launched its latest scenic endeavor in 2023 in the form of the new Greenbrier Express train. This stunning tour guides passengers on a two-hour excursion from the historic town of Cass to Durbin, a small mountain-top village. One secluded patch of railroad on the route to Durbin cuts through the heart of Monongahela National Forest, an enchanting forest encompassing an astounding 950,000 acres. 

As in many East Coast states, the fall foliage that covers Virginia's vast woodlands and forested mountain ranges is a captivating sight, and toiling up West Virginia's peaks by railroad is a bucket list item best reserved for the fall season. The autumn colors reach their peak during the last few weeks of September, resulting in an explosion of browns, yellows, and reds. Taking advantage of the captivating spring and fall seasons, this scenic rail trail is open from May to October every year. 

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

Traveler Blog the history of Cass's century-old heritage at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, the launching platform for the new Greenbrier Express Train. Popular park attractions include The Company Store, which houses a gift shop, restaurants, an artisans co-op, and the Cass Historical Theater and Historical Museum. Tucked inside The Company Store are two restaurants that embody the best of this town's local culture — The Last Run Restaurant and Shays Restaurant. Receiving its moniker from the "Shay" steam locomotives that put this town on the map, Shays Restaurant is an eclectic, quaint all-day diner serving classic comfort food. The Last Run Restaurant is an equally divine experience, and this eatery is frequently featured in collections of West Virginia's top eateries. If you have time to spare, check out The Shops at Leatherbark Ford, which feature artisan-made goods, like quilts, needlework, and handmade soaps. 

The natural terrain is Cass's most extraordinary gem, showcasing the best of West Virginia's striking topography. This town happens to be conveniently located along the heart of the Allegheny Trail, West Virginia's longest hiking trail. The 311-mile trail runs from the Mason-Dixon Line to Peters Mountain, near the Appalachian Trail. Divided into four distinct sections, the trail cuts through two states, three national forests, and four state parks. It's always worth traversing at least a few miles of this nature-rich hiking trail during your visit to Cass.