Fall is the ideal time to visit the mountains and valley to our west. In our September 2023 issue, we reveal where to go for great hikes and how to see the area by plane or by car. Plus, we’ve found the best places to eat, drink, and shop — and where to kick back and stay awhile.
There’s a new way to revel in the fall leaves and natural beauty of the Shenandoah Valley. It’s from a window seat on board a 1940s-era railcar on the Virginia Scenic Railway, which departs from the historic train depot in Staunton.
Operated by Buckingham Branch Railroad, the Virginia Scenic Railway offers three-hour train rides east and west, four days a week (Thursday through Sunday) from downtown Staunton’s Amtrak station for views across the area’s lush national forests and farmland.
In the mornings, the Alleghany Special travels west, allowing for views across bucolic landscapes and working farms, en route to the hamlet of Goshen. On the way, the train crosses the George Washington and Jefferson national forests before awing passengers with vistas of the rugged Allegheny Mountains to the south.
In the afternoons, the Blue Ridge Flyer chugs toward Ivy, a small town west of Charlottesville. Along the way, passengers take in the rural scenery near Fishersville and Waynesboro. The train then goes dark as it traverses the nearly 1-mile Blue Ridge Tunnel, which was painstakingly carved through Afton Mountain.
As the train moves along, listen for a twangy harmonica. That’s the signal that a narration is gearing up to educate rail riders on topics that range from the history of the train car or rail line to what you’ll see north and south of the train.
While the scenery can be captivating, it’s easy to get hungry on a three-hour train ride. Thankfully, there’s a full lunch or dinner included, depending on the rail route you choose. At the time of booking, passengers choose seats and a meal option, such as housemade tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich or a pulled pork sandwich with baked beans and coleslaw.
There’s dessert, too, like triple-layer chocolate cake and cheesecake. A child-friendly menu caters to little ones with macaroni and cheese and chicken tenders. Meals come with a nonalcoholic beverage in a souvenir glass. The railway hopes to offer for-purchase wines and beers in the future.
Tickets cost $120 per person for the three-hour train ride. Only one railcar is in use per excursion, but the goal is to have two railcars by the end of the year — hopefully in time for Santa’s arrival in December, when the train magically transforms into Santa’s Scenic Railway. These express rides last 40 minutes and include holiday treats, like hot cocoa, apple cider, and warm cookies.
Feature image of Virginia Scenic Railway, Buckingham Branch Railroad by Kate Simon
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