The Great Smokies: Trains, Cherokee and Appalachian Culture
Ride historic rails across scenic mountains as you learn about Appalachian culture, Cherokee heritage, traditional music and regional cuisine.
Rating (5)
Program No. 21267RJ
6 days
Starts at
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6 days
5 nights
12 meals
5 B 3 L 4 D
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Chattanooga, TN
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Chattanooga Downtown

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration. After checking in and receiving your key at the front desk, please go to the conference room located near the lobby area to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing your name-tag, up-to-date schedule that reflects any last-minute changes, other important information, and to learn when and where the Orientation session will take place. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in. Orientation 5:00 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone with a warm welcome and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule and any changes, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer any questions you may have. Periods in the daily schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: In the hotel conference room, we will enjoy a buffet dinner including coffee, tea and water. Other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: In the conference room, our expert will give a short presentation on the Cherokees that lived in the Chattanooga area, which will set the stage for the story of the Trail of Tears.

Missionary Ridge Turnaround, Chickamauga, Choo Choo
Chattanooga, TN
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Chattanooga Downtown

Activity note: Getting on/off the train and motorcoach. Walking battlefield and standing for some presentations in the field. Standing in museum for up to an hour with benches outside.

Breakfast: At the hotel, we will enjoy a buffet breakfast with a variety of hot and cold items. Coffee, tea, water, juice included. Other beverages available for purchase.

Morning: We will join a local expert for a walk about the downtown area of Chattanooga, become acquainted with the area, and get a look at the local revitalization. Our expert will give us a brief history of Chattanooga as we walk. Following our walk, we will board a motorcoach for the train ride to Missionary Ridge and the train museum. Chattanooga was a railroad center for nearly a century and a hub of Southeastern U.S. travel. This morning, we’ll travel one of the original rail lines into the city via either steam or vintage diesel locomotive. Along the way, we will witness two unique methods of turning a train around. We will also ride through Missionary Ridge Tunnel, notable for its uniqueness as a horseshoe tunnel, in which the top of the tunnel is wider than the bottom. After our ride, we will go backstage at the East Chattanooga Back Shop where the conductor will take you us through the process of restoring trains. After the train ride, we’ll have time for a self-guided visit of the museum and learn about the role of railroads in the history and development of this region by observing railroad artifacts in an authentic setting. We will then return to the hotel by motorcoach.

Lunch: In the hotel conference room, we will enjoy a buffet lunch, plus coffee, tea, water. Other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: During the Civil War, Chattanooga was a key rail center and gateway to the heart of the Confederacy. The Battle of Chickamauga was fought for this prize and is essential to understanding Chattanooga’s history. Only the Battle of Gettysburg was more lethal but unlike that notorious conflict, Chickamauga was a huge Union defeat. Our expert historian will lead us on a field trip to Chickamauga Battlefield, where we will learn what happened September 18 – 20, 1863, and how it impacted the war.

Dinner: We will board our motor coach to travel a short distance to our dinner reservation. We will enjoy a plated dinner, with coffee, tea, water at a local restaurant. Other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: After dinner we will visit the Choo Choo terminal on an expert led field trip that includes a presentation on the history of Track 29 and the Chattanooga Choo Choo Terminal. We will then return to the hotel by motor coach.

Cherokee Trail of Tears, Music, Challenger Center
Chattanooga, TN
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Chattanooga Downtown

Activity note: Getting on/off motorcoach. Walking and standing in Challenger Center.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: Before the arrival of the Europeans, the land where Asheville now exists lay within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. At the hotel, we’ll sit back and enjoy a presentation given by a local expert who has collected and continues to share Cherokee legends, and who plays the Cherokee flute, rattle, and the Native American drum. Our presenter also plays the five-string banjo, guitars, and the Appalachian dulcimer. Through this presentation and performance, we’ll delve into hundreds of years of Cherokee culture and history in a short time including one of America's darkest tragedies, the Removal of tribes to the West, and into the present. Afterwards, we will board a motorcoach for the Challenger Center. In the center’s conference room, we’ll hear from an expert associated with the Center, then spend time at the exhibits that honor the crew of the Challenger. The UTC Challenger Learning Center is a member of the National Challenger Center Network that has 45 centers located in the United States, Great Britain, South Korea and Canada. The Challenger Centers were built as a living memorial for the crew of the Challenger Space Shuttle mission that ended in tragedy on January 28, 1986.

Lunch: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Afternoon: Free Time. Take this opportunity for personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. Please refer to the list of Free Time Opportunities. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Dinner: This is your time to enjoy dinner on your own or with newfound friends. Your group leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure.

Coach to Hiawassee, Murphy Museum, John Campbell Folk School
Hiawassee, GA
The Ridges Hotel & Marina

Activity note: Travel from Chattanooga,TN, to Hiawassee, GA, is approximately 2 hours and 22 minutes by motorcoach. Walking in Murphy, NC from museum to restaurants is one block. Walking at John C Campbell Folk School is throughout an area of buildings all within close proximity, around a 3 block area.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: This morning we will travel from Chattanooga to Hiawassee by motorcoach. Our expert guide will provide commentary along the way while we sit back and take in the beautiful scenery. Our motorcoach will drop us off in the small town of Murphy, NC to visit the Cherokee County Museum with displays of the rich history of Native American and pioneer settlers in the far-western corner of the state. The museum is housed in the historic Carnegie Library. The best part of this field trip is your local expert.

Lunch: Pick the spot you want to have lunch in this tiny town of Murphy. Our group leader will give participants lunch money to go on your own.

Afternoon: After lunch, board your motor coach to travel a short distance to the John C Campbell Folk School. The school was founded in 1925 to nurture and preserve the folk arts of the Appalachian Mountains. It is a non-profit adult educational organization based on non-competitive learning. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a national historic district in 1983. This is a favorite field trip and ties together the strong Appalachian history and culture that is so much a part of this program. You will witness students learning craft, art, music, dance, cooking, gardening, nature studies, photography, and writing in small classes scattered across campus.

Dinner: At the hotel, we will enjoy a buffet dinner plus coffee, tea, water. Other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: Our expert will continue his stories of the Cherokees and Appalachian history in a short presentation. Take time to prepare for your final train trip the next day.

Bryson City Train Trip
Hiawassee, GA
The Ridges Hotel & Marina

Activity note: Motorcoach from Hiawassee, GA to Bryson City, NC approximately 1.5 hour. Train excursion 44 mile roundtrip/4.5 hours. Getting on/off the train and motorcoach.

Breakfast: At the hotel, we will enjoy a buffet breakfast with a variety of hot and cold items. Coffee, tea, water, juice included. Other beverages available for purchase

Morning: We will then ride by motorcoach to Bryson City, where we will board a train for a scenic rail journey from the historic depot through the beautiful countryside of Western North Carolina. As we travel along the Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers, we will enjoy bluegrass performances from local musicians with an occasional Appalachian story. The Fontana Bridge, a trellis bridge spanning 780 feet and standing 100 feet above the water, will bring us across Fontana Lake and into the beautiful Nantahala Gorge. Upon arrival at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, we can relax during our one-hour layover, after which we will return to the Bryson City Depot.

Lunch: A box lunch aboard the train will include a choice of either a pulled pork barbeque sandwich or a vegetarian wrap, coleslaw and potato chips with bottled water.

Afternoon: We will return to the depot in Bryson City for our motorcoach to Hiawassee. It's time to rest and relax after a fun-filled day on the train, with no commentary on the way home.

Dinner: At the hotel, we will enjoy a buffet dinner, plus coffee, tea, water. Other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: After dinner, we will enjoy music played by our expert musician and instructor, who plays many different instruments.

Program Concludes And Returns To Chattanooga
Hiawassee, GA

Activity note: Hotel check-out by 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We will board our motor coach by 8:30 am to return to Chattanooga by approximately 11:30 am. We will drop off first at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport (CHA) and then at the DoubleTree Hotel. This concludes our program. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

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