Are you a train enthusiast? Are you considering going on an adventure filled with a rich history? What about the Cass Scenic Railroad?
Believe me, it’s a must! In this review, we’ll give you exclusive access to everything that we did in the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.
The Cass Scenic Railroad lets you experience riding steam locomotives complete with coal smoke and ringing bells. This heritage railway is 11 miles long and takes 4.5 hours to reach the summit of Bald Knob. This is the third highest point in Western Virginia.
Going to the Bald Knob and back is a 22-mile long trip. With all the stops and shops along the way, you will need at least 4.5 hours for this journey.
Additionally, you’ll be surprised at how well preserved the lodges, cabins, and museums in this park are. Lastly, there are many activities to do if you’re going to spend a couple of nights in the park.
Let’s break down everything that you need to know about the Cass Scenic Railroad.
Booking a ticket for the Cass Scenic Railroad is easy. All you have to do is to visit the official website of Durbin & Greenbrier Valley here. When you scroll down, you’ll find many choices for a mountain rail adventure.
I booked the Cass Scenic Bald Knob Trip and input the date of my travel. After that, you can choose how many adults, children, senior citizens, veterans, or infants are traveling with you.
Once all of that is done, you can choose which car to ride.
Take note that Car A is the one closest to the steam locomotive which means that it’s the loudest of all cars. Car G is for persons with disabilities and is the only car that has restrooms. Car I is the last car on the train.
The train departs from Cass at noon. The days would depend on the posted schedule on the website. Also, the whole trip takes 4.5 hours and a complete 22-mile journey.
Take note that buying a ticket doesn’t reserve you a particular seat which is why you must arrive early.
Also, if you’re traveling in groups, the crew will try their best to seat all of you together. Just make sure to immediately tell them your needs and requests.
Lastly, the Cass Scenic Railroad does not allow pets on their tours. However, people with disability are allowed to bring their service animals.
The pricing of the train tickets differs depending on the season. Once fall comes, the prices of all their tickets increase by $5 except for children under the age of 3. This is usually between mid-September and the end of October. Currently, their prices are the following:
- Child (3 and under) – Free
- Child (4-11) – $57.00
- Adult (12-64) – $77.00
- Senior (65+) – $75.00
- Military/Veteran – $73.00
- Group (25 pax or more) – $73.00
Take note that taxes are not included in this pricing. Additionally, they ask for optional donations to help maintain the trains and park.
Cass Scenic Railway Bald Knob Trip
As mentioned earlier, the Cass Scenic Railway leaves at noon to climb the Bald Knob. I chose to book a ticket in car A so that I can experience firsthand how loud steam locomotives are.
Before departing, the train rings the bell signaling the start of our journey, it’s exciting!
Since the Cass Railroad was originally used to carry logs from the mountain to the community, they use geared locomotives. These types of locomotives push the train toward steep areas of the Cheap Mountain and also pull the train back down to Cass.
The first thing that I saw on this logging railroad is the remains of a logging mill. The next thing I noticed is the Cass Shop where all the locomotives are maintained and repaired.
Also, Cass is known for having the largest collection of geared steam locomotives in the entire world. This shop is responsible for this amazing fleet of locomotives.
While we were passing, we also saw a locomotive with steam outside the shop. The guide told us that it may either have a departure schedule later on the day or is a stand-by for reserve.
Ascending the Mountain
There’s a creek after the Cass shop and this is where the ascent up to the mountain begins and the temperature starts to change. Here, some switchbacks allow the train to ascend the steep mountain. Switchbacks are usually used in logging railroads to help the train gain momentum while climbing the elevation.
Once the train pushes upward to the mountain, it will pass a switch which makes the train go on a different track and continue its climb. In modern railways, you’ll hardly see any switchback which is why the Cass Scenic Railroad is a unique experience.
During our climb to the mountain, you’ll immediately notice the steepness of the journey. Some of the areas are as steep as 11%, which is extremely difficult in contrast to the 3.3% of the steepest mainline railroads.
This puts an immense strain on the steam locomotives which we can hear during our ride, especially for us who were on car A.
I became excited during this part of the ride because it’s amazing to experience the sensation of a train giving everything!
It’s got to do its work, you can hear the steam engine roar! Like other geared steam locomotives, the locomotive of Cass Scenic Railway is not built for speed, but the power to push and pull cars up and down the mountain.
Once we pass the switchbacks, the train continued to climb until it reaches the Whittaker Station. This station is 4 miles away from Cass and only takes 1.5 hours for the entire round trip including the stopover at the station.
Continuing Our Ascent to the Bald Knob
Some passengers only booked their train tickets until Whittaker Station. For us who are going to Bald Knob, we continue our journey climbing the mountain.
While climbing, you’ll see the “Old Spruce” sign which allows the train to travel the old railway towards the abandoned town of Spruce.
Just a mile after the “Old Spruce” switch, we had another stopover at “Oats Run” for the train to take on water.
We were able to see the water tank system which was assembled from the different parts of steam locomotives. The tank system is full of natural streams which come down from the mountain.
After this stop, we continued our climb up the mountain into steeper areas.
This provides the best view of the mountains surrounding the railway and the valley below so make sure that your cameras are ready. Additionally, this is where the trees and natural habitat change during the entire climb to the mountain.
We were able to reach Bald Knob and the train did another stop here. I stepped off the train to take in the awe-inspiring view in front of me overlooking the valley and the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. You can also see a glimpse of the Green Bank Observatory at the foot of the mountain which is the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world.
The trip includes a box lunch which includes a cold sandwich, bottled water, cookie, and chips. They call this the “King of the Road” hobo lunch.
Cass Scenic Railroad Steam Locomotive
Did I mention that the Cass Scenic Railroad is one of the few railroads in the world that operates in steam alone? yes, you heard that right.
They still use coal which is manually loaded to the firebox to power the locomotive!
As mentioned earlier, this railroad has the largest collection of operational steam locomotives in the world. They power three steam locomotives per tour.
One locomotive is for Whittaker Station, another one is for the Bald Knob, and the third locomotive is a stand-by.
Additionally, they use modified logging cars for passenger cars. They were able to fit hard bench seats for the passengers to sit on.
However, most of the passengers (including myself) chose to stand for almost the entire journey to see the magnificent views and take in the fresh mountain air.
Things to Remember Before Boarding the Cass Scenic Railroad
Cass Scenic Railroad has covered and open-air cars. However, the cars going to the Bald Knob are open which means that you’ll have to consider the weather and smoke.
Prepare yourself ahead of time when dressing for your trip to the Bald Knob. The weather and temperature can change dramatically especially when going uphill.
Additionally, since the cars are open, expect to smell burning coal. For people who have trouble breathing through smoke, it’s best to consider skipping this railroad or asking for assistance from the crew.
Also, hearing the roaring locomotive is inevitable and can be quite loud when you’re sitting in front. If you’re sensitive to hearing, make sure to bring earplugs with you.
The entire Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is in a remote location so don’t expect to have good cell phone service in the area either.
Furthermore, if it’s your first time traveling to the park, be sure to print out a mini-map for the directions.
Since I was already at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, I went to book a cabin for myself too. I didn’t want to venture any further.
I got myself a company house for only $172. They offer many choices so make sure to choose the one that fits your needs. You can check out their accommodation options here.
The company house I chose was too big for a single person, but I wasn’t able to find a smaller and cheaper room during my stay.
It had a living room, TV, dinner table, and a fully-furnished kitchen. Additionally, it featured two rooms. One of the rooms has a single and double-size bed and the other room is a master bedroom.
Of course, I took the master bedroom for little old me haha.
Take note that the rate I’ve given is for accommodation only. They do not include the meals in their lodging so you have to set a different budget for your food.
If you’re like me who wants to have restaurants close to where you’re staying, then the only option that you have for your meals is at the Last Run Restaurant.
This is located also in Cass Scenic Railroad State Park and is operated by the Bodkin Sisters.
This is an excellent restaurant if you’re looking for home-cooked meals. Additionally, the Last Run Restaurant has received the award of “101 Unique Places to Dine” in West Virginia both in 2009 and 2015.
They open at 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.
During winter, their schedule changes. From Thursday through Saturday, they are open from 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. From Sunday through Wednesday, they are open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Since there was a box lunch included on my trip to Bald Knob. I decided to have dinner at the Last Run Restaurant. I chose a 10 oz ribeye steak along with some mashed potatoes.
Also, they do not serve any liquor in the restaurant so opted for bottled soda.
The food is excellent and tastes like your traditional home-cooked meals. Additionally, the ambiance is what you can expect from a local secluded restaurant.
Many of the passengers who went to Bald Knob also ate in this restaurant so it was nice to meet more people.
You can ask for some homemade desserts from the waitress and they will suggest to you the best choice.
By morning, I was looking forward to eating my breakfast at the Last Run Restaurant. I chose a railroad special which included sausage, two eggs, toast, and breakfast taters.
To go along with this, I got myself a banana and some coffee. I sat with the people I met yesterday and learned that they were going to extend their stay at the park.
Other Activities Outside of the Park
The entire Western Virginia State Park offers many activities after your railroad experience. You can choose from biking, boating, fishing, geocaching, golf, hiking, hunting, and visiting museums and historical sites.
The Cass Scenic Railroad can access a portion of the hiking and biking trails of the Greenbrier River Trail.
Additionally, there’s a complete geocaching activity right inside the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park in which you will need a GPS.
Lastly, there are many walking tours available inside the park where it can take you to different trails and historical sites.
There are also many outdoor adventures that you can do.
You can visit the park headquarters and go to historical theaters. Also, if you’re traveling in groups and want to play some sports, you can always do an outdoor recreation activity like playing on the basketball or volleyball courts.
Equally important, there’s also a children’s playground in Cass Scenic Railroad State Park where you can let your children roam around and play with the other kids.
Since I was traveling alone, I chose to wander around the park and see as much as I could. I visited the museum and other historical sites within the area. Other tourists chose to do other outdoor activities and spend quality time with their family and friends.
Cass Scenic Railroad Review – Conclusion
If you’re looking to experience a fully functional steam locomotive, then visiting the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park should be on the top of your list.
I recommend that you choose to book a ticket to Bald Knob since it didn’t disappoint me even a bit!
The train and scenery are incredible, enjoy!