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Autumn Splendor By Rail, Alabama's Fall Foliage Train Rides (2024)

Last revised: December 31, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Alabama may be located in the Deep South but the state is home to some of the best fall foliage throughout this part of the country.  This is especially true in the central and northern regions where the Appalachian Mountains begin and the rolling hills, rural farms, and penetrating forests offer spectacular views in October and November.

There are currently two heritage railroads in Alabama that continue to host trips during this time of year, the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in Calera and the North Alabama Railroad Museum in Huntsville.

Because of its southerly location bear in mind that the colors here generally do not peak until late October and continue through mid-November.  Other locations in the state you may be interested in visiting simply to see the colors include:

  • Cheaha State Park:  This state park is located in the heart of the Talladega National Forest with the Appalachian Mountains.  The park is also the highest point in Alabama at 2,413 feet above see level.  As you hike through the park's trails, you'll be treated to panoramic views of the surrounding forests, valleys, and mountains. During the fall season, the trees in the park turn into a kaleidoscope of colors, making it a prime location for leaf peeping.
  • Little River Canyon National Preserve: This preserve is located in northeast Alabama, a 14-mile-long canyon that offers stunning views of the fall foliage. The preserve has several hiking trails that lead to various lookout points, including the Little River Falls and the Martha's Falls. Visitors can also enjoy kayaking, birdwatching, and camping in the preserve.
  • Noccalula Falls Park: The Noccalula Falls Park is located in Gadsden, Alabama, is home to a 90-foot waterfall and a 250-acre park. During the fall season, the park's trees turn into a brilliant display of colors, making it an ideal location to view the fall foliage. Visitors can hike the park's trails, have a picnic, or explore the various attractions, including a pioneer village and a petting zoo.
  • Oak Mountain State Park: Another popular recreational area, Oak Mountain is located in Pelham and is the largest state park in Alabama. It has over 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, a fishing lake, and a beach. During the fall season, the park's hardwood trees turn into a spectacular show of colors.
  • Bankhead National Forest: Bankhead National Forest, located in northwestern Alabama, is a 180,000-acre preserve that offers a variety of recreational activities, including hiking, fishing, and camping. During the fall season, the forest's trees turn into a colorful display of reds, oranges, vermilions, and yellows. Visitors can explore the forest's trails, picnic areas, and waterfalls.

Overview

Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum

(Calera):  Located in Calera, this museum not only provides static displays showcasing the state's rail history but also offers many excursions throughout the year.  One such event is the Pumpkin Patch Express hosted during October. 

Geared, of course, for the kids the ride (which departs from the restored Southern Railway depot originally located in Wilton) lasts about 1 1/2 hours where the train departs east from Calera along a former Louisville & Nashville line which once linked the town with Wellington, Alabama and Birmingham in a roundabout fashion. 

The railroad referred to it as the "Alabama Mineral Division" that ran 183 miles.  Today, the museum maintains just over 5 miles of the southern leg that once reached Wellington (98 miles) where interchange was established with the Seaboard Air Line. 

During your trip you will pass through the beautiful Shelby County countryside; the right-of-way passes through a mixture of forest canopy and open farmland.  Along the way you can also see the Timberline Golf Club and Ozan Winery & Distillery's vineyard.

North Alabama Railroad Museum

(Huntsville):  Like the Heart Of Dixie Museum this organization offers excursions alongside static displays.  It has two different fall train rides, the Punkin' Pickin' Extravaganza and the Fall Color Special (which normally runs during two different weekends). 

The former trip, as the name suggests, allows kids to ride out and pick out their own pumpkin.  The event is held during one Saturday each October. 


The latter is, of course, geared towards the autumn colors running over a former section of the historic Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis running to the east and west of Huntsville (5 miles).  This is operated as the "Mercury & Chase Railroad." 

During the trip you will see lots of beautiful farmland and view the southern periphery of the breathtaking Appalachian Mountains.  It is a lovely little train ride tucked away in the "Heart of Dixie."

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