America's romance with the vintage passenger train lives on through excursions on the Branson Scenic Railway aboard a collection of unique passenger cars that travel through the foothills of the Ozark Mountains for an approximate 40-mile (64 km) round trip. This 1 hr 45 mins trip takes passengers through tunnels, over trestles, and through the southwest Missouri or northwest Arkansas wilderness that is still home to much wildlife and to the ruins of long-ago communities now named only on railroad maps.
Traveling on a working commercial railroad line, the train's direction of travel (depending on freight traffic and track conditions) is determined by the Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad just prior to departure. At that time, the train will go either north or south. (All excursions depart from the old depot.) The northern route goes as far as Galena, Missouri, to the James River Valley; and the southern route extends into Arkansas to the Barren Fork Trestle. Three to four times daily, depending on the season, Branson Scenic Railway explores territory inaccessible by automobile and offers views that are unattainable by any other means of transportation. A lively narration points out the landmarks such as Crest Tunnel, Cricket Tunnel, Walnut Creek Trestle, Barren Fork Trestle, and Tharp's Grade; and the extinct communities of Gretna, Melva, and Ruth are described as they were in the early 20th century. Also included in the narration is a description of the wildlife and landscape and an outline of the railroad's role in shaping the Ozarks. The routes take passengers about 20 miles from Branson before reversing direction and returning on the same tracks.
Photograph courtesy Aurin Chakrabarty.