The rich throaty sound of a steam train whistle beckons visitors to the Texas State Railroad (Park Road 76 off Hwy. 84 West, 888/987-2461, www.texasstaterr.com ). The nearest depot is located in Rusk, approximately 30 miles northwest of Nacogdoches , where passengers get all aboard on a historic journey through the East Texas Piney Woods . Trains have rolled on these 25 miles of rustic yet sturdy tracks between Rusk and Palestine since 1881, when the state prison system began constructing the railway to transport iron ore and timber.
The 90-minute trek between the two towns is a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing journey into the past, with gently rolling train cars clickety-clacking over bridges and through the dense green forest. Sit back and let time slowly slip by while the steam locomotive’s whistle bellows and the genial conductor checks your ticket. Before you know it, you’ll be at the Victorian-style depot at the end of the line where you’ll find historical exhibits, gift shops, and food service.
Round trip excursions depart each weekend year-round from both the Rusk and Palestine depots at 11 a.m. and return to their point of origin by 3:30 p.m. Adult tickets run $34 and child (ages 3–11) fares are $17. A 90-minute layover is scheduled at the opposite train depot, where a variety of lunch options are available. Snacks, beverages, and restrooms are provided on the train.