These Steam Trains Bring You From the Towering California Redwoods to the Pacific Ocean
Riding from 300-foot-tall redwoods to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk might be the best way to sightsee in California.
California's iconic coastal redwoods are majestic: They are the tallest trees on Earth, often growing more than 300 feet high and living as long as 2,000 years. Back in the mid-1800s, the logging industry in the West relied on trains to move the redwoods' tremendous tree trunks from the coastal forests and mountains to flatter, inland regions. Today, coastal redwood forests are preserved, of course, but in some places, trains continue to move on down the track, helping nature buffs (and train buffs) enjoy these scenic areas via locomotive.
In Felton, California, about seven miles outside of the Santa Cruz, Roaring Camp does just that. Trains have run here since 1875, so guests today get a feeling for life back then, with historic engines pulling them through the redwood forest along narrow-gauge grades — and so close to redwood trees you can almost touch them.
The trains are working pieces of history themselves. One of the few operating steam trains here is Dixiana. Named for the Virginia area it served for years as a mining train, Dixiana is a two-truck steam engine that makes that cartoon-famous (and wildly loud) “toot, toot” when the conductor releases the steam valve. It pulls open-air cars along its route — a slow ride, as it would have been back in the day. The wind may not blow your hair, but you’d be hard-pressed to beat your view.
There are two journeys available at Roaring Camp. Diaxana carries guests for 75 minutes up Bear Mountain and back to the village. For a longer experience, try the three-hour ride connecting Roaring Camp to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. You can start your ride at either of these stops, then enjoy a trip to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, through a gorge and 19th-century tunnel as you go. This route is part of the historic Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway, operating since 1875.
Families heading to Roaring Camp can tack additional kid-friendly activities onto their day. There’s gold panning and candle making, for example, plus lots of outdoor space to run or picnic.
Reserving train tickets in advance is suggested. Prices start at $25 for kids (those under age two are free) and $40 for adults. There’s a full calendar of special events, too, including educational weekend rides in March, an Easter Egg Hunt in April, and themed dinner and movie nights throughout the year.
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