The chug-chug and urgent whistle call of an approaching train is always exciting, especially when a vintage steam engine leads the charge. How can you hear it and see it and not want to be on it? Several family-friendly excursion trains in California welcome dogs as well as parents, grandparents and youngsters aboard. Here’s a rundown.
• Skunk Train: One of the most entertaining ways to experience Mendocino County’s majestic redwoods is aboard the historic (and dog-friendly) Skunk Train, so named because the self-propelled, gasoline-powered “railbus” cars introduced in the 1920s stunk to high heaven. Today, four-hour, dog-friendly excursions out of Willits dive deep into the woods on 40-mile round trips, while one-hour round trips out of Fort Bragg give a more brief taste of the environment. On both ends, look for seasonal specials like the Pumpkin Express and Magical Christmas Train.
• Sacramento RiverTrain: From the same management as the Skunk Train, the Sacramento RiverTrain runs a leisurely, 28-mile round-trip between West Sacramento and Woodland, welcoming families with dogs in open-air cars. Regular trips showcase Gold Rush history with a stop midway. Up to five dogs are allowed on specialty trains including the Beer Train, Old Vine Express and RiverTrain Excursion runs.
• Railtown 1897 State Historic Park: This sprawling Tuolumne County attraction, part of the California State Railroad Museum complex, combines industrial heritage and railroad history with the lore of Hollywood’s film industry. Scenes from dozens of Western films and TV shows were recorded here, many of which will be familiar to visitors of a certain age. Steam-train rides are offered weekends April-October and holiday weekends in winter. Visitors with dogs are allowed on the grounds and in open-air observation cars once used for sightseeing in the Canadian Rockies. Reserve early for Halloween and Christmas trains. And be sure to visit nearby Columbia State Historic Park, the “Gold Rush town that refused to die,” now a charming place for adults, children (and dogs) alike to visit. Plan your visit for the second Saturday of the month or during one of many special-event weekends to be charmed by volunteers who don period dress to help create a Gold Rush atmosphere.
• Roaring Camp Railroads: It's hard to beat a day in the redwoods, especially if the visit includes a ride on a narrow-gauge railroad once used to haul Bunyan-size logs out of the Santa Cruz Mountains of Santa Cruz County. Roaring Camp Railroad's vintage steam engines date to the 1890s, but today they haul people—and dogs, if leashed and well behaved—on a scenic route winding from its Felton depot through towering redwood groves and up a winding grade to a picnic stop on the summit of Bear Mountain. The ride itself is only an hour long, but the beautiful grounds invite lingering, and the many special events put on throughout the year are ideal for multigenerational outings.
• Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad: Just outside Yosemite National Park, this excursion train operation provides enchanting summertime excursions into the redwoods. Choose a train pulled by a Shay steam locomotive built in the early 20th century for lumber operations in Tuolumne County, or opt for a “Model A”-powered ride behind a Jenny railcar. Either way, you’ll enjoy exhibits, picnic grounds and hiking in the area. Leashed dogs not shy of loud noise are welcome on daytime but not dinner or moonlight excursions.
• Western Railway Museum: From the late 1800s into the early 1940s, dozens of Northern California communities were connected by electric “interurban” railroads. The biggest player was the Sacramento Northern, whose trunk line stretched 184 miles from Chico to San Francisco—and whose heritage is preserved at the Western Railway Museum outside Suisun City in Solano County. For the price of admission, visitors, including dogs, can enjoy unlimited rides on historic streetcars that make a circuit around the grounds, along with 50-minute rides in old interurban train cars along a 5-mile stretch of electrified track.
Photo Credit: @wandering_wednesday