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Roaring Camp Railroad: Trains Tours are a Great Way to Spend the Day with Family

Updated on October 3, 2014
Get ready to buy your ticket!
Get ready to buy your ticket! | Source

All Aboard!

Looking for a one day historic adventure that combines trains and gigantic trees? Look no further!

Take a drive down to Felton, California, nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains amid some of the most majestic trees you've ever seen--the Mighty Redwoods!

Once a logging area, the train routes have been preserved for our enjoyment. These guided tours are fun for all ages!

It's a historic adventure through a pristine redwood forest. If you've never seen redwoods before, then you are in for a treat.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride. Choo Choo!

History of Roaring Camp - Felton, California

 "Official map of Santa Cruz County / compiled by A.J. Hatch, C.E. from U.S. government surveys, county surveys and the most reliable public and private data in the office of T.W. Wright, County Surveyor of Santa Cruz County, Ca. 1889 : A.J. Hatch".
"Official map of Santa Cruz County / compiled by A.J. Hatch, C.E. from U.S. government surveys, county surveys and the most reliable public and private data in the office of T.W. Wright, County Surveyor of Santa Cruz County, Ca. 1889 : A.J. Hatch". | Source

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Isaac Graham came to the area in the 1830s. His settlement was named "Roaring Camp". In 1842, he set up the first saw mill in California at this location.

Graham must have realized the beauty of the region. While loggers worked in this area, they left the redwood trees alone. This was one of the first areas in the country to be preserved which is why we can still visit these awe inspiring trees today. The stand was set aside in 1867.

Believe it or not, tourists began visiting the area in the 1870s. Trains brought people to Felton and to the beaches of Santa Cruz. I would imagine this forested, mountainous area was pretty secluded in those days.

The historic park as it is known today went into operation in 1963. It operates two historic trains on two different routes--as well as restoring other old trains.

View a larger complete version of Official map of Santa Cruz County, 1889

The Trains

The Dixiana Train
The Dixiana Train | Source

Roaring Camp works to preserve historic trains. They have several in various stages of restoration. A couple are used to run the tours. More information on the different trains can be found on the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad page at Wikipedia.

One of the trains at Roaring Camp, is the Roaring Camp, Big Trees, and Pacific RY. It has been in operation since 1985. It travels the same 1875 route between Santa Cruz and Felton.

The second train, the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge RR, has been in operation since 1953. Similar trains were used to haul trees from logging areas in the 1880s. This train takes passengers on a guide tour through the redwood forest to Bear Mountain.

You can learn more about the history of railroads in Santa Cruz County at the Santa Cruz Public Library website.

Geared locomotives at Roaring Camp have been designated National Mechanical Engineering Historical Landmark #134".


When the Railroad was King

There was a time when you really couldn't get around California without the railroad. The trains that ran through the Santa Cruz mountains were vital to the logging industry and to the communities that sprung up around them.

Images of America takes you inside the history of Roaring Camp and the train that still runs today. I own several of the books in this series. There are filled with beautiful photographs that take you back in time.

Where is Roaring Camp?

Roaring Camp is just a short drive away from the San Francisco Bay Area. Coming from farther away? Stay overnight in Santa Cruz.

Choo Choo!

A markerRoaring Camp Railroad -
Roaring Camp, Big Trees and Pacific Railroad Station, North Big Trees Park Road, Felton, CA 95018, U
get directions

This is where the Roaring Camp Railroad is located. It wends its way through one of the most beautiful forests of California.

Historical Facts

  • Isaac Graham was the first settler to the area in the 1830s.
  • It was named "Roaring Camp" by the Mexican who passed through.
  • In 1842, Graham set up a saw mill on the land.
  • In 1857, the land was protected saving the trees from logging.
  • The Santa Cruz and Felton Railroad first brought tourist to the area in 1875.

It Was A Fantastic Day!

On my 30th birthday, my family took me on a trip to Roaring Camp. We lived in the Bay Area, so it was only a short drive to the Santa Cruz Mountains.

We went at the end of January. It was still chilly and jackets were necessary.

We took the Redwood Forest Steam Train Tour which lasted about an hour and a half. This involves a guided tour on the train as well a stop in the forest to see the redwoods up close.

We sat in an open air train car. It is an amazing feeling to be climbing up the mountain with the breeze in your hair and looking up into those massive redwoods trees. I can only imagine how perilous this trip must have been in the 1870s on wooden tracks with a train carrying heavy loads.

My First Trip To The Majestic Redwoods - The Forest Steam Train Tour

Click thumbnail to view full-size
An abandoned train trestle still stands amongst the trees.The train conductor gives a talk on the history of the regionThe landscape of the regionRiding along the tracks into the groveAncient redwood trees reaching for the skyA glimpse of the train on it's tourA train in the distanceThe train depot at Felton, California where the Roaring Camp Railroad sets off from
An abandoned train trestle still stands amongst the trees.
An abandoned train trestle still stands amongst the trees. | Source
The train conductor gives a talk on the history of the region
The train conductor gives a talk on the history of the region | Source
The landscape of the region
The landscape of the region | Source
Riding along the tracks into the grove
Riding along the tracks into the grove | Source
Ancient redwood trees reaching for the sky
Ancient redwood trees reaching for the sky | Source
A glimpse of the train on it's tour
A glimpse of the train on it's tour | Source
A train in the distance
A train in the distance | Source
The train depot at Felton, California where the Roaring Camp Railroad sets off from
The train depot at Felton, California where the Roaring Camp Railroad sets off from | Source
Looking up from the train.  All you see is Sequoias as far as the eye can see.
Looking up from the train. All you see is Sequoias as far as the eye can see. | Source

Sequoia Semperviren

Joyce Kilmer's famous poem stated it so well...

"I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree."

Did you know that redwood trees can live for 2,000 years? A normal life is 600 years, but 2,000 years isn't beyond the realm of possibility. Fossil records show that redwoods existed in the Jurassic period.

They are resistant to insects and fire. High tannin content prevents most disease in these behemoths and a thick bark keeps most fire damage at a minimum.

It's difficult to not be humbled while standing next to a redwood tree. Standing at the base you feel so small. To think such a tiny seeds turns into a tree that can grow over 300 feet tall!

Redwoods need a special climate to survive. They are only known on the Pacific Coast and in limited locations.

Things to do at Roaring Camp

There are daily train tours at Roaring Camp as well as special events. We took the Steam Train Tour and were not disappointed.

There are numerous events going on at the site throughout the year. Check the Event Schedule to see what is planned.

Foster a Love of Train with Your Children

It seems that every since trains were invented, children have been mesmerized by them. Today, we see less traditional trains and more subway and other modern renditions. If the Thomas the Tank Engine series was any indicator, children still love everything to do with railroads and trains.

Places like the Roaring Camp Railroad are a great way for you young conductor to see how trains work inside and out. They learn how important trains are to our history. Plus they can hear that neat whistle and yell "All Aboard!" Yes, there is much to love about trains.


I hope you've enjoyed this train trip through the redwoods!

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    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 3 years ago

      I love the Redwoods ad add trains to the equation? Well, it doesn't get any better than that. Thanks for sharing an interesting lens

    • profile image

      slotowngal 5 years ago

      Oh, thank you for posting this lens! We took our oldest 3 kids there about 20 years ago and had a fabulous day. Angel blessed!

    • rlivermore profile image

      rlivermore 6 years ago

      This looks like a lot of fun!

    • JanieceTobey profile image

      JanieceTobey 6 years ago

      Oh, that sounds like so much fun! I'd love to go!

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 6 years ago

      Train rides and Redwood trees. Can't get much better than that, can you?

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I love trains. I adore trains. Here's another train ride to add to my wanted list

    • profile image

      Oliversbabycarecouk 6 years ago

      Would love to visit here with the family ! Great page!

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 6 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Looks like a great place to visit.

    • jmsp206 profile image

      Julia M S Pearce 6 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      I think I would like this trip,beautiful trees and trains.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 6 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      What a beautiful place to visit! : )

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 6 years ago from Northern California

      We've done the ride at Felton. Their Christmas Train in Santa Cruz was magical. We took the girls when they were little.

    • Grandma-Marilyn profile image

      Grandma-Marilyn 6 years ago

      Great lens. I would love to ride the train to see the wondrous trees.

    • LissaKlar LM profile image

      LissaKlar LM 6 years ago

      Beautiful trees and my family would love the ride through the mountains on the train.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image
      Author

      Melody Lassalle 6 years ago from California

      Partybuzz & haleylous, we took my niece who was about 4 at the time. She just loved it. this is one of those fun things to do that is appropriate for adults and children

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image
      Author

      Melody Lassalle 6 years ago from California

      @Elle-Dee-Esse: You should! It's really beautiful country and the train ride is pleasant. You get to see some of the inland area that isn't easily accessible.

    • hayleylou lm profile image

      hayleylou lm 6 years ago

      My boys would love this trip.

    • Elle-Dee-Esse profile image

      Lynne Schroeder 6 years ago from Blue Mountains Australia

      Wow! That looks amazing. If I ever get to visit my brother in San Francisco I will insist that he take me there

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 6 years ago from Concord VA

      Wow, my grandson would love this place!

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