Just 6 miles north of the iconic seaside town of Santa Cruz, California, you’ll find Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Majestic Redwood trees seem to go on forever and ever. Amongst the redwoods is the delightful little town of Roaring Camp. It’s from there you can catch a train to the summit of Bear Mountain, or to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.
Roaring Camp is not very big. Fact is you can walk from one end to the other in a matter of 5 minutes. However, when you take that walk, you’ll be stepping back in time. Back to an 1880’s logging town where trains operate every day of the year, except on Christmas Day.
At the General Store you can purchase old-time souvenirs along with modern day snacks. There are also big old shady trees to picnic under. There’s history to learn, just waitin’ for an ear to listen.
Back in the 1830’s an ol’ mountain man named Isaac Graham settled this little town. It didn’t take long for authorities to name the wild settlement “Roaring Camp.” Just hearing that story makes my head spin with colorful images. I can already hear the whooping, hollering and sound of gunshots! Can you just imagine the honky tonk music a playing’ in the background?
Mountain man Graham went on to establish the first saw mill west of the Mississippi in 1842. Fortunately for all of us (and the trees), the giant redwoods were spared. And in 1867 they became the first virgin stand of coastal redwoods that were protected from logging.
Roaring Camp hosts all kinds of delightful activities and events throughout the year. NY and I were on holiday during our visit to Roaring Camp. We were constrained by a time schedule and were only able to stay for a day. We spent a short time in Roaring Cap before taking the Redwood Forest Steam Train up to the summit of Bear Mountain. If you live in the area or are traveling through when one of the following events is taking place, you’re sure to make memories to last a lifetime. Old time adventures in the midst of majestic redwoods trees? That’s a true win-win!
There are usually two trips up Bear Mountain every day on the narrow-gauge Redwood Forest Steam Train. The engine is quite small but packs a punch as it pulls the loaded passenger cars up the mountain. Our train ride consisted of the engine, an open passenger car, along with a closed car. We were free to choose which car we preferred to ride. We chose the open car so we wouldn’t miss any of the gorgeous sights.
You’ll travel over trestles and through towering redwood groves. The little engine tugs the train up a winding narrow-gauge grade to the summit of Bear Mountain. Breathe in the fresh crisp mountain air as you enjoy the views from high on the mountain top. It’s gorgeous, majestic and breath-taking.
At the summit, everyone departs the train for a short walk through the giants. These redwood trees are so tall you can barely see the sky above. But I assure you it’s there, with bits of blue peeking through the tree tops. The ride back down the mountain is just as magnificent. The conductors tell the historic story of the railroad in all its glory. The following 60 second video from gives you a peek at both the Redwood Forest Steam Train and the Santa Cruz Beach Train.
He says: A great out-of-doors experience from a bygone era. Amazing views and lots of fresh air.
She says: I loved the whole experience. The history of Roaring Camps and the railroad are amazing. The views from the train ride are magnificent and I couldn’t get enough of the fresh air but… be sure to read my disclaimer at the end of this article.
~ The Nitty Gritty:
What: Roaring Camp Railroads
Where: 5401 Graham Hill Road, Felton, CA 95018
When: March 2016
Who: Just the two of us
Hours & Cost:
- Gates open at 9:00 a.m.
- Trains operate every day of the year except for Christmas Day. Check website for times.
- Parking closes at 5:00 p.m., unless trains are operating. They stay open until the last guest has left, typically around 5:30 p.m.
- Parking fee: $10.00 per vehicle (subject to change).
- Train tickets: Check website for price; Order online (subject to availability).
Amenities, Activities and events:
- General Store
- Picnic Area
- Train Rides
- General Store
- Chuckwagon BBQ
- Red Caboose Restaurant
- California Redwoods Hike
- Gold Panning
- Visits with the Town Marshal
- Old Time Photo Studio
Website: Roaring Camp Railroads
The train ride up the mountain is not a smooth ride. It’s very bumpy and noisy. I have a titanium plate in my neck. My head is quite literally bolted on. My neck has it’s limitations when it comes to turning, twisting and bumpy jolts. I knew the train ride would be rough on my neck but I was willing to make the trade-off just to see the magnificent redwoods and views from the mountain. I was not however expecting to still be in a good amount of pain 6 months later.
So… IF you have back or neck issues, the Redwood Forest Steam Train, as lovely as it is, might not be a good choice for you. As much as I loved the ride, if I knew then what I would really feel like now, I would pass on it. If you have family members that want to experience the train ride, send them on up the mountain and stay behind. Walk yourself on over to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. It’s a 5 minute walk from the train station. You can checkout the visitor’s center and the Redwood Grove Loop Trail. It’s less than a mile long with flat terrain. An easy walk that is also doable for wheelchairs and strollers. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Gorgeous I tell you!!
The Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway train also departs from Roaring Camp and goes down the mountain and along the Santa Cruz boardwalk. This might be a smoother ride. It’s a much bigger train and engine. We were going to ride this train but it’s schedule wasn’t conducive to ours. Bottom line? Ask the ticket sales window and/or conductor. They’ll have the best advice as to the bumps and glides of it all.
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