Skunk Train depots at both Fort Bragg downtown and in Willits fill up with crowds in the summertime eager to hop on the California railway for a scenic and exciting journey. A quick three hours north of San Francisco and adjacent to the beautiful California coastline, the historic train line powers through towering seaside mountains, crosses the River Noyo, and careens through an incredible Redwood forest—a bounty California is famous for. Called one of the most scenic and exciting rides on the North American continent, the California Western Railroad welcomes thousands of annual visitors to the state’s Mendocino region to board an awesome ride highlighting California’s most beautiful attributes.
The Skunk Train in Fort Bragg offers daily train rides all summer long, catering to the influx of travelers to California in peak tourist season. Reservations are necessary to get a seat onboard so be sure to make arrangements before heading on to the train depot. With thick crowds gathering at the station before debarking, another good idea is to allow for some extra time to arrive, park, check the family in, and get on the Skunk Train. If train rides are a passion of any family member’s, don’t forget about Yosemite Railroad excursions, only a five-plus hour drive southeast, near Yosemite National Park.
Since 1885, little has occurred to change the scenic drives along the California Western Railroad. Wild deer sipping from river streams, verdant Redwoods dominating the landscape, and old forest cabins peeking out from behind thick foliage are all reminiscent of a nineteenth-century railway ride. Vast, open meadows filled with wildflowers, extending Cimmerian tunnels, and plenty of antique trestles hosting chugging cars along the California Redwood Route are all relatively unchanged. The California Western Railroad route is 40-miles long spanning from Fort Bragg, along the seacoast, and on to Willits. An amazing more than 30 old bridges are traversed, the most of almost any historic US railroads. At mid-point, in the town of Northspur, passengers can get disembark for lunch before going back to either of the two main depots.
Built to supply the sawmills of Mendocino with lumber, the Skunk Train in Fort Bragg added passenger service via steam train in 1904, built in tracks to the town of Willits in 1912, and was eventually decommissioned in 1925. The Fort Bragg sawmill was the initial railway owner of the California Western Railroad. In 1965, an Arizona company managed and operated the Skunk Train, eventually buying it all up in the late 1980s. By 1996, the Skunk Train in Fort Bragg became the property of a conglomerate of investors marking the first privatized ownership of the railway in its entire, century-old history. Mendocino Railway now fully owns and operates the Skunk Train tourist lines.
From antique diesel engine trains to a 1920s steam-powered Baldwin engine to the vintage 1935 M-300 train car, train lovers will not be disappointed in this modern-day ride filled with historic equipment. The wide array of train tours are another feature not to be missed. Travels between Northspur, Fort Bragg, and Willits are available in different combinations. Crab & Wine dinners, Mother’s and Father’s Day Brunch, the Pumpkin Express, and the Christmas Express are signature rides that pack each car to maximum capacity. The Skunk Train in Fort Bragg runs all excursions on steam, diesel, or motorcar lasting anywhere from three and half to six hours in total and offers an unforgettable journey through an equally unforgettable state.
Image: Skunk Train