Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad in Washington is one of the top historic railroads in the country. It is surrounded by scores of attractions, including Historic Mineral Lake Lodge, The Little White Church in Elbe, and the 1910 Morton Train Depot. The Mount Rainier foothills are traversed by Mt Rainier Scenic Railroad trains each Friday through Sunday by steam train and, in July and August, by diesel trains every Thursday. The railroad is considered the longest running Pacific Northwest steam train rail line.
The Milwaukee Railroad closed all train lines down in 1980, including the Tacoma to Morton line which ran more than 60 miles. Upon closure, the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company acquired the line through a deal struck with Tom Murray Junior, a train lover and son of a timber magnate. The new holding was named Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad and part of the railway was declared strictly for tourist use, thus the birth of the Mount Rainier train excursion. Historic trains restored by the Murray family were incorporated into the Mt Rainier Scenic Railroad, whisking passengers between Mineral Lake and Elbe, Washington. More than 26 years later, these same trains, with many newly restored locomotives and railcars still travel the same line.
Thousands of tourists ride the vintage rails and cars each year. Running through the beautiful foothills around Mount Rainier National Park, the scenic trip guides passengers through lush, timber woodlands and rolling hillsides, offering a chance to experience the true history of American steam trains. A Mount Rainier train ride also means the chance to see a host of both antique and current equipment kept and serviced on the grounds of the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad. Equipment train cars, box cars, crane cars, and a long list of other railroad-related gear can all be seen.
Train tours and excursions head off on route from the Mt Rainier Scenic Railroad Restoration Shop and Museum located in Mineral, Washington. Trains depart from the foothills of the white-capped Cascades, offering a glimpse of the stunning scenery in store. Each trip is pulled by a vintage Mount Rainier train, whizzing through mountain glens and thick forests, passed coldwater streams, and aloft antique wooden bridges offering incredible views of the surrounding area.
Passengers purchasing tickets to ride the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad have the choice between five seating options. General Coach Cars have wooden benches inside with functioning windows and winter heating. Enclosed Coach Cars house plusher seats with upholstery and non-functioning windows used only in the winter months. Clopen Cars refer to train cars with no windows but covered on top, offering uninterrupted forest views and great photo opportunities. The next step in cars feature no covers whatsoever, only wood bench seats. These cars offer the best, unobstructed scenery but no weather protection. Lastly, the Caboose Cars are use only for charter groups. They have both bunk and bench seats and include complimentary drinks.
There are special events and holidays celebrated aboard a Mount Rainier train. Mt Rainier Scenic Railroad offers The Santa and Pumpkin Express, Ole' Fashion Train, BBQ At the Lake from July through September, Fantastic Steam Fridays from June through September, and exciting Cab Rides on a vintage diesel or steam cab and with a BBQ lunch. With many nearby Washington hotels to choose between and plenty of budget-friendly vacation deals available, families can easily access numerous train excursions while staying nearby. Within the Mt Rainier area, there are many things to do including mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, scenic drives, and wintertime skiing and snowboarding.
Image: Washington State Tourism/Sunny Walter