Old Time Steam Trains

Before this 4th of July weekend, the only time we went to Santa Cruz was for the “Holiday Day Out with Thomas” train rides (a must if you have toddlers or preschoolers who are into Thomas). I always wanted to ride the full train ride along the beach and was excited at the prospect.

At the boardwalk we asked the vendor at the booth about the train and got a schedule.  There we got a little bit of a shock.  The full train ride was a 3 hour ride round trip. The train goes all the way from Santa Cruz to Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton, CA.  Then you have an hour at Roaring Camp before you catch the train back.  And they warned us not to miss the last train back or we’d be stuck.

Now my son loves trains and could tell you the name of every steam train on the island of Sodor.  But there was no way he or his sister will sit still for 3 hours no matter how pretty the scenery. However, Roaring Camp Railroad, was a quick 15 minute drive away and had a stream train ride that went through the redwood forest and was only 1.5 hours long.  That my kids could do.

So after a good night sleep at the Quality Inn (with a surprising filling breakfast that came included with our room price), we went off to Roaring Camp.  When we pulled into the lot around 9:45 am it had 5 cars and we thought we were too early.  However it turned out to be ideal timing.  The ticket booth opened at 10 am and we got the first tickets on what turned out to be the sold out 11:15 train.

Roaring Camp is a beautiful area set near the redwoods and is dedicated to steam trains.  There are food stalls with kid friendly foods like hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream, a small museum and a store.  If you enter the store, come with your defenses up.  My son found a wooden railway set and spent the better part of 20 minutes trying to convince me he needed me to buy it so he could “bring it home and open the box to play with it”.

What we did buy was $1 worth of duck feed.  The kids had a great time throwing the seed and having the ducks flock over to them. I showed my son how to feed the ducks then he insisted that he was going to teach his sister.  The smart cookie that my daughter is, she figured it out pretty quickly. There are often special events and activities and Independence Day weekend was no exception.  The day we were there, they had a special gold panning location set up and a tomahawk throwing booth.  (Yes they taught kids how to throw tomahawks.  My husband wanted to have our son do this but I put my foot down on a that one).

I think they enjoyed throwing the food more than the ducks enjoyed eating it... I think they enjoyed throwing the food more than the ducks enjoyed eating it… *

Finally it was time to board Sonora, a 1911 steam engine.  Sonora (and its cousin Dixiana) is a beautiful and classic example of a steam train, but sadly did not look like any Thomas character.  We convinced my son, however, that she was a  friend of Thomas and he was happy.  The cutest thing had to be when a little engine hooked up to the back.  Santiago’s went nuts, “Look!  Look mom, its Dart“!  He was so excited to  “recognize” the little diesel from the Thomas series.


“Dart” *


Dixiana *

We boarded the train and headed through the forest and up to Bear Mountain.  The train takes you through an amazingly beautiful and old redwood forest.  Along the way, the conductor tells you the history of the rail line, the lumber industry on the area, and the redwoods themselves.  We were a long 8 car train (which is why Dart was needed) and he pointed out places where you could see the cars on the other end due to the bends. I enjoyed the history lesson, my husband enjoyed the scenery, my daughter enjoyed smiling and flirting with her admirers and my son enjoyed telling everyone on the train about Sodor and singing Thomas songs for their entertainment.  (We had the amazing fortune of sitting near a family that had no children with them but actually loved being around them).

Rounding the bend n

Rounding the bend

The train takes you all the way up to Bear Mountain, where you have 10 minutes to get out, stretch your legs, get some pictures, and go to the bathroom.  But the conductor put the fear of God in us and said that once we heard four toots of the whistle we were to walk quickly, jog or run back to the train.  I have two small kids, I wasn’t chancing it.  We stayed pretty close.

The kids were tired from waking up at the crack of dawn and exhausted on the ride down.  My daughter was in the Ergo carrier and could not fall asleep.  My sweet boy started singing hush little baby to her to help her fall asleep which melted my heart.  She soon let the rocking train and our combined singing lull her to sleep.  My son was overtired and we had a hard time keeping him sitting still on the ride down.  He had had enough.  My husband started singing him Thomas songs and as we got close to the bottom we found he had fallen fast asleep resting on his dad’s arm.  The very nice family in our coach helped us gather our stuff and carry our two sleeping children back to the car.

The excitement was too much to take...

The excitement was too much to take…

  • Timing:  There are multiple trains through the redwoods and to the Santa Cruz boardwalk. The first trains are around 10 am.  Check www.roaringcamp.com for the full schedule.
  • Fares:
    • Redwood Forest Trian:  $26 for adults (13+), $19 for children (2-12), Under 2 free.
    • Santa Cruz Beach Train:   $28 for adults (13+), $22 for children (2-12), Under 2 free.
  • Parking:  Roaring Camp in Felton has a lot.  Cost $8 a vehicle.

* Stared photographs taken by Atma Photography

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