Postcards & Passports

Through the Redwoods on the Roaring Camp Railroads

This post was most recently updated on December 14th, 2021

I’ve always loved the redwood forest: the beautiful auburn bark, crisp woodsy scent, and hundreds of magnificent trees towering high above my head. My three year old son also loves the great outdoors, but that love might be trumped by his love of trains! When I discovered a place that could fulfill both our needs–train rides and redwoods–I was sold! And that place was Roaring Camp.

Welcome to Roaring Camp

Roaring Camp in Felton, CA is home to several railroad lines offering routes through the redwood forest and to the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Their trains have been carrying tourists since 1875! The original settlement dates back to the 1830s, but this re-creation of an 1880’s logging town will have you feeling nostalgic. Upon arrival to this beautiful settlement, you will be brought back in time to a much simpler and rustic way of living. From the Bret Harte Hall barn to the blacksmith shop, gold panning station and old time photo studio, the entire camp has a very historic feel.


The Engines

Roaring Camp Railroads owns several locomotives and diesel engines. My family and I were scheduled to ride Engine #7, Sonora Shay. This beautifully sleek engine was built in 1911 and worked long and hard for many years until being retired to a county park in Sonora. In 1977 it was refurbished to operate and has been steaming along ever since!

Back in the 1880s, steam locomotives like Sonora Shay would have been used to haul giant redwood logs out of the mountains. Going up and down the steep grades of Bear Mountain is no easy task, either. In fact, the steam engine stops for an 800-gallon drink of water before each trip up Bear Mountain!

During our visit, we were fortunate to see the Thomas and Percy engines as well; many may recognize these iconic trains from the Thomas & Friends show. Every year, these trains make their debut at Roaring Camp Railroads to offer short train rides and lots of fun activities. While the Thomas and Percy Halloween Party event is already over for the season, look out for future events with this famous duo!


Riding the Steam Train

As eleven o’clock drew closer, my family and I boarded the train and eagerly awaited our trip up the mountain. We sat in the very first car giving us a great view of the engine and a very immersive experience. The train whistle blew loudly and the mighty puffs of steam rose up and delicately misted our faces. The train slowly chugged up Bear Mountain and we were treated with views of beautiful redwood trees while the conductor shared commentary about the history of the railroad and forest. The white steam from the engine created an ethereal feeling as it rose up through the branches of the redwoods.

My family and I absolutely loved the hour-long ride on the Redwood Forest Steam Train! My three year old was entertained the entire time (which is saying a lot considering a toddler’s limited attention span). It was so relaxing to just sit back and enjoy the ride up the mountain. Here’s just a short glimpse of our steam train adventure!


The Redwoods

One of my favorite parts of the entire trip was getting the chance to admire the redwood forest up close! Once we reached the top of Bear Mountain, we had a ten minute break to walk around. While I could have spent the time waiting for the women’s restroom, I decided to go explore the forest instead. As I stood amongst the trees, craning my neck up to witness their tremendous height, I was filled with awe and wonder! These trees that have been growing for a century–with sturdy branches and beautiful auburn bark–hold so much history; it was spectacular and humbling to be among them.

Planning a Visit

If you’re interested in experiencing one of the train rides offered by Roaring Camp Railroads, you can purchase tickets from the ticket window upon arrival or in advance by visiting the website. Adult fares range from $29-$31 and child fares are $22-$25 depending on which route you choose; children under 2 are free. Note that parking costs an additional $10-$12, so be sure to bring some cash. Annual passes are also available for purchase.

Roaring Camp and the Steam Train are open daily (except Christmas Day). The Santa Cruz Train is currently closed due to construction, but will resume weekend routes on November 24. For a more detailed look at the schedule, visit the website.

In addition to regularly departing trains, there are some special holiday events coming up. You’re not going to want to miss the Holiday Tree Walk and Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train. They start at the end of November and go well into December. Check the schedule for more info.

Disclosure**I received complimentary tickets to visit Roaring Camp Railroads, but my opinions are all my own. 

Written by guest blogger Heather Young (my lovely daughter!), whose photography is featured on her blog, Heather Hiding Photography.





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Roaring Camp

13 thoughts on “Through the Redwoods on the Roaring Camp Railroads

  1. Lois Alter Mark

    Your pictures truly capture the beauty of the Redwoods- no place can compare! The railroad seems like the perfect family-friendly adventure. Such a great way to explore nature while relaxing together!

  2. Linda de Beer

    I agree, a combination of train rides and forests is simply wonderful. Throw in some history like at Roaring Camp and you have a winner. The Redwood Forest Steam Train ride is something our family would love to do.

  3. Brooke Herron

    this is fantastic area of California (my home state) to visit. I love all of our redwood forests and especially the forests and parks so near the coast it’s such a great combo to be able to take in stunning coastal views and then also get to the forest and be immersed in tall redwood trees and the smell of green and nature all in the same area! Plus they even have some good wineries in the Santa Cruz mountains not far from where you were

  4. Kevin Wagar

    Wow, I can’t think of many place cooler than this for an historic steam train ride. The train and the forests brings me back to stories my grandparents told of riding the rails during the great depression.

  5. Skye Class

    OMG, I actually did this as a kid with my dad. What fond memories this brings back. I’d love to go back someday and do it again as an adult. The landscape really is as beautiful as you describe. Good to know the updates on the prices. I should probably go in the holiday season for the Santa Cruz light train.

  6. Meagan

    Walking through a redwood forest has long been a dream of mine – and it looks like the experience is every bit as wonderful as I’ve imagined! In this case, I especially love that they’ve refurbished and given new jobs to turn of the century steam engines. Just rode an old trolley for the first time in San Francisco, and I have to imagine the feeling is the same: you think of all the things that old workhorse has seen, and all the people it’s gotten from A to B… and to get to share that with your little one is even better. Thank you for the lovely writeup!

  7. Nick Wheatley

    I love visiting the redwoods in California! My brother lived in Santa Cruz so I have driven and hiked through these amazing forests many times. But travelling through them on a historic narrow gauge railroad would be an entirely new experience! And maybe after I’ll have to have a turn at panning for gold — just might get lucky!

  8. Suruchi

    I loved your post and pictures, Walking through these redwood forests via that narrow gauge steam engine will be like walking in the historic times. We have a similar historic narrow gauge, here in India where toy train with steam engine run through mountains giving amazing views.

  9. Christopher

    I’m such a huge fan of the redwood trees, my favourite after the willow tree and of course my Canadian maple tree. Not that I’m a tree hugger but something about those redwood trees I find fascinating and I would love to visit the redwood Forrest. Throw in trains and now I’m excited. My mom worked for Canadian National Railways, sin grew up around trains and even worked in the rail yard during the summer! Great post.

  10. Paige W

    This looks like so much fun! Had no idea that there was a train that went through the Redwoods. It’s such a unique way to experience them. I’m glad that there’s a small break up top for you to explore a bit.

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