It had been about 12 years since my last ride on the historic Skunk Train. The previous memorable trip had me excited to return to the meandering tracks of the California Western Railroad one more time. I am not alone in my exuberance over this four hour excursion through the pristine countryside. It remains a long-standing, popular tradition of visitors to the North Coast of California.
My family and I have been vacationing in the picturesque Mendocino area for about 15 years now. It truly is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled spots on the West Coast. And every time we go back, I am reminded why we return to this area so often. Photographs barely do this awe-inspiring location justice.
Close to the town of Mendocino proper and right along the Mendocino Coast, a sleepy little town, Fort Bragg, is known for being the western terminus of the California Western Railroad. This rail line, affectionately referred to as “The Skunk Train”, has transported everything from redwood trees, loggers, families and siteseers along the “Redwood Route”, since 1885. That’s a really long time.
The train itself has been updated over the years to include a Baldwin built steam locomotive, Ole’ No. 45. The Skunk Train was originally just a diesel-powered, 40-seat, bus-looking vehicle that smelled up the countryside giving it, its skunky name. The combination of its gasoline powered engine and pot-bellied stoves used for warmth, meant you could smell the train coming, way before you ever saw it. Increased demands of passenger traffic over the years were instrumental in adding more motive power to this unique rail line that still delivers mail and provisions to rural residents on its Redwood Route.
The passenger cars carry you through the zig-zagging countryside to the Northspur Station from the Fort Bragg or Willits depot, about a 40 mile, 4 hour, round-trip of pure, unadulterated wilderness.
The inside of the passenger cars are a charming reminder of what rail travel on this line was like many years ago. Lucky us, today there are snack provisions available for purchase…very important for a long trip.
One of the most unique features of the skunk train are the outdoor passenger cars. I can’t recommend enough how absolutely stunning the outdoor scenery is on this trip. The nature is virtually untamed, untouched and likely very much the same since the railroad began running many years ago. Make sure to spend some outside to really enjoy it.
As you leave the often foggy coast of the Fort Bragg station, you are immediately transported to the area known as the Pudding Creek estuary. Coastal birds and wildlife are a common site along the river banks.
Towering redwoods make up so much of this routes scenery, providing shade as the train chugs under the forest canopy, over many bridges and one very long tunnel.
If you’re interested in hearing the Skunk Train chug along, here is quick video I shot while standing outside during my ride.
The Skunk Train depot in Fort Bragg, functions not only as ticket office, but a souvenir shop with all things “skunk” to help remind you of your unique journey.
Make California’s North Coast a destination and take a nostalgic ride on this historic train. It’s a trip you won’t soon forget.
Have you ever ridden on the Skunk Train? We’d love to hear about your experience.
For more information about the Skunk Train and to make a reservation, visit them here.
Foot of Laurel Street, Fort Bragg, California 95437
299 East Commercial Street, Willits, California 95490
Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary passes for the Skunk Train in conjunction with my relationship with the Visit Mendocino County tourism association. Mendocino County boasts an array of tasty restaurants, wine tasting venues, art galleries, beautiful beaches and hotels. There is something for everyone in Mendocino! If you find yourself in this part of the world, make sure to document your adventures on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #MendocinoGoneWild. All opinions about the Skunk Train and Mendocino County are 100% my own. Please continue to support the companies that help bring unique content to this blog. I hope to see you in Mendocino.