Sometimes you've gotta steamroll out of town, and there's no better way than hopping aboard Roaring Camp Railroads. This restored 19th-century railroad in the Santa Cruz Mountains runs through coastal redwoods, some of the oldest and largest living organisms on Earth. But magnificent scenery is only one facet of the journey. As one of the first settlements west of Colorado, a ride on Roaring Camp will transport you to a time when the railroad was king and the Wild West was yet to be tamed. Today's re-creation of the 1880s logging town features a general store, America's smallest covered bridge, and a myriad of activities from candle-making to panning for gold to stories and ghost legends retold by knowledgeable guides.
Redwood Forest Steam Train:
The Redwood Forest steam train is the steepest narrow-gauge railroad in North America. It winds up to Bear Mountain summit, offering majestic glimpses of the Santa Cruz Mountains on the ride down the mountain. Roaring Camp station has an entrance to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. With more than 15 miles of trails, it's a great place to hike or picnic above the San Lorenzo River. Alternatively, you can bike or catch bus 35 to Santa Cruz (about an hour journey either way). Enjoy a hearty brunch at Zachary's and stroll down Pacific Avenue to check out quirky stores and boutiques. Check the schedule for departure times, which vary by season. The 1 hour and 15 minute round-trip ride costs $24 (adults)/$17 (kids).
Santa Cruz, Big Trees & Pacific Railroad:
The summer-only train runs regular departures from Roaring Camp or the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The railroad runs alongside the beautiful San Lorenzo River Gorge and into downtown Santa Cruz on its way to the coast. Make a day of it, and take the train to the historic Beach Boardwalk where you can ride the 1924 Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, sample deep-fried Twinkies, and stock up on salt-water taffy at Marini's candy shop. The 3 hour round-trip ride costs $26 (adults)/$20 (kids).
Moonlight Dinner Party:
Kick up your heels at Roaring Camp. This moonlit extravaganza includes a barbecue dinner, train ride, and campfire and sing-along on the summit of Bear Mountain. The evening wraps up back at camp for live country music and dancing. You can catch the dinner car a few times a year, typically in early fall.
The Halloween celebration runs during the end of October, and includes a train ride through the haunted forest as actors perform scenes from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" on stages along the tracks. The evening caps off with Halloween festivities at camp.
Holiday Lights Train:
Get into the holiday spirit with spiced cider and carols on a glittering train ride around Santa Cruz. Trains depart from and return to the Boardwalk, and the ticket price includes one activity (mini-golf, laser tag, arcade games...) at Santa's Kingdom.
Take Caltrain to the San Jose Diridon Station and catch the Highway 17 Express towards Santa Cruz. Get off at Cavallaro Transit Center and take the 35/35A bus to Felton Faire Bus Stop, then walk or cycle about 1 mile south along Graham Hill Road to Roaring Camp (the journey takes about 3.5 hours).
Photos: Roaring Camp Railroads, Jonathan Assink