Originally built in 1885 to transport redwood logs from the rugged countryside to the coast, the Skunk Train now ferries sightseers to and fro between the waterfront town of Fort Bragg and the cowboy town of Willits on California’s North Coast. Two journeys are available year-round: the one-hour Pudding Creek Express, which departs from Fort Bragg and covers a 11.5-kilometre round trip, and the Wolf Tree Turn, a two-hour trip which departs from Willits and climbs to the highest point on the line (elevation 530 metres) en route to the redwood-dense Noyo River Canyon.
Riding 'The Skunk' is a long-standing family tradition for many Californians, with new generations getting wide-eyed and excited when the conductor bellows 'All aboard!' Little ones leave nose prints on the windows as Ole’ No. 45 charges through the 342-metre tunnel no. 2, crosses over 30 wooden trestle bridges and sends clouds of steam skyward. The steam and diesel-powered trains chug through the lush redwood forests of the California Coast Range, zigzagging along the Noyo River—keep your eyes peeled for deer, egrets and other waterfowl, and the occasional river otter.
Seasonal trips include the Easter Express, with an egg hunt hosted by the Easter Bunny at Glen Blair Junction; the autumn Pumpkin Express; and the Magical Christmas Train, complete with Santa and other North Pole characters, storytelling, biscuits, musicians and plenty of Christmas cheer.
For a completely different but no less unforgettable experience, enjoy a ride on a two-passenger railbike. Powered by two pedalling passengers who sit side-by-side in the open air, you’ll zoom along the rails in tranquil silence on a roughly one-hour round-trip along the Pudding Creek Estuary.
Tickets range from $27 to $53 per adult on the train rides, including the seasonal versions; railbike tours are $79 per bike.
Romance finds a home in this idyllic coastal region, where ocean fog rolls in from the ocean to blanket hushed redwood forests, and whales spout offshore. Along the coast, artists set up their easels to paint scenes of crashing surf and whitewashed cottages wrapped in rose filled gardens.
Each year, December through May, look to the sea to witness roughly 15,000 gray whales swimming south for the summer.
It is also a place where a new generation of farmers and wine makers focus on preserving the land as well as producing amazing food and wine. Favourite escapes include the romantic hamlet of Mendocino, roughly a 3-hour drive up the coast from San Francisco, and Eureka, a former logging town 2 hours further north, and the gateway to breathtaking Redwoods National and State Parks.
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