Originally built in 1885 to transport redwood logs from the rugged backcountry to the coast, the Skunk Train now ferries sightseers to and fro between the waterfront town of Fort Bragg inland to 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 7-mile round trip, and the Wolf Tree Turn, a two-hour trip which departs from Willits and climbs to the highest point in the line (elevation: 1,740 feet) 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 1,122-foot tunnel #2, crosses over 30 trestles, 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.
Holiday-themed trips include the Easter Express, with an egg hunt hosted by the Easter Bunny at Glen Blair Junction; the fall Pumpkin Express, and the Magical Christmas Train, complete with Santa and other North Pole characters, storytelling, cookies, musicians, and plenty of holiday cheer.
For a completely different but no less unforgettable experience, take a ride on a two-passenger railbike. Powered by two pedaling 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 $50 to $200 per adult on the train rides, including the holiday editions; railbike tours range from $265 to $495 per two-person bike, plus an 8 percent historical preservation fee.