Looking for a unique way to see the tallest trees on earth? How about on the back of a Skunk? It might sound strange, but it’s a time-tested journey undertaken by millions of people over the past century.
In the majestic redwood forests of Northern California the Skunk Train chugs along rail lines first laid down in 1885. This historic passenger train passes over wooden trestle bridges, alongside the Noyo River, and deep into the heart of the redwoods. Ever the visionary, C.R. Johnson, the founder of the California Western Railroad, set aside preserves of old-growth redwood along his railway route, and more than a century later travelers can still see these quiet giants standing tall.
The Skunk Train is one of California’s signature heritage attractions, and you might recognize it from films such as The Signal Tower (1924), Racing with the Moon (1984), and The Majestic (2001). The railway runs three distinct types of train: a 1924 Baldwin Steam Locomotive, three EMD GP9 Diesel Electric Locomotives, and standalone Motor Cars.
It’s the Motor Cars that gave the Skunk Train its evocative name – the combination of gasoline engines and crude oil for heat created a pungent odor that locals said reminded them of a skunk: you could smell ‘em before you could see ‘em. Although the smell isn’t as strong these days, visitors can still ride in these unique artifacts of rail history.
The Skunk Train operates out of two depots. The trip out of Fort Bragg, CA lasts one hour roundtrip, traveling along the scenic Pudding Creek estuary, pulled by either a diesel or a steam locomotive. The trip out of Willits, CA lasts four hours roundtrip, with a break at Northspur Station deep in the heart of the redwoods for food, relaxation, or a stroll.
Trips on the Skunk Train are perfect for multi-generational family excursions, and pets are allowed on board with their own ticket. A bar car accompanies most trips, serving up snacks, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages (including a locally-brewed Skunk Train beer, and locally-famous Bloody Marys).
It’s hard not to fall in love with this quirky, one-of-a-kind attraction, and many visitors say they’ve been coming for decades – fondly reminiscing about visiting as a small child, only to return with their own children and grandchildren.
A step back in time to the age of the great railroads, virtually unchanged in more than 130 years, the Skunk Train is a bucket list item worth a visit!